What Is the Best Way to Run a Highly Effective Hybrid Meeting?
Things won't magically improve as hybrid meetings become the new normal.
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Everyone who has dialed into company meetings in the past usually arrived at the obvious conclusion that participating is often more of a pain than it is worth. It's loud, or the meeting hosts can't hear you, or they pay scant attention to those who dial in.
Things won't magically improve as hybrid meetings become the new normal this year. That's an issue because all signs — and research — point to hybrid work as the new normal. Nine out of 10 organizations will combine remote and on-site working, according to a recent McKinsey survey on the future of work.
Businesses might soon discover that hybrid meetings are often more chaotic than ones where every participant is remote. Does this scene sound familiar? You're video conferencing into a meeting where a handful of onsite participants are standing at a whiteboard with their backs to the camera talking to one another, possibly in a foreign language. Hard to tell. If this were Netflix, you'd turn on captioning. Other disengaged team members are off-camera in the room, multitasking. After the scheduled video conference ends, the onsite groups keep talking and arrives at a new consensus.
As you might imagine, this meeting dynamic is something my UX design team studies very closely. Technology isn't the only answer. We believe that leveling the playing field between onsite and remote workers in hybrid meetings requires two things: Processes and culture; and better tools.
Great hybrid meetings?
Remote workers know that trying to get a word in edgewise during meetings is often tricky, especially when onsite workers aren't seeing what they see and others who dial in while commuting aren't seeing anything (except for the road, we hope). Those meetings can become difficult to follow or simply unproductive.
When you're a remote worker, you have to work really hard to stay engaged. You have to work so much harder than onsite participants to be present and relevant. You've got to turn on your video. You've got to greet everyone by name when they come into the room.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? But what if everyone were, in effect, in the same boat, even if they're in the conference room rather than connecting from a corner cafe? This might necessitate everyone using a laptop to achieve the same level of "presence" in the meeting, not just those working from home.
Another emerging best practice we're going to try: We will designate one person to pay attention to remote workers and help facilitate their participation in hybrid meetings. By facilitate, we don't mean "add pressure to participate," rather the trick is to find openings for comment. Even a show of hands can help drive consensus or spark engaging discussion.
Also, make sure that meetings are planned in your messaging application, where everyone knows what's going on, and make sure the follow-up from the meeting gets back into the message thread. That way, remote workers, and anyone who misses the meeting are always up to speed.
In the past year, an idea has emerged that working from home is a very isolating experience. Younger workers, in particular, might languish without guidance and mentoring. Some companies have wisely introduced 1:1 meetings and mandated mentoring to help remote workers to flourish.
McKinsey said that a "notable finding" is that organizations with strong productivity gains during the pandemic both "supported and encouraged small moments of engagement among their employees."
This is an area where I believe collaborative technology can help improve team engagement. Technology can help facilitate different types of break-out meeting rooms to enable 1:1s or small group meetings that can help boost productivity, lift camaraderie and enhance wellbeing.
What about people on the move during meetings? How can we increase their engagement? Participants who need to be mobile during meetings might also benefit from some smart connectivity refinements. Making it easy to flip meeting connections between phones and laptops and back again as needed — all without having to reconnect or disrupt an ongoing meeting — will be invaluable.
A RingCentral study released last year revealed that employees working for companies that foster a "connected culture" are twice as likely to be productive when working from anywhere compared to those that don't. Companies with a connected culture seamlessly blend effective connectivity with a commitment to supporting work/life balance and provide frequent opportunities for employee interaction.
Sounds ideal. But what if a company hasn't yet established a connected culture? How can we help? The study points to actions that companies with a connected culture can take to help their remote team members feel more connected. The most common actions cited by employees include frequent employee communication (50%), enhanced collaboration tools (26%), virtual happy hours (24%) and peer chats (22%). Some of these are things you can put into place now.
Enabling great hybrid meetings is a combination of UX design, engaging product features, training, meeting best practices and people learning how to do engaging things with the platform.
We need to be focused on wrapping our minds around connectivity and building a connected culture. From a product standpoint, we must fulfill all the functional, social and emotional jobs required to run successful hybrid meetings. We must implement these jobs in a highly engaging way to realize our connectivity vision. We never want any meeting participant to feel like they're not being heard or understood.
Improving hybrid meetings will take a fair amount of time, patience and process change. Which of these changes would you like to see to make your company's hybrid meetings a more engaging and productive experience?