It’s the question we get asked almost daily - how do we create a connected environment when we’re working in this new hybrid and distributed world? It’s a good question - connection is essential to building strong, flexible teams - but it’s a long, multifaceted answer. This piece looks at one piece of the puzzle: hybrid meetings. Below is the advice we give clients who want to make a difference fast and are looking for a first step in the journey of levelling up the employee experience in the hybrid world.
Since COVID restrictions ended, many of us have (happily or otherwise) returned to the office, but it already seems clear that having a few team members offsite each day due to health, caregiving or travel issues (or straightforward preference) will be a long term change.
So, how do you do meetings right with a mix of attendees on- and off-site? As with all conversations around ways of working, we encourage clients to take an experimental mindset with this practice - an acknowledgement you might not get it right the first time, but you’ll get there. When failure is not something to be feared but an acknowledged part of a successful process, we find it easier to go ahead and start, and feel less dispirited when we learn lessons along the way (we’ll cover the experimental mindset in more detail in an upcoming post).
Whatever ends up working best for your business, you’re more likely to succeed if you keep the following five tips for hybrid meetings in mind:
1. Be intentional in how you prepare and kick off these meetings
Spend time at the beginning of a meeting connecting people to each other, both in the room and across, this could be starting by articulating the purpose of the meeting— what's our desired outcome? Then, spend time at the end, closing in a way that helps people understand what transpired here, what are our action points, our next moves.
Consider how you want people to work together to make the experience as good as it can be for everyone?
2. Consider your space
Set up your room and make audio work for everyone. Be intentional about inclusivity. It’s worth doing this - investments in digital infrastructure are as important as those in physical space, we use a digital whiteboard (try Miro or Mural) to collaborate in real time no matter where individuals are located. These are great tools to draw on when you need to engage in creative problem solving and idea generation. We know that digital investments by leaders significantly impact employee experience: Employees who perceive their company to be an early adopter of technology reported scores twice as high for sense of belonging compared with those at organisations perceived to be late adopters (World Economic Forum, 2021).
3. Level the playing field
An increasing number of businesses are experimenting with a “one dials in, all dial in” policy. Though it might feel counterintuitive asking people onsite to connect by screen, our experience shows it’s an excellent way to create a sense of equality and reduce the likelihood of proximity bias (the tendency to give preferential treatment to people in the immediate vicinity).
In a hybrid workplace, proximity typically refers to differences in leaders' attitude, often unconscious, toward employees working from home and those working at the office - and, we know from the research that that bias fall hardest on historically underrepresented employee groups (women, parents, caregivers and minority ethnic groups) as they are opting into flexible work options—and opting out of work in the office—at higher rates than their peers.
4. Appoint a hybrid meeting moderator
Ensure that every hybrid meeting has someone assigned to make sure those who are dialling in are equally present and can be part of the discussion. These off-site participants need to be supported to get a word in (preferably more than one!) and to be able to hear clearly what's going on in the room. The moderator needs to be hyper-focused on the video call, keep an eye on the chat function, and keep an eye out for hands flailing about trying to take part in the natural flow of the onsite monologue.
5. Screen always wins
We’ve all been there, it’s nigh on impossible to get a word in if you're on the screen. Make it easier for the individuals dialling in by letting them know they get their first voice. When we’re explicit that that’s the rule, full transparency, full clarity, there’s no chance of causing offence by asking someone to pause and let that person on the screen have their moment.
You don’t transform how people work by announcing a policy; you do it by experimenting, learning, adapting and investing in the champions behind the change you want to see happen. The great unlock for hybrid meetings is ensuring your meeting practice is an engaging and equitable experience for all participants — regardless of where they’re located and how they’re joining. And while it’s only one part of the whole picture, getting the hybrid meeting humming is an excellent place to start.
Keen to make your meetings work better for everyone? We’re always open to a no-obligation chat.