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Setting up effective hybrid meetings – 5 tips for working in hybrid teams

Hybrid meetings are now commonplace at many companies. The right technology and netiquette are essential to them running smoothly.
Image: ©insta_photos / AdobeStock

During the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world had to get to grips with a whole new situation from one day to the next. All managers and employees switched to working from home, and with that came not only the urgent need to adapt to this new IT security in a hybrid world of work, but also a range of structural challenges in terms of teamwork. Quickly discussing something between the coffee machine and the conference room was no longer an option and was instead replaced by online meetings via Zoom and other video conferencing tools.

And now that so many of us are returning to the office, the next challenge has presented itself. That’s because most office workers have come to appreciate the benefits of working from home. The crisis has shown that remote working is possible – and very few want to see that option disappear entirely. In light of this, a dynamic combination of in-person and remote working will be the norm going forward.

However, that’s a new challenge in itself. With hybrid teams working partly in the office and partly from home, meeting spaces need to be cleverly conceived so that everyone is brought together on an equal footing. VR conferences and virtual reality meetings are still a far-off notion, so pragmatic solutions have to be developed for companies of all sizes. Otherwise, hybrid conferences could turn into unstructured, chaotic events, with information getting lost, opinions not being taken on board, and employees zoning out.

To make sure that doesn’t happen to you and your team, we have five tips for turning your hybrid meetings into inclusive, active, and productive events.

5 smart tips for successful hybrid meetings

#1 Fairness through an online-first approach

You have probably experienced it yourself before: not being able to get a word in edgewise during a highly animated discussion. For online participants in hybrid meetings, it is especially difficult to actively and equally contribute to discussions that are in full flow. That’s because they don’t have the advantage of drawing attention to themselves merely by their physical presence, for example by leaning forward, making a small gesture, or through their facial expression or eye contact. Remote colleagues also sometimes find it hard to pick the right moment to say something without disrupting the discussion going on in the office. In the worst-case scenario, they thus don’t get to express their opinion.

The online-first principle is a simple yet clever method for giving online participants enough opportunity to provide their input. It works by always asking them first if you want a question answered or an opinion on something.

By doing so, you’ll reduce the risk of them not having their say or getting drowned out by others. Instead, they get heard first in that particular topic of discussion.

#2 Provide the right equipment

For many remote participants in hybrid meetings, their experiences in front of a screen are all too often characterized by the tinny voice of the person leading the meeting rattling out of the laptop loudspeakers and someone somewhere in the background mumbling something incomprehensible.

It’s no surprise then that online participants can feel distant from hybrid meetings, not only physically, but also in terms of the content. Technology is therefore key to making everyone feel involved and immersed. Ideally, a room camera will capture everyone attending the meeting in person. A room microphone will carry the sound over to participants’ remote working environments clearly and comprehensibly, while skillfully distributed loudspeakers will allow online talkers to be heard. Space and equipment permitting, a big screen should make remote employees visible and approachable to everyone sitting at the conference table. If that isn’t possible, physically present employees should each have a laptop in front of them.

#3 The camera’s rolling!

Hybrid teams should not be afraid to ask all online participants to switch on their webcam. After all, working from home is a privilege, and those in the office can hardly hide their faces behind their desks as well, no matter how much they might want to. Being able to see each other at all times is incredibly important in hybrid meetings, since our gestures and facial expressions really help form a mutual understanding. What’s more, it makes it much easier for people to join the discussion because if they have something to say, sometimes all they have to do is open their mouth for a second or raise their hand to signal their intention to others.

And besides, you probably wouldn’t want a heap of incognito chat windows staring at you either in a hybrid meeting. Showing one’s face is basic netiquette.

#4 Aim for as much online activity as possible

A typical obstacle for online participants in hybrid meetings is active collaboration, even just on a cognitive level. Conference rooms usually have a whiteboard where ideas are brainstormed using a pen and sticky notes. For those looking on from their monitor, this is problematic in two respects. For one thing, only half of what’s written on the board’s reflective surface will be legible. To make matters worse, it will sometimes be too small to read when captured by a webcam and displayed on a small laptop screen.

With that in mind, you should move as much activity online as possible – also for those physically present at the table. There’s no shortage of convenient digital whiteboard solutions to allow everyone participating to make notes and actively collaborate. By using this kind of tool, your employees will also be able to immediately access the compiled results on their computer from wherever.

#5 Leave room for small talk

Employees working from home will still enjoy being part of your team. And you can also create an appreciative, collegial feeling among your employees in hybrid teams, even without all the chitchat that usually takes place in the hallway and cafeteria. As you’d expect in typical conferences, hybrid meetings also normally have a window of time where participants “warm up”. Some of them may already be seated at the conference table joking around, others may be quickly grabbing a coffee before joining them.

So let your colleagues partake in that from home as well. Open the meeting room 15 minutes before it’s scheduled to start and let a relaxed environment for interaction emerge by itself. And just because the meeting has officially finished, it doesn’t mean you have to abruptly end it. You can instead leave room for small talk. That will simply give your WFH heroes the opportunity to experience more of the office atmosphere and feel part of the team. You could also call it refined netiquette. On top of that, it encourages your remote workers to visit the office again to soak up the team spirit.

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