MAKING HYBRID MEETINGS WORK, DESPITE COLLIDING FORMATS
As your team of workers returns to the office after more than a year of working from home, one thing is certain: hybrid meetings (combined in-person and virtual meetings) will be more prevalent than before . In this article, learn how to overcome the tricky aspects of making hybrid meetings work.
Two Kinds of Formats, Two Kinds of Participants
As the examples below illustrate, hybrid meetings combine two meeting formats: virtual and face-to-face:
- A small company’s Seattle team gathers for a weekly project meeting: eight people join the video-conference call face-to-face at the office, while two others log in from their homes.
- Two Indian NGO leaders in the same conference room join a video-conference call to hear a status report from a six-person team gathered in a conference room at an office in Bangladesh.
- Forty employees attend the annual strategy meeting in person at a company headquarters, and nineteen employees join the meeting online from individual international locations.
In each of these hybrid meetings, you can spot two kinds of participants:
- Single connectors are people who join a video-conference meeting from their own device – from home, office, or other location. A hybrid meeting may include only one single connector or many. If the meeting includes only single connectors, it’s just a plain-vanilla virtual meeting.
- Group connectors are two or more people gathered face-to-face in a conference room who are logging into a virtual meeting that includes other group connectors or single connectors. Even if group members log into the meeting with their own device, they are considered part of the group connector because they are in the same room together. A hybrid meeting may include one or more group connectors, as when a number of satellite offices participate in the same online meeting. If the meeting includes only face-to-face people, it’s a conventional in-person meeting, even if it connects to online materials such as files or websites.
That’s a hybrid meeting in a nutshell: two formats, two kinds of participants.
Challenges of Hybrid Meetings
Hybrid meetings can be challenging to lead, facilitate, or attend, because unique features of the two meeting formats don’t mix well. For instance, the online chat function used in virtual meetings can be distracting in in-person meetings. Conversely, flip charts and sticky notes – so effective in face-to-face meetings – can exclude online participants from seeing or using these materials.
Furthermore, common complaints from hybrid meeting attendees include not being able to see each other, having difficulty hearing each other, or encountering blocks to contributing their ideas and expertise. Technical challenges related to audio, video, and bandwidth further complicate the interactions between group connectors and single connectors.
For meeting leaders and facilitators, hybrid meetings demand more effort: planning must consider the needs of both single and group connectors, and facilitating both types of connectors in-meeting requires more care and attention than either virtual or face-to-face meetings alone.
Sometimes Hybrid Makes Sense
Despite the difficulties, hybrid meetings make sense when they deliver the following advantages:
- Enable Connection. A hybrid meeting can enable team members to meet with their colleagues, clients and partners – even though workload, family responsibilities, or health may restrict their ability to travel.
- Harvest Cost Savings. Some organizations choose hybrid meetings for the cost savings from avoided travel.
- Foster Inclusion. Other organizations use hybrid meetings to expand the number of people who can participate; government agencies, for instance, may use hybrid meetings to enable more people to attend public meetings.
- Overcome Technology Limitations. In offices where Internet bandwidth is limited, a group of people can connect from a single device instead of each person consuming bandwidth on their own device. Or, for organizations whose members don’t have individual devices, hybrid meetings allow those members to attend as a group using a single device.
Guidelines for Successful Hybrid Meetings
Because of the challenges, planning and leading a hybrid meeting can feel like a collision of opposites. However, with advance planning and careful execution, facilitated hybrid meetings can be productive and enjoyable. The fundamental guidelines for success are:
- Let everyone see and be seen. This includes people seeing each other, as well as shared materials or visuals such as documents, handouts, diagrams, and images. In hybrid meetings, single connectors who turn their video off look as if they are checked out of the meeting, so encourage people to keep their video on if they can. In group connectors, make sure everyone in the room is visible to single connectors.
- Let everyone hear and be heard. Single connectors often have difficulty following a discussion when people in a group connector talk over each other, laugh about something that single connectors could not hear, or make excess noise with food wrappers, papers, and body movements. Single connectors may also have trouble inserting themselves into group connector discussions. To help everyone hear and be heard, team leaders and facilitators should establish clear ground rules (such as “speak one at a time”), follow norms for muting microphones, and use a variety of communication and discussion modes.
- Give everyone equal opportunities to contribute. A hybrid meeting may shift power dynamics in a group. For example, those connected with the facilitator (online or in person) will have an easier time communicating with the facilitator. People in groups will find it easier to talk with their own group members rather than other connected parties, and single connectors will more easily connect with other single connectors. In addition, single connectors miss out on the information social interactions that group connectors enjoy before/after meetings. Thoughtful design of the hybrid meeting will open multiple channels (speaking, chat function, polling) for participants, give equal attention to single connectors and group connectors, and address power imbalances so that neither single connectors nor group connectors feel disadvantaged or favored.
With these guidelines you’re on the way toward having successful hybrid meetings. Are you a leader, a participant, or a facilitator? For detailed techniques you can use, read these companion articles:
- Leader’s Guide to Hybrid Meetings
- Participant’s Survival Guide for Hybrid Meetings
- Facilitator’s Toolkit for Hybrid Meetings
- When to Hire a Meeting Facilitator
 Gratton, Lynda, Professor/London Business School. “How t Do Hybrid Right;” Harvard Business Review: May-June 2021, p. 66.
I’m Andrea Ramage, strategic facilitator and owner of Somersault Consulting LLC. My passion is unlocking group genius through expert facilitation. Leaders and change-makers hire me to inspire and plan their new initiatives, solve challenges with creativity and efficiency, plan strategically for the future, align team members, and make decisions with confidence. To find out how I can support your next meeting, please give me a call at 425.495.9066 (Seattle, WA) or contact me.