Long live the meeting room. At a time when remote working has become the norm and organizations are transitioning to a hybrid workplace, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the humble meeting room’s days are numbered. Not so. As workplaces evolve and teams are spread across different locations, hybrid meetings are a way to ensure collaboration and decision-making doesn’t grind to a halt.
They do, however, bring their own unique set of challenges. How do you, for example, ensure that virtual attendees at a hybrid meeting aren’t disadvantaged and left to feel like second class citizens?
Let’s take a look at what a hybrid meeting is and how you can run them as effectively as possible.
What is a hybrid meeting?
A hybrid meeting involves a mixture of in-person and remote attendees. Remote attendees join the meeting via a virtual meeting platform, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. In-person attendees sit together in a dedicated meeting room. Sometimes each participant will take part in the meeting using a personal device, regardless of whether they’re physically in the meeting room or not. In other instances, in-person attendees will use a central screen.
Hybrid meetings can help oil the wheels of teamwork, collaboration and decision-making in your organization, because you don’t need to interrupt meeting cadence even if some employees aren’t in the office.
In the post-Covid office, health and safety is higher up the agenda than before. Hybrid meetings are the perfect way to minimize the number of people physically present in a space. Social distancing isn’t a problem, because you can limit the number of people in the meeting room.
With a meeting room booking system, you can ensure rooms don’t get oversubscribed, have an oversight of who’s using each meeting room and get a long-range view of future bookings. The system also provides touchless check-in via an app that integrates with touchless door entry – minimizing contact with surfaces in the office.
Hybrid meetings are time-efficient and good for the planet too. Traveling into the office for one meeting is time consuming and creates unnecessary journeys. Hybrid meetings that give employees the option of remaining at home eliminate that commute time and reduce carbon footprint.
Combined space: Connecting face-to-face teams with remote employees
To make the most of hybrid meetings, you may need to make some upgrades to your meeting spaces and the way you manage them. The modern meeting room will rely on technology more than a traditional meeting space. Sound, video and connectivity are all important.
In terms of sound, ceiling- or desk-mounted microphones that aren’t sensitive to background noise, and that can distinguish who is speaking, will ensure remote attendees don’t miss out on conversation.
For remote attendees, a laptop will typically be their window into the meeting room. In-person attendees will either use a tabletop screen that combines video and audio, or a central video conference screen. Each person in the meeting should feel like they have equal opportunity to engage with the discussion and contribute their ideas. Your technology will need to accommodate screen sharing so that every attendee can see the meeting content and contribute to a virtual whiteboard or equivalent.
Meeting room scheduling
In-room technology is only half the picture; meeting room or conference room scheduling software also plays a central role.
In a hybrid workplace, people aren’t in the office Monday to Friday, nine to five. There’s less opportunity for impromptu office chats, so you need to be more disciplined in meeting scheduling. Optimizing meeting room configuration is also important because you’re more reliant on meeting spaces working well.
A meeting room booking system allows your employees to plan their hybrid meeting schedule in advance. It will also give office managers and space planners the power to manage meeting spaces, coordinate cleaning schedules, avoid overcrowding and identify pinch points in demand.
The usage data a meeting room booking system gives you will show you whether you’ve got enough meeting spaces in your workplace, and whether they’re the right size and spec for the people using them. The requirement to check in means you’ll also be able to see where rooms are booked but not used. You can release unused spaces back into the availability pool, eliminating the problem of reserved but unused rooms.
Smart booking systems include extra features that enhance the employees’ experience, such as auto-syncing with Microsoft 365 and Google calendars, and suggesting the most appropriate spaces and amenities for a meeting based on requirements.
How do you run an inclusive hybrid meeting?
Hybrid meetings can present a unique set of challenges.
We’ve all been in meetings that get dominated by one voice. One opinion prevails, other attendees disengage, and the organization as a whole suffers. In a hybrid meeting, remote attendees can feel left out, and it’s harder to pick up social cues when you’re sitting in front of a laptop screen.
The hands-on elements of a meeting can exclude remote attendees too. Writing ideas on Post-it notes or sharing a plate of cookies around the room can unwittingly create a sense of inequality.
And finally, surprising to nobody, tech issues can kill a meeting before it’s even started – and it’s usually the remote attendees who will suffer.
So here are five tips to help you run hybrid meetings that work for everybody, whether they’re sitting at their kitchen table or in your office’s AV equipped modern meeting room.
1. Asynchronous communication can mean a meeting isn’t always the answer
First off, consider whether a meeting is the best way to fulfil your communication needs.
When offices shifted to remote working in 2020, many of us were tempted to stack up meetings to ensure communication lines between colleagues stayed open. As we’ve got better at remote work, smart organizations have realized that many of those meetings aren’t required.
Communication tools such as Slack mean co-workers can communicate with each other easily and move things on without holding a meeting. Asynchronous communication means an immediate reply isn’t expected in the discussion, so you can accommodate different working patterns and locations without hampering progress.
2. Plan your hybrid meetings carefully
Cutting back on the number of meetings means you can carefully plan the ones you do have. In a hybrid culture, people come into the office for a specific reason. Carefully planned meetings will ensure they can make the most of that time.
Next time you’re tempted to quickly pencil in a hybrid meeting in colleagues’ calendars, pause and take a few moments to think about:
- The purpose of the meeting
- The decisions you need to take
- Any pre-reading you can send attendees
- Which meeting room you will use, and whether it has the tech to accommodate remote attendees
That way you can make the preparations you need to ensure the meeting is productive and inclusive.
3. Consider meeting timings
As we know by now, video calls are tiring. They’re tough on the eyes, it can be hard to focus and we don’t benefit from physical interaction with other human beings.
Make sure you take all this into account when you’re planning your hybrid meetings. Try not to make them too long and schedule breaks where remote attendees can switch their screens off and get away from their laptops.
Also, be strict on meeting start time. If a meeting is late to start, in-person attendees can chat outside the room or go and grab a coffee. A remote attendee just gets to see their own face staring back at them as they wait for the host to press go.
4. Structure contributions from meeting attendees
To avoid remote attendees getting ignored, be more structured in the way you invite contributions. This can be as simple as taking the time to ask every attendee directly if they’ve got anything to add at the end of each agenda item.
5. Get everyone to use the same technology
So that the meeting doesn’t become disjointed, ask that everyone uses the available technology regardless of whether they’re in-person or remote.
For example, if you’re using a virtual Post-it note platform such as Miro, make sure everybody uses it. Try to avoid a situation where half of the attendees are scribbling on a whiteboard in the meeting room and the other half are using the virtual platform.
A final thought on the future of meetings
The meeting is a staple of office life. It plays a key role in decision making and collaboration, and its place in our workplace culture is secure. But as circumstances force the workplace to evolve, the way we approach meetings must adapt too.
Inclusivity is key, as is the right technology to support a modern meeting room. AV equipment, virtual communication tools and meeting room booking software all have an important role to play in ensuring that meetings remain effective business tools, and that they’re enjoyable, engaging and inclusive.