It may seem like an odd time to discuss how to successfully hold hybrid business meetings when so many of us are trying to focus on maintaining our teams (and our sanity) amid the latest round of government work-from-home admonitions and Omicron variant concerns.
But, as an Ireland-based client told me recently and so many others are sharing, hybrid meetings are already upon us. My client shared that she was the only one coming into the meeting online as the rest of her team was based in the UK and were in the office.
“It was a disaster,” she exclaimed. “I could hear about every fifth word and as much as I tried to stay engaged, I felt that the meeting happened around me, not with me.”
In a different situation, I found myself presenting in-person just over a week ago to a team based in London. One member had to attend via Google Hangout because his daughter had come down with Covid.
His face was projected overly large on a monitor on the training room wall. But, while he could be very well seen, the screen was mounted opposite the chairs of the in-person delegates. So, when I faced them, I didn’t face him. Awkward.
Those are just two examples. I’ll bet you’ve either experienced or heard of many more. So, now, while we’re trying to sort out what we’re going to do with the remainder of 2021, I am going to ask you to consider how to hold a more successful hybrid meeting.
It will take foresight, planning and resources. “Presence disparity” is at risk every time there’s a hybrid meeting. This should compel you and your company to put some best practices in place as soon as possible to ensure every person on your team feels included no matter whether they are in the actual or the Zoom room.
Here are my top four tips:
One easy way to eliminate presence disparity is to level the playing field. If everyone can’t be together in the office, try putting everyone together virtually. This means that even if some members of the team are present in-person, each goes back to their desk and joins the meeting virtually with the others who are not. Voila! Evened playing field. I know a number of companies already implementing this approach.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to try this, then keep on reading. (And keep reading anyway, please. I need you!)
Whoever calls the meeting should also know how to actively facilitate that meeting. It was bad enough back during in-person meeting days when the person who organised a meeting didn’t understand that part of their role was to encourage others around the table to voice their opinions, but it’s inexcusable now. Don’t expect every participant to simply interject. It’s difficult if they’re virtual while others are “in the room” or if their cameras are off and they’re not even being seen during the meeting.
Train your leaders to learn how to effectively encourage participation by either asking each person by name if they would like to add something or by providing a portion of time at the end of a meeting to generally ask if anyone would like to build upon or offer a different perspective to what has already been said.
If the meeting leader isn’t able or doesn’t have time to actively facilitate the meeting, they could appoint in-person participants to partner with each virtual colleague. This buddy system nurtures professional networking relationships by establishing a responsibility bond between virtual delegates and their in-person team.
This approach also raises awareness for the in-person people of the virtual experience that is taking place at the same time. And thirdly, rather than trying to get the attention of the facilitator, who may have forgotten about the on-line cohort, the virtual co-worker can instead, directly and discretely, text their in-person buddy when they have a question.
The in-person ambassador will have a better chance of being recognised by the others in the actual room and can then pass the floor to their virtual counterpart.
I already described the frustration my client felt when the audio was too low for the conversations from the meeting room to make their way clearly to her ears in her Zoom room.
Mitigate this annoyance by increasing the number or improving the quality of the microphones in your company’s meeting rooms.
Also, consider installing multiple cameras in the room if some of the people around the table or materials you may be discussing cannot be easily seen by your on-line co-workers.
As we continue to experiment with new ways of working, it’s essential that communications is put in the fore. Remember, health uncertainty plus virtual work plus everything else that we’ve been enduring nearly two years now is taking its toll on us.
Research from the UK’s Office of National Statistics and The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US show our anxiety and depression levels have surged compared with those before the pandemic.
It’s critical then, during a meeting, that every person feels they are being provided an opportunity to share if they would like to. Take action now before a slight slip-up becomes a systemic problem.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon