With many organizations having far more employees working remotely than ever before, the new challenge is how to run meetings with a mix of in person and remote participants.
Many organizations are now or will soon be holding more hybrid meetings. Hybrid meetings are meetings in which some employees are face-to-face in a meeting room or other office location, while remote participants are connected via Avaya Cloud Office by RingCentral, Teams, and Zoom or other platforms. Although hybrid meetings are not new; few can say they have figured out how to do them well, even though best practices do exist.
Always ask the question: Do we need to hold a hybrid meeting?
A Hybrid meeting will include persons that are together at a physical location and other that are joining in through video or conference. But just because some people are in the same building doesn’t mean they have to gather in-person in a conference room that also involves remote workers. But it’s always optional to have everyone present in a room.
I certainly appreciate that there is something about proximity that can’t be replicated online. If one person is not there in-person, then all will be “remote” in the sense that everyone stays in their cubicles / offices / home offices, using Zoom, RingCentral, etc., so that all are attending in the same way.
There are benefits to gathering in face-to-face meetings, e.g., lack of potential technology glitches, stronger relationship-building, faster communication due to body language, etc. But if for some meetings these benefits, or other considerations outside of your control, require that you hold hybrid meetings, there are best practices and considerations that should be followed.
Hybrid meetings need to be designed with a Purpose
Hybrid meetings will always work best if the organizers focus on the needs of the remote participants equally to the needs of those attending in-person.
Before the big shift to work from home, how many times did you attend a hybrid meeting and just before it began someone said something like “Oh right, Grant and Olivia are dialing in remotely. How do we dial them into the meeting?” Or even if there was some minimal planning, such as a Zoom or web conference link included in the meeting invite, it was rare that the meeting’s agenda, activities, or the session were intentionally designed with the remote participants clearly in mind.
The past 18 months have changed people’s attitudes towards the design of hybrid meetings. Here are some best practices to follow when you need to hold a hybrid meeting:
Meeting Hosts are now Producers.
The person responsible for running the session will be the role of “producer” in the physical room, and for larger meetings, another that is remote. Ensure the producers are trained and experienced with both the technology, and how to help handle the physical hardware in the room (e.g., cameras, laptops, whiteboards etc.) and the online platforms involved (video and audio conferencing platforms). Ensure that the producers (could also be called hosts or facilitators) are aligned on all expectations and responsibilities (note taking and tracking next steps) for how the meeting will run.
Ensure everyone can participate
Be fair and ensure everyone can participate in all of the activities of the meeting, if they aren’t going to participate then consider if they should be part of the meeting in the first place. Unlike in-person meetings, Hybrid meetings can be recorded on the video meeting platforms, so the session can be reviewed by someone not needing to participate after the session, allowing them to review when it is convenient for them. During the meeting if there is a need for people to break into small groups, use the breakout functionality for the online attendees, here are the how to enable breakouts for Ringcentral, Teams, Zoom). The in person audience will be able to only be part of 1 break out room or join using their smartphone or laptop to the breakout room of their choice. Whiteboards or flip charts are often used to brainstorm or map out plans, this might require a whiteboard camera or digital whiteboard or jamboard to ensure everyone can participate. Almost every activity that takes place in the room can be replicated virtually in some way, if you need assistance on how to accomplish this one of our BrantTel advisors would be happy to share ideas.
Structure Questions & Answers (Q&A)
Most meetings will include either an informal question and answer component managed in real-time or a secured Q&A agenda time slot in the meeting; the approach should be introduced at the start of the meeting. This gets all participants aligned to note ideas as the discussion progresses; when it’s time to ask for questions from the remote attendees, they will be prepared. To be fair to all participants, be sure to alternate questions from both types of attendees —field a question from in-person participants, then go to remote participants questions.
Show the video of remote participants in the meeting room
If possible, have a big screen in the front of the room with as many of the remote attendees showing on video as possible (e.g., Zoom supports up to 49 people at a time in gallery view on a big screen / RingCentral allows up to 25 / Microsoft Teams allows up to 49 ). If some employees don’t want to be seen or aren’t having a camera friendly day, displaying their static photos or names is a good way to remind everyone in the room of the remote attendees and the name of the voice being heard.
Always have the presenter's video spotlighted
Ensure the in-person presenter is the main visual for the remote attendees. This is where the attention of the in-person attendees is focused, so be sure to provide the same experience for the remote attendees. Consider using “Presenter Mode”, which overlays the video of the presenter in front of the presentation or content being shared, giving a weather person like experience to the participants seeing the both presenter and screen. This feature is available on RingCentral, Teams and Zoom, click the link to find out how to start using it today. If you have a 2nd camera displaying the in-person audience is a bonus but don’t use it without the presenter on their own camera or clearly in sight.
Allow Chat in the meeting
Make sure the chat functionality is turned on for the meetings in RingCentral, Teams, Zoom, etc., for those who are remote. A chat session is the best way to keep virtual attendees engaged, and is the top benefit of attending remotely. Chat is a great way to facilitate comments across all participants, allowing for collaboration by means of the sharing of links, references, and specific accounts/number values that are easier to copy and paste vs reading aloud, in a way that can’t be done in person. Chat can be so valuable that you may want to consider allowing smartphones & laptops in the meeting to allow the in-person participants to be online for the session. But you also have to balance if this will be disruptive to the meeting and get in the way of the purpose of the meeting.
Can you hear me now? Ensure everyone can be heard
A good audio is critical to every meeting experience.any tests and studies have shown that people are more put off by bad audio than video. For remote users on a smartphone or laptop, it is important to ensure your staff use a headset with a microphone to minimize background noise and have clear audio. For in-person attendees the solutions are more complex as sound bars, speakers and microphones depend on the room that they will be used in. But every attendee needs to be heard clearly regardless of their location, many meeting rooms we equiped with star shaped conference room phones but might need an upgrade or replacement to work with the meeting room platform. If you need assistance with this it would be best to contact an expert at BrantTel to assess your needs and provide a recommendation.
Besides the right hardware in the room and headsets for the remote attendees, the other aspect to great communication is building an open and collaborative culture in your organization where everyone is empowered to participate and engage during calls..
Choosing the right meeting platform or devices
If you don’t have a meeting platform, this will be a starting point to support hybrid meetings. If you do have a platform explore all the options your provider has and if they don’t have a feature you need perhaps it time you consider a new platform. The right devices in the room will be critical for Hybrid meeting success for meeting room setups ranging from small conferences to larger town-hall style events, there are many things to consider. If you are looking for guidance on which meeting platforms to consider or which devices are needed to enhance the meeting room experience (like cameras, sound bars, etc) connect with one of our Advisors at BrantTel.
Get feedback to improve future experiences
Every organization is focused on Employee experience, meetings are part of everyone’s work work, whether in-person or remotely. If you want to ensure you provide amazing experiences you will need to start getting feedback from the participant. Start with a survey of participants and be sure to gather whether they attended in-person or remotely, who had a better experience and why. This will allow for continuous improvement and define what the priorities should be to deliver better employee experiences.