At this point, no one knows what the future holds with the pandemic. Chances are, we’ll continue to live in a hybrid work environment where some people are in the office and others work remotely. These two groups may even be one in the same as many employees adopt a flexible policy that allows everyone to work from home some days and be in the office for the others.
However it plays out in your office, you don’t need to let this hybrid environment ruin your productivity – especially when it comes to meetings. There’s nothing wrong with having a few people gathered around a conference table, a few more appearing on video screens and even a couple calling in on a conference line. Sound chaotic? Only if you lose control of the meeting.
So do yourself a favor and anticipate a few challenges ahead of time. That way you can focus on the task at hand, which is getting everyone together, ready to knock this agenda out of the park!
Don’t overlook the value of audio.
The popularity of video chatting has placed significant priority on making sure we can all see each other. That’s fine, I guess, but for my money I’d like to make sure we can all hear each other. Double check that your conference room has the audio capabilities to hear remote participants loud and clear – and vice versa. If not, it’s amazing what a few high-quality microphones and speakers can do.
A little proactivity can go a long way with this issue, so it’s not a bad idea to have everyone test their device’s speakers and microphones to ensure they’re up to speed before a call starts. Headphones should be encouraged for remote participants, especially if their device has poor audio capabilities or if they know they’ll be in a location that’s prone to background noise. This can include everything from the home setting to the car, outdoors and most indoor public settings.
Design your agenda with remote participants in mind.
Can your remote participants easily access any changes to your itinerary? Can they clearly see the numbers you’ve got up on the conference room screen via a PowerPoint presentation you’re screen-sharing with them? If not, you want to tackle these issues before the next collaboration.
Online whiteboards allow everyone to see what’s being written in real time, while tools like Poll Everywhere can let the whole office submit their opinion without your meeting turning into a debate.
Get ready to lead, lead, lead.
With hybrid meetings, you not only have to keep the attention of the people at the conference table, you have to fight against all the distractions present in the remote environments as well! This includes kids, pets, traffic, and pretty much anyone and anything in the general vicinity. Drop the ball, forget what you were saying, have too much lag time as you switch gears and – bam! – you’ve probably lost part of your audience.
There should be one clear leader established for every hybrid meeting. Make sure everyone knows who that leader is, and that the leader knows exactly what’s expected of them. Keep to the meeting agenda, be clear when you’re asking for opinions, and address participants by name when you’re calling on them or speaking directly to them.
It also helps to set some ground rules, like only one person speaking at a time. An easy way to do this for the in-person crowd is to pass around a microphone to whomever is speaking. Remote participants should mute their microphones until they’re ready to chime in. Emphasizing the use of a group chat for remote participants can also allow the meeting leader to see any questions/comments/concerns coming in without having to interrupt the meeting to address them. At the appropriate time, that leader can mention so-and-so brought up an interesting point on X.
Do some work beforehand.
I’m not talking about audio work this time. A meeting with participants in multiple locations will run a lot smoother if you can trim the fat from your agenda. This means asking for – and collecting – opinions on certain items ahead of time. You should also gather project updates well in advance of the meeting’s start date.
Once you have all this info on hand, you can add those topics to the agenda in a much more concise form. Instead of discussing the open-ended question, you can hone in on the few important comments posed, then let them dictate the direction of that conversation. Working proactively also allows everyone to bring their best to the table. We know time is tight, so having a head’s up that your two cents will be needed on these three items will result in well-thought-out opinions in time for the meeting. This is opposed to posing the question on the spot where people have to ponder your query and come up with something off the top of their heads. Not necessarily anybody’s best work!
Be diplomatic when scheduling meetings.
We all know meetings can be unruly under the best circumstances. And they’re not always viewed with the robust excitement we had when planning them. There’s a reason the phrase “this meeting could have been an email” has become so popular…because it’s TRUE!
Give some thought to what items absolutely need to be handled in meeting fashion and which can be completed over email, a messaging app or through smaller breakout groups. We’re all stretched thinner than ever nowadays. If you’re conservative with your approach to calling meetings, I promise your participants will thank you for it and bring their A game when they do need to show up.