Even though offices reopen post-pandemic, people are reluctant to return to their desks full-time. It is reported that 33% of working professionals prefer a combination of in-office and remote work because this can reduce commuting costs and lead to a happier life. With that said, businesses are pressured to adopt a hybrid work model and they too benefit from it.
However, one common problem for the hybrid team is that hybrid meetings are more complex than meeting in-person or virtually and you need to master the art for the sessions to be productive.
That's why, in this article, we will explore how to run a successful hybrid meeting as well as the hybrid meeting technology to harness. Read on!
A hybrid meeting, as the name suggests, is a meeting that combines both in-person and virtual attendance.
Participants who are attending in person sit in a physical conference room, while the virtual attendees join remotely through video conferencing software such as Zoom or Google Meet. Despite not being in the same room, they can see each other and have a discussion.
When organized well, hybrid meetings combine the advantages of in-person and virtual interaction and provide several benefits:
Increased flexibility and convenience for attendees to participate in person or remotely, depending on their schedule and location.
Improve attendance rates by accommodating attendees who may not be able to attend in person, and this also boosts communication and collaboration between employees.
More cost-effective for businesses and participants than fully physical meetings by reducing the need for travel, commute, and accommodation.
Despite the benefits, conducting a team hybrid team meeting is no walk in the park, and they do possess some risks compared to totally in-person or virtual discussions.
Here are the common challenges of hybrid meetings that companies must be prepared to address.
One of the most significant challenges of a hybrid conference is the technical aspect, especially because the participation of virtual attendees depends heavily on the technology used during the meeting.
Therefore, it is not uncommon to experience the same problems associated with virtual meetings, including internet connectivity, audio and video quality, and compatibility issues with different devices and platforms.
Inequality of experience
Ensuring that everyone is equally engaged and heard might be difficult when holding a hybrid Zoom meeting and this can affect the participants’ experience.
Physical participants may have an advantage in terms of being able to interact more easily with others in the room while virtual participants may struggle to be heard or seen, which can lead to virtual attendees feeling excluded or disconnected from the meeting.
Managing group dynamics
Managing group dynamics in a hybrid meeting may be challenging. Some attendees may dominate the discussion, and leave little to no room for others to participate. Moreover, it may be challenging for the facilitator and participants to read the body language and nonverbal cues of virtual attendees.
Remember, hybrid meetings hold more disadvantages for remote participation, and companies that are planning a hybrid meeting must be prepared to address these issues by being proactive and implementing strategies to overcome them. We will discuss this extensively in the next section.
Not all communication has to be done via meetings. If it is only for information alignment and updates, you can explore asynchronous communication options, such as emails and instant messaging. Learn when you should have a team meeting.
However, if you determine that a hybrid meeting is necessary to achieve your communication objectives, here are some hybrid meeting best practices to follow.
Assigning roles and responsibilities is a crucial step in ensuring the hybrid meeting runs smoothly.
The essential meeting roles in a hybrid meeting include
a facilitator to manage the meeting and steer the conversation on the right course
a note-taker to capture important points
a timekeeper to keep track of time and ensure the meeting ends on time
a technology support person to assist with any technical issues that may arise
Spreading the roles among remote and on-site participants would be ideal to guarantee participation and eliminate the sense of exclusion among remote attendees.
Nevertheless, when it comes to assigning roles, it is important to consider the unique needs and challenges of both remote and on-site participants.
For example, the facilitator role may be more challenging for remote participants who are not physically present in the room and may have difficulty reading body language or picking up on nonverbal cues. Therefore, it may be beneficial to assign the facilitator role to an in-person attendee or at least assign a co-facilitator who is physically present in the room to help bridge this gap.
Designing an inclusive agenda for a hybrid meeting requires additional considerations to ensure that the objectives are met and both remote and on-site attendees feel engaged and included.
First of all, you should ensure that the meeting agenda is easily accessible to all participants by sharing it in advance via email or a collaborative agenda tool.
Then you should carefully plan the agenda items to encourage interaction and active participation from all participants, regardless of their location. To achieve this, you have to be mindful of the different needs and contexts of your in-person and remote attendees and design your agenda accordingly.
