The way we work has changed forever. Although people are slowly returning to the office, most have realized that remote work will be part of their future.
While many companies have decided to shift remote on a permanent basis, the majority are trying to get a handle on a hybrid working environment. This type of situation would see some employees working remotely while others continue to work in the office.
This sort of flexibility is a huge draw for talent: 65% of creative workers say freedom and flexibility are the top reasons they prefer working remotely. Many would even take a pay cut for this opportunity.
If you can accept that the future of work will be partially remote, then you can prepare your business for the new challenges it will face. Among those challenges is the frustration caused by hybrid meetings.
What is a hybrid meeting?
A hybrid meeting is one in which some participants are gathered together in person while other participants are remote.
Imagine a scenario where 10 people are gathering for a quarterly OKR planning session. Six are meeting in your company’s board room, coffees and dry erase markers in hand. Then, on a screen at the end of the room there are two floating heads. One is outside, blue sky glowing overhead. Another is in so dark a room they look like Emperor Palpatine.
Does this sound familiar? If not, you’re almost sure to experience hybrid meetings in the near future. Many of us have not considered how this changes the meeting experience. Let me tell you from experience: it does.
Hybrid meeting challenges
In a previous role, I was the sole remote employee in an organization of around 100 employees. Nearly every meeting was a journey for me. Because I was the only employee not in the office, no one really understood what hybrid meetings were and how to make them work. People would forget to add dial-ins or video links to meeting invites. They would forget I was on the line and not ask for input. They would run whiteboard sessions that I couldn’t see or participate in. And sometimes, the meeting would end and everyone would leave the room while I was still sitting there on the phone.
I understand why this all happened. Remote work wasn’t a reality for anyone else in the company. It was hard for them to grasp the needs of a remote team member and therefore consider those needs when organizing meetings.
But now there are no excuses; we’ve all experienced remote work. You need to approach every hybrid meeting with your remote colleagues in mind.
The first step is to understand common hybrid meeting challenges. Those largely fall into three categories.
According to Owl Labs, the number one challenge for remote workers during hybrid meetings is being constantly interrupted or talked over.
We’ve all experienced this to some degree during a remote meeting. Two people try to talk at the same time, both stop, then engage in an awkward decision-making process over who is going to actually go first. It’s not ideal, and it’s worse in hybrid meetings because those in the office can have a normal conversation.
Most of communication is non-verbal. These cues help us speak without interrupting each other too much. Some of these are completely lost in remote meetings, while others are much less noticeable.
Another challenge comes in the form of hands-on meeting experiences, like brainstorms or whiteboard sessions. People in the room can grab a marker or a post-it note and jump in. Turning these into hybrid meetings can be isolating for remote workers, who become an afterthought. Someone needs to act as their intermediary, writing up post-its or throwing things on the board. Otherwise they take an unfortunate back seat and watch the work happen. Neither of these options allows them to participate as fully as if they were in the room, and create a degree of inequality within your meeting.
This inequality doesn’t have to be work-specific either. It might seem asinine, but simple social things, like bringing baked goods into the room for a hybrid meeting, can be extremely isolating for remote team members.
Surprising absolutely nobody who has taken part in a video call these past few months, IT issues are the second most common challenge in hybrid meetings. Calls drop off, internet connections falter, someone spends the entire session breathing heavily into an unmuted mic — these issues can plague meetings involving remote employees.
When you’re entirely reliant on technology for meetings, some technical issues are unavoidable. But others are often just the result of secondary considerations that have a big impact on remote colleagues. This includes the choice of meeting rooms or environments with poor internet connections or a lack of equipment (screens, speakers). It also includes the simple problem of meeting organizers not actually including Zoom, Hangouts, or other Zoom alternative links in the invitation.
Pro tip: Make sure you have the right tools
Technical issues are going to plague your teams if they don’t have the right tools. When companies the world over suddenly had to shift to remote work in 2020, they quickly acquired the tools they needed to make things work. Now, you have the luxury to carefully choose the tools you want to use in your remote stack. Just make sure they cover communication, meetings, cloud storage, collaboration, and more.
No, we’re not talking about global warming. By environmental issues, we mean circumstances related to your position either in the room or outside of it.
In the case of remote work, common challenges are a noisy or distracting workspace. Maybe there are kids at home or somebody rings the doorbell. Or maybe your remote employees work in different time zones which make just attending meetings a challenge.
Screen fatigue is another environmental issue. While an in-person two-hour meeting is already arduous, that same meeting becomes particularly hard for those forced to actively stare at a screen the entire time.
Environmental challenges are less common in the office but still exist. One common situation is the size or layout of the room makes it hard for employees to hear or see and engage with remote participants.
