Getty Images/iStockphoto


5 tips for inclusive hybrid meetings

For successful hybrid meeting collaboration, businesses need to empower remote and on-site employees with a full suite of features and high-quality gear.

Hybrid work is no longer the "new normal." At this point, it's just normal. It's not some temporary thing to ignore, and it's not so new that organizations can be excused for doing it poorly.

Hybrid work is now normal work. Companies can thrive if they learn to embrace hybrid work in a way that empowers their workers and boosts productivity. Companies will lag if they think it's good enough to simply drop a laptop in a meeting room so that remote workers can Zoom in.

The key is understanding that hybrid work requires more than a connection -- it requires inclusivity. Your home-based office workers cannot just be a remote audience attending a meeting by video. For a meeting to be fully inclusive, remote workers must be seen and heard as full participants, just as well as people in the meeting room.

Organizations must also ensure meetings are fully inclusive for participants in the meeting room. Yes, they are physically in the room, but are they full-sized on screen when they speak, or part of a wide shot? Do they have access to all the presentation tools that remote attendees have?

Clearly this is not a problem that can be solved merely by using the latest conferencing device or app. Organizations need a systemic approach when designing and using meeting rooms and hybrid workspaces. Companies might need to revisit everything they ever knew about holding effective meetings and apply those thoughts to their current reality.

1. Use the powerful features of modern collaboration apps

Remember the old days of trying to share content over the internet with an archaic version of Webex? The meeting presenters would be happy if everyone could hear the audio and see the slides.

Today, even Webex isn't Webex anymore. The current generation of collaboration apps offers superb video and near flawless audio. The apps also have hundreds of features and integrations designed to support hybrid working teams.

Unfortunately, many customers of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Webex never use -- or seem not to be aware of -- the full suite of features available to them. The world has been so focused on using these apps to connect with remote workers, but has failed to use their full power. Whether it's new AI capabilities, integrations with other productivity apps or in-meeting participation tools, a lot more can be done to make meetings more inclusive for all attendees.

The unified communications industry needs to recognize that it's not enough to simply make these features available. Industry experts need to do a better job of educating business users about the features.

Participants need to be trained on how to use these features effectively to maximize engagement and interaction during meetings. Providing demonstrations or tutorials on even basic things like chat and reactions can empower participants to make the most out of the hybrid meeting experience.

2. Assign a meeting moderator

Some things never change. Whether it's hybrid or not, a poorly planned and moderated meeting is going to waste everyone's time. But now the difference is that instead of blaming themselves for conducting bad meetings, bad leaders can blame the hybrid setup. Regardless of the nature of the meeting, a good moderator -- following best practices -- can make the meeting a productive and valuable session.

Today's meeting moderators can follow proven best practices on running a meeting to keep everyone engaged and give everyone a chance to contribute. Moderators simply have a few extra considerations to keep in mind.

Notably, moderators must ensure everyone has an equal level of inclusion and that neither the in-person or remote attendees are excluded in any way. Some of this inclusion can be achieved by meeting room design and proper use of collaboration apps. But ultimately, it's the moderator's responsibility to ensure every person, regardless of location, has the same level of inclusion in the meeting.

3. Invest in quality AV equipment

High-quality audiovisual (AV) equipment is essential for bridging the gap between remote and in-person participants in hybrid meetings, which feature cameras, speakers and microphones. Ideally, all three should be of such high quality that we look and sound as good remotely as we do in person.

The current generation of meeting room systems can achieve high quality at an affordable price. Although remote attendees are only two-dimensional -- as 3D meetings haven't materialized yet -- the participants still look and sound amazing.

Ten years ago, I advised clients designing their meeting rooms to spend a lot more on high-quality video and audio. It isn't just nice to have -- it affects productivity. Low-quality video and audio stress the brain. Participants get distracted and tired quicker in meetings with low-quality AV gear.

Today, I don't have to advise anyone to spend more, as AV quality has improved and prices have dropped. The best gear from the top name-brand vendors is reasonably priced, and the equipment from budget vendors is of decent quality.

4. Design meeting spaces with hybrid collaboration in mind

When designing meeting spaces, consider the needs of both in-person and remote participants to facilitate seamless collaboration. I've seen too many meeting rooms where remote participation was set up as an afterthought. As a result, the remote participants couldn't be seen well from every seat in the room, and they didn't have a great view of the room itself.

In the past, this resulted in a bad experience for the remote attendees. The real meeting happened in the room, and the remote attendees weren't fully included.

In today's hybrid world, the real meeting happens in the cloud -- in Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex. The physical meeting room is just one participant in the meeting. This means poorly designed meeting rooms also now provide a bad experience for the in-room attendees, who might look small in a wide camera shot of the room and lack full access to app features.

The industry is working to solve these thorny problems. Some resolutions put multiple intelligent cameras in meeting rooms that dynamically switch views to best capture the active speaker. Organizations can also equip meeting rooms with other collaborative gear, such as whiteboards integrated with remote productivity apps for better real-time collaboration.

5. Provide training and support

End-user training and support are mentioned routinely, but I'm concerned the industry is still not doing enough of it. Business managers probably feel they have more important things to do than train their employees on how to use Zoom emoji to have more inclusive meetings. People have work to do and deadlines to meet, they know how to use Zoom well enough, and they don't want to sit through training.

While this is understandable, it's unfortunate. Meeting apps are packed with features -- a lot more than people realize. Just in the last few years, vendors have added many features to meeting apps, but the features are horribly underutilized. For example, a meeting app probably has an integration with a CRM platform, and if it does, it's probably worth using.

Typically, workers use their productivity tools as instructed by their managers. It isn't end users' fault that they're not using the advanced features. It isn't their job to explore and discover all the advanced features and determine which ones they should be using.

It's the industry's role -- vendors, analysts and press -- to educate business users about these features. Just as importantly, it's the business managers' role to determine which features are most useful for their teams and to train their teams accordingly.

At the end of the day, mere connection does not guarantee full inclusion. Rolling out meeting apps for remote workers and installing room systems in physical meeting rooms were the first steps to get connected, but a lot more is needed.

By designing meeting spaces properly and following best practices, organizations can greatly increase the feeling of inclusion for all participants. With all meeting attendees on equal footing, everyone can focus on the work at hand, rather than struggling to be noticed.

David Maldow is the founder and CEO of Let's Do Video. He has written about the video and visual collaboration industry for almost 20 years.

Dig Deeper on Video conferencing and visual collaboration