Review each activity on the agenda and think:
How virtual and in-person attendees will participate
How to modify or adapt in-person activities to suit virtual attendees and vice versa
It might help to have a remote attendee weigh in on the agenda before it is circulated to get their perspective on whether they consider it inclusive and engaging or not.
“If you’re trying to make sure that engagement is equal across virtual and in-person participants, that starts with technology.” - Ray Kimble, founder, and CEO of Kuma
Since hybrid meetings include in-personal and virtual participants, it is vital to plan your setup for both to ensure all can participate effectively.
Your set-up for on-site attendees should be geared towards making them comfortable, providing all they need to communicate with remote attendees.
Some key aspects of the onsite set-up include:
The meeting space: The size and layout of the meeting space are dictated by how many attendees are expected to be at the meeting and the activities on the agenda.
Cameras: Use a high-quality camera to capture all the on-site participants so that remote attendees have a full view of everyone at the meeting.
Speakers and microphones: Remember to position microphones to ensure all participants' voices are captured and heard.
Screens or projectors: Screens or projectors are often used in hybrid meetings to project virtual attendees so they appear ‘physically present’ and can interact with in-person participants better during the meeting.
Lighting: Ensure that the meeting room is well-lit and without dark shadows so that remote attendees can see the faces of their onsite counterparts.
The set-up for digital attendees should prioritize their active engagement and full inclusion in the meeting.
The following technical tools are necessary for setting up virtual attendees:
Video conferencing platform: Choose a platform that supports the features you need for your hybrid meetings, such as video conferencing, virtual whiteboards, screen sharing, chat, Q&A, and polling.
Internet connection: Confirm that your internet connection is strong, stable, and ready to go. A good internet connection will ensure that the video and audio are streamed by virtual participants without interruptions or delays. It will also ensure that virtual attendees can relay their contributions without glitches.
Cameras and speakers: Encourage virtual attendees to use HD-quality cameras so that they can be seen clearly while speaking or making their contributions.
Even though remote participants are not physically present at the meeting venue, you can simulate their presence using active engagement techniques and screens so that would seem like they are in the room.
First, you have to require and ensure that all remote attendees join the meeting with their cameras on and keep the camera on throughout the meeting. They should also be encouraged to actively communicate their thoughts with words and body language.
In addition to this, introduce virtual actions that mimic real-life ones, such as hand-raising before speaking and reactions, and require onsite attendees to do the same.
If the space and budget allow, remote participants should also be assigned individual large screens to center them in the conversation and provide them with a designated “seat” in the meeting.
Another brilliant way to make hybrid meetings more engaging and inclusive is by introducing auto-captions for the benefit of both remote and on-site attendees. Ideally, the captions should be available in several different languages to cater to all or most attendees.
Auto-captioning helps to make comprehension easier for a wide range of people and situations. For example, attendees who do not speak English or who do not have it as their native language, people with hearing impairments, those whose devices have faulty speakers or audio, or are in a distracting or noisy environment.
Some video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, have auto-captioning. But if you are using one that does not, learn about the captioning service or app beforehand and test out their offerings to ensure that it suits your hybrid meeting needs. Also, ensure that the service or app offers live technical support during the meeting.
Provide clear instructions and expectations to your attendees before the meeting to guide their preparation and conduct. The information should be shared in an email form, with images or videos to provide directions for more complex instructions such as how to use a breakout room.
The instructions should include detailed information on:
The meeting objectives and agenda
Attendees’ roles and responsibilities during the meeting
Documents to be discussed or presented
Rules of engagement
The video conferencing platform and meeting links
Any technical requirements, including the ideal internet connection, phone or laptop version required, system updates, and testing their microphone and speakers
The meeting location, parking, and any other logistical issue your in-person attendees need to know.
It's also essential to communicate your expectations for behavior and participation, including guidelines for chat, Q&A, and video conferencing etiquette.
Nothing kills a meeting’s momentum more than not hearing the conversations clearly and keeping saying ‘Pardon’?
Before running a hybrid meeting, it's crucial to test your technology to ensure that everything is working correctly. You can also use this opportunity to familiarize yourself with the devices and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
Schedule a 10-15 minute dry run of your meeting with one person respectively from the in-person and virtual attendee group to simulate the experiences and check for any technical issues. This includes the internet connection, the audio and video quality, the projector, and other software features you’re going to use.
