Hybrid meetings are becoming the norm as organizations balance office reopenings, while also supporting remote workers. But, even as meeting spaces are once again booked, organizations can't expect employees to run meetings as they did before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hybrid meetings require a different skill set to ensure all attendees are engaged and that remote attendees, in particular, don't feel like second-class citizens to those in the physical meeting space. With the right hardware and software for meeting rooms and home offices, organizations can create a more equitable meeting experience. Meeting attendees can feel they are able to participate and engage in meetings no matter their location.
The book Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting by Karin M. Reed and Joseph A. Allen, published by Wiley, provides guidance for effectively managing and attending hybrid meetings. The book explores best practices and offers checklists and takeaways to help readers evaluate their approach to hybrid meetings.
In this excerpt from Chapter 6 of Suddenly Hybrid, Reed and Allen explore hybrid meeting best practices that encourage engagement and participation for remote and in-room attendees.
Priming for Participation with the Meeting Invitation
Participation doesn't just happen by accident in a hybrid setting. Usually, it's the result of a level of intentionality that infuses the meeting before it even takes place. Leaders need to inspire input from both the "Zoomies" and "Roomies" -- those joining virtually and those joining in-person -- and it begins with optimizing the meeting invite as an engagement management tool.
Don't just send a calendar invite with a link to the video collaboration platform of choice. Best-in-class hybrid organizations use the invitation to convey pertinent information for better preparation by attendees. For example, in the title or subject line, identify what kind of meeting is being planned and declare the purpose of the meeting. Some organizations use an "H" for hybrid, an "I" for in person, and a "V" for a fully virtual meeting. That way, attendees know what to expect when they show up -- either on the screen or in the physical room.
In an invitation for a hybrid meeting, let all attendees know what tools will be used. Prepare them to participate by notifying them that you'll be using polls, breakout rooms, and/or chat. If a new tool is being introduced -- say, a digital whiteboard that hasn't been used before -- send along a link to a video or text tutorial. It removes one barrier to entry and allows everyone in attendance to be able to use it right out of the gate.
Of course, we would encourage you to also express within the invitation the desire that those who are remote turn their cameras on for all the reasons we've already mentioned. Articulating this in the meeting invite underscores its importance and your expectations. Doing so also has the potential to further enhance the communication environment.
Lean into Chat
Speaking up in a virtual meeting can be intimidating, particularly when the group is larger, or one is new to a group. In a hybrid meeting, the fear of speaking up is often compounded when some people are physically in the room and you are not. That's why it's important for meeting leaders to include and value chat as a mechanism for participation. From the beginning, establish that adding comments, questions, and reactions in the chat is a welcome way to provide input.
The use of chat can also augment the verbal discussion while avoiding the challenges of talking over each other. For example, say someone is speaking and offers a really innovative idea that another attendee wants to build upon or even simply endorse. Rather than waiting for a turn to speak, that colleague can add an immediate comment in chat. Socioemotional behavior such as agreements and affirmations are essential for building cohesion and trust, but they are difficult to interject in the flow of a hybrid meeting for remote participants (Lehmann-Willenbrock and Allen 2014). However, this dual-medium collaboration, verbal and chat, can result in a more fluid and inclusive experience beyond one person speaking at a time. Chiming in on chat is efficient and often makes it easier for someone to insert their opinion in a timely fashion without interrupting the flow of the idea being shared.
Chat can also be used to clarify or supplement something that was said previously. Let's say an attendee forgot to add a really key point when asked to argue for or against an initiative. Rather than try to flag down the facilitator to regain the floor, that person can put the additional commentary in chat. Joe likes to do this by inserting some of his favorite scientific articles to back up his argument in the chat. But take note, attendees: sometimes that can come across as a bit snarky. So, tactful chat use is important to keep in mind.
But all of that valuable input will be for naught if no one looks at it and then brings it into the verbal discussion. That's why it is incumbent on the meeting leader to actually attend to that string of text and incorporate it into the conversation. This is no easy task, though. The additional cognitive burden of keeping track of the chat discussion and facilitating the verbal one can be a bit too much for many a meeting leader. That's why we advocate assigning the role of "chat monitor" when possible, delegating the responsibility to someone who can help you weave the written participation into the overall dialogue. In Chapter 9, we'll talk more about the chat monitor and other potential roles to fill in a hybrid meeting.
Remotes Speak First
As a meeting leader, you set the tone and establish the ground rules for everyone, and one way to signal to your team that everyone's voice is equally valued is ensuring that those who are remote speak first. This policy of immediately giving voice to those who are not in the physical room is common practice at organizations who recognize the potential disadvantage experienced by virtual attendees. No matter how well equipped both the meeting room and the home office are to enable hybrid meetings, those who are not within the confines of the conference room can have less "presence" than those who are physically present.
We recommend meeting leaders level the playing field by offering those who are joining virtually the opportunity to speak first. At Envato, the policy has paid dividends, according to Jay Hyett:
If we were doing a workshop for example, we would throw a question to the remote people first and get their input before anyone in the physical room. When you ask a question, you may ask it to the people on the screen, knowing that they don't necessarily have to have an answer. But you always want to make sure that they feel included the entire time.
Excerpted with the permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting by Karin M. Reed and Joseph A. Allen. Copyright © 2022 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold.