How to maximise the value of your hybrid meetings
Hybrid meetings have existed for some time, but they are likely to become a mainstay of corporate life as many return to the office. How can leaders learn to run hybrid meetings effectively? This article gives a range of tips.
When many people think of meetings, they instinctively groan. After all, most organisations have long allowed their meetings to descend into chaos, or meeting madness, and very few have even acknowledged their performance in running meetings, let alone tried to optimise it.
Meetings represent a crucial intersection in your organisation. Not only are they the forum in which strategy is developed, set, and mobilised, they are also where your company's culture lives, grows, or dies.
Intrinsically human in nature, meetings are the perfect way to ensure that your organisation stays on track and achieves its goals, and also that your people remain connected to one another and to the company itself.
However, given the human element of meetings, they are prone to many of the shortcomings that our species has long suffered from: A tendency to wander from talking points, to get caught up in the social aspects of meetings (which in itself creates huge value) but without accomplishing the goals the meeting set out to achieve. These problems have only worsened with the rise of remote working, and are especially prevalent in hybrid meetings, which are likely to be a lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, according to a recent McKinsey survey, 90% of organisations will adopt some combination of remote and on-site work as they emerge from COVID-19 restrictions.1 But what are hybrid meetings? How do they impact leaders? And how can they be successfully run? We explore hybrid meetings in detail to help leaders navigate the uncertain future ahead.
What are hybrid meetings?
Traditionally, a meeting took place when:
- People convened in the same place,
- At the same time, and
- For the purpose of achieving a common objective.
With hybrid meetings, one and three remain unchanged, however technology and working practices have evolved so that two is no longer always the case. Many employees, contractors, and partners now work remotely, and in enterprise organisations teams are often distributed around the globe.
However, for some people in a given meeting, point two above may remain true, and this creates a situation where some participants in meetings may be physically present, while others join from remote locations via videoconferencing or telephone.
This situation is referred to as a ‘hybrid meeting’ as it melds the traditional, in-person model of meetings with the more recent approach of virtual meetings. There are numerous benefits of empowering your teams to choose where and how they deploy their skillset, and hybrid meetings allow for both personal connections and connections that extend far beyond the physical confines of a meeting.2 However, for leaders, hybrid meetings create a unique set of challenges.
For example, how do you create a unified experience for those joining remotely, as well as those in the room? And how do you still secure the myriad benefits of meetings without all participants being physically present?
To help keep your meetings on track, we have compiled our list of the top effective meeting tips for hybrid meetings. How many of them can you implement for your next meeting?
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The top seven basic rules of hybrid meetings
Contrary to popular belief, getting meetings right isn’t always straight forward - and many leaders aren’t actually very good at it. According to an interview with meeting expert Prof. Dr. John Kello, “Leaders are generally prone to see their meetings as much more positive than participants.” Hybrid meetings only magnify this, and many organisations are still adapting and understanding the ‘new normal’ of corporate life.
For this reason, we’ve put together our top seven basic rules of hybrid meetings:
1. Choose the type of meeting and participants
Much like all meetings, a basic rule of hybrid meetings is to determine the type of meeting that you need to hold, and the participants who should take part. Before you can even dive into arranging a hybrid meeting, it is essential to be very clear on the purpose of holding one in the first place. What are you trying to achieve? Is meeting the most effective means of doing so? The answer to these questions will help you to define the type of hybrid meeting that you are hosting, and the individuals whose expertise is required.
It is arguable that hybrid meetings require even greater clarity than in-person meetings, as it can be more challenging to hold individuals’ attention. One way of giving this clarity is selecting the right type of meeting.
Therefore, once you have decided that a meeting is necessary and started the agenda creation process, it is important to consider what type of meeting you are going to host, and to communicate this to all participants. This will be directly derived from the meeting objectives that you have already identified.
There are a range of different types of meetings at your disposal, but much like the master craftsman, you must select the right meeting type for the job at hand.
2. Create a meeting agenda
A well-crafted meeting agenda not only has an overall objective stated clearly, but also breaks the meeting down into discrete items - each of which has its own objective, leader, and supporting materials. The act of creating a meeting agenda for your hybrid meetings therefore ensures that you have made a number of important considerations before requesting people's valuable time.
Once you have a draft agenda created, it is vital that you share it as early as possible with your meeting participants, so that they can contribute to the agenda, ask clarifying questions, collaborate asynchronously, and prepare fully - all before the meeting has begun. This agenda will unify all participants - whether they are joining physically or remotely - and will serve as the blueprint for your meeting. This is a key step in engaging those who cannot be physically present for the meeting, as it ensures that their ideas and inputs are heard before the meeting starts.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
For hybrid meetings, it is especially important to set aside time to prepare the meeting space in advance. This includes checking the connection and setting up any video conferencing tools you have. You must also be prepared to share your screen so that virtual participants can follow the same presentation.
In addition to this, the earlier you can engage participants of a hybrid meeting, the greater the engagement will be once the meeting begins. Therefore, an effective meeting tip is to promote thorough meeting preparation among all participants. Ensuring that they invest time before the meeting to review the necessary materials, contribute to the agenda, ask clarifying questions, and collaborate asynchronously with other participants, all mean that they arrive at your meetings - whether in person or virtually - fully prepared and ready to participate.
4. Respect people's time
If people have been gracious enough to give you their time, and participate in your meeting, then the least you can do as a meeting lead is be respectful of their time. This means that the meeting should start and end on time, and when you are participating, it means arriving on time for meetings, and being prepared to contribute. This should be one of your ground rules for every meeting. While this should be true for every meeting, with hybrid meetings it is often the case that participants are joining from other parts of the world. This could mean that they have started their day especially early, or are staying late, in order to participate. This only exacerbates the need to be mindful of the time.
Having a meeting agenda template helps with this, as each discrete item should have an allotted time, after which it should be recommended that discussions are taken offline, or that subsequent meetings are arranged for a more detailed discussion to continue.
5. Take notes
While it sounds rudimentary, taking meeting notes (or meeting minutes in more formal contexts) is an especially effective meeting tip. Keeping a clear record of discussions, actions, and those responsible for delivery (and by when) are all necessary checkpoints on the journey to meeting productivity.
Not only do meeting notes aid individual productivity, they also help to cement the value that is created in meetings and translate it into tangible actions - or at the very least, pave the way for follow-up. Furthermore, for hybrid meetings they guarantee that participants are kept abreast of all talking points and outcomes, regardless of interrupted connections or poor audio quality - both of which are challenging when participants join meetings remotely.
6. Make meetings inclusive
Diversity of thought is one of an organisation's hidden strengths, but it is only realised if everyone can contribute equally. Therefore, as a meeting lead, it is imperative that you make your meetings as inclusive as possible. This means communicating effectively in your meetings, deliberately involving the introverts among your participants, creating space for them to contribute and to share their ideas, without interruption or fear of speaking out. This also helps to foster a feeling of psychological safety in your meetings. Emotional intelligence plays a key role here, as it is important to read 'the room' and if people have been especially quiet, while others have been vocal, it is worth asking directly for their input or opinion, or if they have anything to add.
In hybrid meetings it is important that you manage the meeting in such a way that the experience is unified for everyone participating.
Inclusivity in meetings also means involving those who are joining via different mediums, equally. In hybrid meetings it is important that you manage the meeting in such a way that the experience is unified for everyone participating. This might mean requesting that all remote participants have their cameras switched on, as well as nominating someone to monitor the comments section throughout the meeting so that all voices are heard. Features such as Google's 'raise a hand' also help to identify when people wish to contribute.
7. Use the right tools
Finally, like the humans that participate in them, meetings are complex organisms with a range of inputs and outputs and, in some cases, conflicting priorities between stakeholders. Hybrid meetings are even more complex, as you need to factor in the different experiences of your participants and facilitate their ability to contribute.
Therefore, an effective meeting tip for hybrid meetings is to streamline as much of the meeting process as possible, using technology to help ease the administrative, organisational, and procedural burdens that can arise.
Hybrid meetings: Easily understood, challenging to master
As the world heaves itself from lockdowns and, for some, a return to the office takes place, hybrid meetings will be forged into the future of corporate life. Through a series of simple steps, we can see that it is possible to transform hybrid meetings from a leadership headache, into a powerful tool for the future.
By embracing the change, having clear processes in place, and using technology that works with you rather than against you, your hybrid meetings can provide people with a unified meeting experience, no matter where they are in the world.
1 ‘What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work’, McKinsey & Company, 2021.
2 ‘What are hybrid meetings...And why you need a customized approach’, Bucomm, 2021.