6 tips for running effective hybrid meetings
We recently dove deep into the research and synthesized the best advice for running effective meetings. Many of these general meeting tips will also help you run better hybrid meetings. The key is to double down and increase your commitment to making meetings as organized and efficient as possible.
Here are some important ways you can make hybrid meetings better for everyone on your team.
1. Prioritize asynchronous work
As companies shifted to remote work, many added a pile of new meetings to try and regain visibility into the work of their teams. But if your organization is planning to stay partially remote, your focus should be on reducing the number of meetings, not adding new ones.
Frequent meetings strip remote work of one of its greatest advantages: flexibility. Instead, take a deep look at how you can do more work asynchronously. Can your daily scrum meeting be a Slack thread? Do you need that project check-in meeting, or can you source updates through your workflow management tool?
Focusing on asynchronous work doesn’t mean eliminating all meetings, just the unnecessary ones. At Unito, we’ve made many of our post-it sessions asynchronous using Miro. People add ideas to a digital board just like they would with physical post-its. Then we convene on a video call for a much shorter meeting to discuss the ideas people shared. This cut the time spent in a hybrid meeting in half and everyone participates on the same level.
Asynchronous work is best when you don’t have to negotiate tool differences. With a tool like Unito, you can make sure important updates aren’t trapped in your work tools.
2. Spend extra time planning hybrid meetings
People don’t spend enough time planning meetings. It has become almost second nature to throw an invite into Google Calendar without any context. But remote colleagues can’t walk over to your desk to ask what the meeting is about.
For hybrid meetings to work, more time needs to be spent on planning:
- Outline the purpose and intended outcome of the meetings
- Create a clear and detailed meeting agenda
- Include any materials that participants, remote or otherwise, might need to have during the meeting
- Make sure that the event invite includes the dial-in or video call information.
- Pick rooms with strong wifi connections and all of the technology (screens, speakers) you’ll need to enable hybrid meetings. If you don’t have that equipment yet, the time to buy is now.
This is how you set all of your employee up to succeed in a meeting, regardless of their location.
3. Strictly manage meeting time and attendance
In an office environment, all participants know that a meeting’s late to start when they see an empty board room. But all the person at home sees is their own face staring right back at them. This is just one example of why it’s important to strictly manage meeting time.
In general, it’s hard to take part in really long video calls. It’s tough on the eyes and drains focus. So plan meetings to be as short as possible. Then, when you’re in the meeting, make sure to stick to the agenda and keep to time. Everyone — no matter where they’re located — will appreciate that. It can help to select a timekeeper to move things along.
Then there’s meeting attendance. With hybrid meetings, really spend extra time considering your attendee list. Make sure to invite only those who absolutely need to be there in order to achieve the desired outcome of the meeting. Feel free to make other attendees optional if you want to be inclusive. This ensures that you’re not forcing employees into a bunch of meetings where they might be unable to provide value.
And don’t force people in other time zones to join nighttime or early morning meetings. If you have to, then compromise and schedule the next meeting during your own morning or night.
4. Normalize digital meeting tools
Technology is an essential part of hybrid meetings, but it shouldn’t be looked at as technology for the remote employees only. Instead, normalize the use of digital meeting tools for everyone.
Yes, this includes adding video conferencing links to invites, but it goes well beyond that. Instead of using whiteboards and post-its for brainstorming, use Miro by default. This allows thoughts and ideas to be recorded and accessed after the meeting. Instead of taking physical meeting notes, take them in a collaborative Google doc. That way everyone can see them immediately and add notes or questions for others to see.
You should also create guidelines to improve the hybrid meeting experience for remote workers. If employees have laptops, you should have everyone in the room join the virtual meeting on mute but with their cameras on, so the people at home can see all participants. On the flipside, remote attendees should always have their cameras on so people in the room can see them as well.
5. Structure interactions for equal participation
Remote employees struggle with being constantly interrupted or talked over in meetings more than others. To combat this, structure interactions in such a way that everybody gets to participate. Go around the virtual room giving everyone a chance to speak. Have attendees, both in-person and virtual, raise their hands before they can chime in. If people are being silent, the leader of the meeting should call on them for input or ask questions relevant to their expertise.
6. Embrace the circumstances
The worst thing you can do is to see hybrid meetings as a burden. Instead, embrace the new circumstances. Empower your remote team members to skip meetings to eat lunch with their families. Laugh when their kids run into the room. Start your meetings with a minute-long discussion on the weather in your various locations. Everybody use silly Zoom backgrounds.
Hybrid meetings don’t have to be perfect. If you follow the above tips, you should be able to enjoy the flexibility remote work provides while still getting the job done.
Hybrid meetings are here to stay
While they might introduce new challenges into the mix, hybrid meetings are essential if you’re planning on offering your employees remote work flexibility. Now is the time to train your time on how to run these meetings effectively and prepare them for the future of your business.
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