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How to run the best hybrid meetings (avoiding remote worker FOMO).

If I'm honest, one of the factors that kept me commuting daily pre-Covid was frustration with hybrid meetings (some people in a meeting room, some at home). This is partly FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but also a dislike for not being able to contribute effectively to my fullest. Caused by a number of factors:

  • No video, or video from a camera halfway up the wall, where you simply can't see people's faces;

  • Limited remote access to the presented material, where the conversation revolves around a whiteboard that someone might kindly point their laptop toward.

  • Unequal airtime, where the conversation is dominated by people in the room, with little opportunity for remote users to join in without interrupting others.

  • Lack of coordination, where colleagues in the office will all agree to move to a meeting room together or to change rooms and relocate in the building due to double-booking, whilst those working remote are left in the dark as to what is going on.

  • Fear of missing out.... where remote workers are left out of meetings or miss the conversation that happens before or after (in the lifts, grabbing a coffee in the kitchen, back at the desks).

So with the partial return to the office, how do we ensure that the hybrid meeting works well for all participants? and that we don't disadvantage those who stay away from the office due to preference, the nature of their work or greater Covid risk? There are a number of changes that can make a real difference and improve the experience for everybody......

Everybody goes online Taking a laptop into a meeting room was sometimes frowned upon in the pre-covid days. Because it meant that you might not be giving your full attention to others in the room and because it could be a "barrier" between you and other participants. However, with a hybrid meeting, the opposite is the case. If you don't bring your laptop with you, you are isolating yourself from the remote participants and creating a barrier to their participation. Quite simply, everyone (remote or local) should join a video conference and participate on an equal footing. Chair the meeting In my voluntary role as a school governor, the education authority pushes the message that effective chairs make for effective meetings..... and that is often really important when people are giving up a big part of their evening to talk about the thrilling subject of school budgets (especially last night immediately before the Euro2020 semi-final). Chairing makes a bigger difference with a hybrid meeting. From making sure that everyone knows that the meeting is happening and when, rather than starting by consensus when everyone around the desk drifts to the room, to ensure that all participants are given "airtime". Have a designated chair and make sure they coordinate the meeting start and end (messaging remote people if needed), ensure you have the right people attending locally and remotely (as well as none of the wrong people) and help manage the conversation so everyone has the opportunity to participate. Cameras on It is almost a cliche in business that 70% of communication is non-verbal. But there is a lot of truth to it. In a meeting, trying to judge how an idea was received, when someone has finished speaking, or whether someone is waiting to speak is extremely difficult unless you can see them. If everyone has a camera on, this is possible for remote and local participants alike, even if those in the room look directly at each other. Present content in the call Present all content in the call, using screen-sharing, document sharing or a virtual whiteboard. That way everyone has equal access.

Commit to the meeting Devices and notifications are designed to grab and hold attention. It is so easy to let attention wander to the latest email, the half-written document or an instant message when you have your laptop open in a (local or remote) meeting. All participants need to commit their attention to the meeting. Having cameras on helps, but there needs to be a deal..... the chair makes the meeting as relevant, succinct and engaging as possible and the attendees commit to being engaged. Use Subtitles, recordings or transcription. Most of the mainstream conferencing tools support meeting recording and subtitles. Some (including MS Teams) also support automatic transcription. These can help if call quality is poor.... as well as shortcutting things like minute taking. Keep the discussion in the meeting It is very easy to call a halt to a meeting, then continue the discussion as you go and grab a coffee afterwards. With remote participants, this doesn't work, as changing direction after they have left leads to frustration and confusion. Keep the meeting in the meeting.

It doesn't have to be 60 minutes! In the same way that humans work in decimal because we have ten digits on our hands, we all have a lazy tendency to book meetings in 30-minute increments because that is the default in Google and Outlook. As so many have discovered in lockdown, this can lead to full days of back to back calls and frequent use of "I'm going to be late as I need a quick break". Instead, set your meetings for how long you actually need. Even better, change the default in your calendar to set up meetings for shorter durations by default.

Your colleagues will love you for it and its really easy to do, as these two videos show: Outlook and Office365 - Google Calendar -

What would you add to this list?

If anyone has any other ideas to make the best hybrid meetings that work well for everyone, please post them in the Linkedin comments


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