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Top tips for running hybrid meetings

In 2020, meetings have changed hugely. During lockdown, instead of meeting up in a conference room or over a coffee with a colleague, everything moved online. We became used to video calls and learned how important it is for them to be engaging and effective....

In 2020, meetings have changed hugely. During lockdown, instead of meeting up in a conference room or over a coffee with a colleague, everything moved online. We became used to video calls and learned how important it is for them to be engaging and effective. Unfortunately, most video meetings were the complete opposite. They were often deadly dull, leaving everyone ‘zoomed out’ and drained of energy.

 

Now that we can begin to go back to the office, I’m sure many are keen to leave virtual meetings behind. However, in the new hybrid situation we face, as well as people in the office, there will be others who are still dispersed geographically, working from home, or perhaps from a co-working space. That’s precisely what hybrid means: a mixture of the two different ways of working, both people in the office and people dispersed.

 

Now we face a dilemma when we consider meetings. How can we run an effective and engaging hybrid meeting, with some in the office and some far away? In many ways, this situation is even more challenging than it would be with a purely virtual meeting. Those in the room will be able to glance around and notice the body language of others in the room. They will be able to pick up on the nuances and dynamics of conversation, which others who are remote are highly likely to miss out on. People in the room are highly likely to fall into side conversations with those sitting with them and, at coffee time, share informal chats that dispersed team members will be excluded from. Those in the room have a distinct advantage over those who are not physically in the room.

 

So, what can we do about this? The challenge here is to create a level playing field for everyone who joins a meeting, no matter where they are joining from. One way to do this is to remove the advantage for those in the office by choosing to hold the meeting virtually, with everyone joining individually from their desk. Of course, you’ll need to plan for a really great virtual meeting, which is engaging and effective!

To have a great virtual meeting for a hybrid team, a shift in behaviour and leadership mindset is needed. Instead of a directive leadership style, more effective leadership in this situation is facilitative in style: I call it virtual leadership and talk about it in my book of the same name. This is where the leader is focused on making it as easy as possible for everyone to play their part and to do a great job virtually. When you are leading a hybrid team meeting, this is your role too. How can you design the meeting to make it easy for everyone to do a really good job, to get what they need from the meeting and to leave with absolute clarity, wherever they are based?

 

Figure 1: The Magic 6TM for starting up a virtual meeting with clarity ( ©2007 Making Projects Work Ltd, used with permission)

 

How can you do to make it easy for everyone to play their part in hybrid meetings? One thing that people who attend hybrid meetings crave is clarity and a good way of providing this is to use my Magic 6TM statements, shown in Figure 1. Let’s explore how this brings clarity:

 

  • We Are Here To: This is the whole point of the meeting, stated in a few words.
  • Today We Will: This lists 4 -6 more detailed objectives.
  • Our Plan: The time plan, showing the start and end times, plus breaks. It also shows if a guest is joining the meeting for a short while.
  • Who’s Doing What: It is very easy for remote participants to tune out of a hybrid meeting, so I suggest that you give out roles to people during the meeting, such as action-scribe and timekeeper. This means that the load is shared and that people are involved.
  • How We Work Together: This is seldom spoken about but makes such a difference to hybrid and virtual meetings when it is clear and everyone has agreed to each point. How will you work together effectively in this meeting? Some useful things to consider include:
    • Mute if you’re in a noisy environment (pets or other household members);
    • One conversation at a time;
    • Everyone should expect to be invited to check-in every 10-20 minutes in random order.
  • What’s Next: Be clear on what happens next and how the actions will be followed up

 

Another tip is to make your hybrid meetings engaging. An issue with remote participants is that it is much easier for them to get distracted and do something else, than it would be if you were all in a meeting room. Email and social media are ready distractions on the same screen as the meeting, as are things happening around them at home. It’s a real challenge. In my book, ‘Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams’, I discuss ten strategies to engage remote participants.

 

Here are three of them:

  1. Agree upfront as a team that you will have very short check-ins with everyone every 15-20 minutes. It’s important that everyone agrees that this will be in a random order, so that people know they could be called on and asked to contribute.
  2. Use visuals. PowerPoint and other presentation and screen-sharing tools provide options to annotate and draw on the screen. Use these tools and invite your participants to join in too.
  3. Use the narrative form. Our ancestors used stories to pass ideas down the generations well before we developed the ability to write. Our brains pay attention to and retain information in stories. When you try this technique, you’ll notice that people pay attention and listen out for the beginning, the middle and the ending of what you have to say.

 

One way to keep your meetings engaging is to have fewer of them. As a leader, choose when it’s appropriate to meet together and when you can get the job done through tools that help you collaborate asynchronously (at different times), so people can be more flexible. Consider the mix of meetings with the whole team and one-to-one catch ups. If both of you are in the office, there is no reason why a one-to-one meetings can’t be in-person – a treat!

 

My final tip for hybrid meetings is to counteract the long hours that your remote colleagues sit for in front of screens in video meetings, sometimes all day. Start your meetings at 5 past the hour and finish them by 5 to. This extra ten minutes allows for a comfort break, to move, plus a chance to stop and think in between meetings. It makes a difference for those who are remote and for those who are working together in the office.

 

All the best!

Written by Dr Penny Pullan

Dr Penny Pullan, virtual leadership expert at Making Projects Work Ltd, and the author of Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for getting the best out of virtual work and virtual teams, available for £19.99

 

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