Even if you are confident in the quality of your technology, you must make sure to test and optimize them for a hybrid working environment, at most a day before the meeting to guarantee their readiness and suitability for the meeting.
As explained earlier, managing group dynamics can be challenging in a hybrid meeting, but it's crucial to ensure that all attendees feel included and engaged.
The key here is to create opportunities for both in-person and virtual attendees to freely express themselves and be heard without hogging the conversation.
Here are a few things you should do:
Ensure virtual attendees participate actively through chat or video conferencing tools.
Encourage in-person attendees to include remote attendees in the conversation.
Set a timer for the duration of each agenda item and individual contribution as it can be easy for remote participants to lose track of time or for on-site participants to take up too much time.
Call on quiet attendees specifically to share their thoughts and opinions during discussions
Ask participants to raise their hands before they speak so that they do not talk over one another.
Practice and encourage active listening.
To avoid trial and error, assess and predict your group dynamics ahead of the meeting based on what you know about the attendees and plan accordingly.
After your hybrid meeting, evaluate its effects and follow up with your attendees on the action items and tasks assigned.
Assessing a meeting helps you to understand what worked well and what could be improved so that you can improve your planning and execution in subsequent meetings.
The most effective way to assess a meeting is by getting remote and on-site attendees’ opinions through an anonymous feedback form immediately after the meeting while their impressions are still fresh. Anonymous forms are more effective because attendees can be completely honest about their experience of the meeting without being afraid of the consequence.
The form should, however, require the disclosure of the attendee’s category, i.e. if they participated online or in person, and rank how engaged they felt during the meeting. Doing this will help to ensure that you get a fair assessment of the experiences of both attendee categories.
You can also record and playback the meeting to directly assess how the conversation progressed and how engaging it was. This is an easy way for you to spot possible areas of improvement for yourself as an organizer or facilitator.
In addition to the best practices listed above, you can harness the power of technology to improve the quality of your hybrid meetings and make them more engaging with the following software.
Airgram is an AI-powered meeting productivity app that simplifies communication and collaboration between in-person and remote participants throughout meetings.
Before the meeting, participants can view the agenda to understand what the meeting is about. They may add items, leave comments, and adjust the time allocated.
During the meeting, team members can work together on a Notepad to take, edit, and organize meeting notes concurrently, regardless of where they are.
Airgram’s live transcription function also automatically transcribes and documents remote and in-person participants’ input during the meeting making it possible to have the most accurate written record of the meeting and to access them when necessary.
Microsoft Teams Rooms was designed specifically to make communication and collaboration between in-person and remote employees more inclusive and effective.
It has a range of functions made to cater to hybrid teams such as cameras that can frame the room and zoom in on the active speaker, virtual hand-raising for remote attendees, live captions, and an analog whiteboard.
Vevox is a cloud-based software used for live polling and Q&As. It makes hybrid meetings more inclusive by allowing participants to provide quick feedback.
You can use this app to analyze participants’ sentiments and understanding of the discussion and vote on a decision to be made. It can also be used to gamify conversation starters, making ice-breaking easier and more exciting.
Smart Gallery is a Zoom Rooms service that uses AI and hardware to create individual video feeds of physical participants to give remote attendees a better view. Like Microsoft Team Rooms, it is designed specifically for hybrid meetings.
Webex Events has both a live event app and a hybrid event platform.
The hybrid event platform allows meeting planners or facilitators to manage a range of events with its extensive feature set which make it suitable for hybrid meetings, including session scheduling, live streaming, audience engagement such as polls, and attendee networking.
In conclusion, hybrid meetings have become a necessity in the current business landscape, as more companies embrace the hybrid work model and seek to connect with employees, customers, and partners across geographies.
Hybrid meetings offer a way to bridge the gap between in-person and virtual interactions and provide greater flexibility and accessibility to all attendees. And this trend will likely continue well into the future as the technology and infrastructure supporting hybrid meetings continue to improve and companies overcome the challenges highlighted earlier.
In the meantime, however, you can leverage the tips and technology listed in this article to make the most of your hybrid meetings and ensure that every attendee is fully engaged.
Tobi is a writer and communications consultant with five years of experience in creating content for corporate and non-profit organizations. She enjoys writing on best practices for business processes, technology, ESG, and climate change.