I don’t know about you but I am finding the number of hybrid meetings increasing. These are meetings where some participants are online and then there are a number of people together in a room. I do have to say upfront, they are not my favourite experience.
Before I share my observations and ideas to improve the experience from a recent hybrid meeting, I want to reflect on what we’ve discovered about online meetings over the past few months.
Once we became familiar with the multiple platforms being used we realised we can work remotely very effectively. Historically regional participants often ‘dialled in’ to meetings rooms full of their colleagues; their experience was often very poor and awkward. With everyone online it’s different – the experience is equal and even for all. Secondly, because it’s a ‘click in/click out’ process, you can often get access to people more easily ie no travel time. Of course the impact of that on our wellbeing and cognitive energy is a whole different story as we sit/stand without moving between meetings.
The shared experience of the virtual meeting has also become part of our community and social media folklore – wi-fi lag, “can you hear me?”, the ever present mute button, our facial expressions being amplified, cats walking across the screen and more recently cat avatars speaking. Even with all of this we continue to have rich and productive conversations.
And now to the hybrid meeting. Let’s set the scene – 25 or so of us on-line and with another 15 sitting together in a room at a long table, which was perpendicular to the screen, not parallel. I think there were 15 but I don’t really know, no one introduced who was in the room and we couldn’t see anyone’s faces given the room shape – challenge #1.
As the meeting started a voice began to give context – those of us online couldn’t see who was speaking (challenge #2) and so we called it out. In response the people in the room opened their laptops and logged into the meeting so we could see the face of those speaking in the room and so the conversation began.
I set myself the task to keep stepping ‘out’ of the conversation and observe what was going on – the behaviours, experience of users both in the room and online. I also captured my intuitive reactions/ideas about what would be helpful to make the experience better and retain that wonderful sense of equality and inclusion that 100% online offers.
These are below – as the list unfolds what is clear is that everyone has a role to play in making hybrid meetings more successful.
In the day to day flow of how we work meetings are often characterised as being a burden on time and energy. Let’s remind ourselves – the core purpose of meetings is to create time and space for groups to think together.
In the new hybrid world, we really need to challenge ourselves and reset our approach to meetings – thinking together is critically important as we explore the implications of our Covid normal world.
Now to the hybrid meeting tips and tricks
One tip that is relevant not only to hybrid meetings but all online meetings. Your camera is on your laptop not on the screen where you see the person you’re speaking with. Our need to make eye contact often overrides that logical fact and so we see the sides of people’s heads, chins, and so it goes. It might feel unnatural but speaking to the camera actually increases your impact and ability to engage.
As I look at the tips the onus is very much on the people in the room to be inclusive and empathetic to those online. That’s not surprising because we are loving being able to be physically back together and so the energy that comes with that will naturally be in the room, almost disproportionately. Keeping this in mind as we facilitate hybrid meetings will create shared experiences that are positive and meaningful to all involved.
Lynette Nixon is a Director with PwC with a specialisation in facilitating strategic conversations.