You’re not alone.
In 2017, a study of 1100 employees found remote employees were more likely to feel left out. And in Igloo’s 2020 State of the Digital Workplace, 43% of remote workers said they’d been excluded from meetings or brainstorms.
But there’s no denying it: the hybrid work model is the future.
In 2021, PwC and McKinsey surveys found that execs expect less than 5 days per week of in-person work. Another 72% plan on increasing investments in tools for virtual collaboration.
Meetings are where the proverbial rubber hits the road in this new work model.
And it takes organizational will, expertise, and effort to make hybrid meetings work for onsite and remote employees. So how do you do it?
In the sections below, you’ll learn how your organization can start developing good habits for hybrid meetings.
But first, a quick review to make sure we’re speaking the same language.
A hybrid meeting is a meeting with both in-person and remote participants together.
The only kinds of meetings that aren’t hybrid are one-on-ones or meetings where you have either all remote meeting attendees or all in-person attendees. In hybrid meetings, remote attendees typically call in with their phone or video conference with their laptop.
In the not-too-distant future, remote workers will be beamed into your meeting space as holograms. (Just kidding… but not really.)
The adage that 90% of communication is non-verbal isn’t technically correct. But there’s plenty of truth to it… and there’s no question that it’s far easier to pick up on body language in real life.
There are other challenges too: In-office attendees can speak over remote attendees more easily. In larger meetings, in-person employees can see everyone while remote workers listen to disembodied voices.
Plus, remote employees miss out on all the chatter that happens around the fringes of meetings.
But hybrid meetings can also be magical, allowing less outspoken employees to share their ideas. To get the magic without the mayhem, we have to completely rethink how we relate to one another in the room and on the screen.
And that starts with structure.
There’s a few things that provide structure to any meeting: a facilitator, the agenda, and a meeting task management system.
Facilitating: Assigning a meeting facilitator to direct and enable discussion, debate, and decision-making is table stakes in any meeting. But in hybrid meetings, as Cary Greene and Bob Frisch explain in the HBR, facilitators must adjust their approach to:
This means looking for new kinds of nonverbal cues. For example, a remote attendee who unmutes themself or uses the hand raise function are signs facilitators need to look for that the person is trying to speak.
Facilitators also need to learn to take proactive steps to engage their remote colleagues, like inviting them to share their perspectives.
Agenda setting: Hybrid meetings are a big change, which makes the fundamentals all the more important. An effective agenda states meeting goals and discussion topics, enabling team members to get aligned before, during, and after the meeting.
Agendas are especially important for virtual workers. Those workers may not have been present when it was decided that a meeting was needed, which is important context that an agenda can communicate.
Why involve the group in setting the agenda?
The exercise of creating an agenda forces you to think carefully about who needs to be in the meeting and who doesn’t. That in itself can help prevent feelings of exclusion if someone’s invited who doesn’t have a role in the meeting.
Another thing to consider while creating the agenda is how remote participants can engage in any exercises you plan.
Depending on your agenda topics, you may need to get creative to include remote workers. This makes agenda creation an especially important exercise so you have a chance to think through what tweaks you might need to ensure remote attendees can engage.
For more tips on agenda creation, check out our post: How to Create Effective Meeting Agendas for Productive Meetings.
Tracking action items in a shareable way: Tight integration between the action items covered during the meeting and your task management system is a must.
Some meeting management tools, such as Hugo, provide built-in templates for action items and project management integrations. This makes it easy to follow up with the meeting’s list of action items
To learn more about meeting tasks and action items, read our 7 Tips for Managing Meeting Tasks and Action Items.
It’s bad enough when people talk over each other in a traditional meeting; for remote attendees, it’s downright disorienting.
Still, even for teams that know how to take turns, new rules are necessary so you can develop habits that help remote employees engage. You can—and should—design your own rules based on your team’s preferences, but here’s a bunch of rules to consider implementing:
Rules and structure give you a solid foundation for hybrid meetings. But you can take a step further with certain remote-friendly tools and techniques. Just make sure you practice using these before you use them in a live meeting.
By conducting a poll before your meeting you give your colleagues a chance to share their perspectives, even if they don’t have the chance in the meeting. You can level up this tactic with mid-meeting polls—when it’s relevant—to get input, spark discussion, and engage everyone.
Unless you have your camera setup dialed, working on a physical whiteboard is going to make remote attendees feel excluded. Fortunately, there are plenty of virtual whiteboard tools provided by vendors like Miro. Use these instead of a physical whiteboard so all your colleagues can engage.
Asking questions with a live chat feature is great because it enables everyone to ask questions without interrupting the speaker. You’ll just have to make sure the facilitator is paying attention to the questions as they come in.
You can also use the chat, like Senior Facilitator at HubSpot, Mariel Argonza does by asking attendees to write down their key takeaways from the meeting via chat. Argonza explains that this gives participants time to think through their answers and enables peer-to-peer learning.
Just because some people are on screens doesn’t mean you can’t start your meeting with a fun icebreaker. One great icebreaker for hybrid meetings is to ask participants to send in a favorite photo before the meeting. Then the facilitator can scroll through the photos and give each attendee a minute to explain why they chose that photo.
Check out our post on remote-friendly icebreakers for more ideas.
Meeting facilitators have a lot on their hands, but the buddy system can remove some of the burden. With the buddy system, you assign an in-person meeting attendee to be a remote person’s “buddy.”
Typically, the pair stays connected with a chat which gives the remote attendee an in-room representative. If your remote worker has a question or missed something, the in-person buddy can help make sure their remote buddy is heard.
The best facilitator in the world can’t engage a remote participant who can’t hear them. And it’s that much easier for in-person attendees to ignore a grainy video they can barely see.
So carve out whatever funds you can to spend on external mics, speakers, cameras, and monitors. If you haven’t already, here are a few areas you should consider investing in:
HD television or external monitor: The larger the screen, the larger your remote colleagues’ faces are, and the harder they are to ignore. Plus, it can double as a digital whiteboard.
Microphones and external speakers: You may be able to get away without external speakers if your meeting space is smaller. But you need external microphones if you’re going to run hybrid meetings. If you’re trying to stay budget-friendly, grab a few conference room mics that pick up sound in a broad area.
High-quality router: Hopefully your office has a solid internet connection, but if not, invest in a high-end router. Also, consider providing a stipend for remote employees to use to upgrade their hardware.
External cameras: To ensure remote attendees can see everything they need to, external cameras are a must.
Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”
In a nutshell, what he meant was that the medium influences both how a message is delivered and how it’s received. Hybrid meetings are no exception. The mediums of video and face-to-face communication influence messages in different ways.
Our job, as we head into a new way of working, is to tweak our messages to leverage the good influences and mitigate the bad.
To do that means going beyond the hybrid meeting into the entire realm of workplace communication. After all, in-meeting communications don’t exist in a vacuum.
So while hybrid meetings are a great place to start, we’d encourage you to go further and look at how you can improve communication among hybrid teams by doing things like:
And if you’d like more ideas on improving communication with your team, check out these posts:
For better remote meetings, here are 4 essential tips.
How to run effective team meetings — including agenda examples, best practices, and other critical meeting tips.