Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters  on Unsplash

Today’s blog post is by Allison Khaw

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, we all had to learn how to work remotely as we also navigated major losses and disruptions in our professional and personal lives.  Now that the public health emergency is officially over, we still have to navigate a range of new workplace challenges.  One of the big ones today: hybrid meetings.

Handling the transition from conference rooms to video calls wasn’t easy, and hybrid meetings take that difficulty to a whole new level.  In fact, I know colleagues who go out of their way to avoid leading hybrid meetings, choosing instead to organize entirely virtual or in-person meetings.  It’s not hard to see why!

A hybrid meeting (which could range from a working session to a presentation to an event) is the epitome of “high risk, low reward”—if it goes well, the organizer rarely receives formal recognition, but if it doesn’t go well, that’s the first thing that everyone notices.  No wonder most people would probably say “good riddance” to holding hybrid meetings, if offered the choice never to do so again.

And yet, I would argue that we don’t really have that choice anymore.

Among other changes that COVID-19 introduced, the workforce of 2023 has a strong emphasis on flexibility and work-life balance.  Many teams are geographically distributed across the globe, where only a subset of the team may be co-located.  Even if everyone works from the same location, it’s likely that at least one person will need to join remotely for any given meeting.  Sure, fully in-person or virtual meetings will continue to occur as well, but occasional hybrid situations are inevitable.  The times are changing, after all, and we should adapt with them.  (We may even ask ourselves the question, Should We Be Muting Our Sneezes?)

Like them or not, hybrid meetings are here to stay.

Despite the challenges, hybrid meetings might give us the best of both worlds.  Attendees in the room can feel rejuvenated by in-person human interaction and the work culture that this promotes, while remote attendees are guaranteed a virtual seat at the table.  In-person and remote attendees also get to connect with each other.  In many ways, hybrid meetings lie at the intersection of modern technology and flexibility, lighting up a path for us to explore what’s possible.

I suggest it’s better to embrace hybrid meetings—and learn how to hold them successfully—than to keep them at arm’s length, perpetually afraid that they’ll “bite.”

We can achieve success by adopting small yet mighty habits that enable team inclusion and productivity in our hybrid meetings.  This is an area where the “diffusion of responsibility” can be especially harmful, because the responsibility to demonstrate our awareness through our actions actually lies with each and every one of us.  We need to consciously put ourselves in other attendees’ shoes, ensuring that our behaviors are conducive to everyone in the meeting.

So let’s take action!  Here are some tips for holding successful hybrid meetings:

  1. For remote participants:
    • Be intentional about making your presence known.  Periodically remind others of your virtual presence by making your opinions heard.  Consider turning on your video or asking those in the room to do so as well.  Use common sense for when to speak up, but don’t hesitate to speak up.  If you’re a seasoned teleworker, you can teach other remote participants about the best practices that you’ve learned firsthand.
    • Avoid the temptation to get distracted or “fade” into the background, depending on the situation.  Know your own goals for each hybrid meeting ahead of time—do you want to be a more active participant or a passive observer?  Sometimes the latter is acceptable, but it’s up to you to choose wisely.
  1. For in-person participants:
    • Remember the power of the room microphone.  Anything from whispered side conversations to the crunch of chips can make it hard for remote attendees to hear.  Know where the room microphones are located, or better yet, keep the conversation threads to one.
    • Be rigorous about bringing all voices into the conversation.  Occasionally ask, “Does anyone online have anything to add?” and then allow for longer pauses than you may be used to.  This invitation gives remote attendees the chance to unmute and share anything that they couldn’t earlier.  Also, ensure that at least one in-person attendee can see the meeting chat, so that no comments are overlooked.
    • Consider stating your name before making your point.  In a hybrid meeting where not everyone knows each other, get into the habit of starting with, “This is [insert name], and I think that…”  Doing this for even the first ten minutes of a meeting can help remote attendees identify your voice, making a world of difference.
    • Take physical actions that will be inclusive to the remote attendees.  This may include using a virtual whiteboarding tool rather than writing on a physical whiteboard, or situating yourself in the camera’s line of sight rather than sitting in its blind spot.  All of this translates to “I value your presence.”
  1. For the meeting organizer:
    • Test out your meeting technology ahead of time to set yourself up for success. Consider doing a dry run of the technology a day early or officially starting your meeting five minutes after the hour in order to deal with any technical issues.  That being said, sometimes unexpected issues do arise, so make sure you’ve planned for contingencies.
    • Demonstrate strong facilitation skills.  No matter what kind of hybrid meeting you are leading, recognize that it’s your role to guide the team in the right direction.  At the same time, you don’t have to do everything alone: consider delegating roles to others, such as a meeting chat monitor or a designated moderator.
    • Prioritize inclusive behaviors.  If not everyone has met each other before, spend the time to do introductions for in-person and remote attendees.  Consider leveraging Innovation Toolkit facilitator best practices, such as the question, “Who have we not heard from?” and the improv technique, “Yes, and…” to build on each other’s ideas.  For better collaboration, encourage attendees to turn on their cameras during the meeting.
    • Clearly communicate meeting guidelines and schedule changes.  Prepare an agenda and objectives ahead of time, and set expectations at the start of the meeting.  This includes being deliberate about stating the preferred way for remote attendees to participate, such as “speak up at any time” (assuming the meeting size allows for this) and “raise your virtual hand”.  For any agenda adjustments or impromptu breaks, share start and end times both verbally and in the meeting chat.
  1. For everyone:
    • Give each other grace. Respect that everyone is trying their best, especially since hybrid meetings comprise a space that’s not yet fully explored.  If you notice that the meeting organizer isn’t implementing some of these actions that you think would be helpful, step up and act as a role model.  Everyone needs a reminder sometimes, after all.

We’re at a pivotal moment in time to shape the future of hybrid meetings.  If we don’t embrace them for all that they’re worth, we may lose an opportunity that we have in our professional lives to shine, whether from the conference room or from our computer screens—ideally, from both.  Take this as your call to action to start leading the way!