Written by Patrick Valois
As pandemic-related restrictions continue to slowly ease, many of us who have been spending our days at home on Zoom or Microsoft Teams are understandably itching to get back to in-person meetings. While this may be realistic for some, others may not be comfortable with or able to meet in person yet due to several factors including ongoing regional restrictions, vaccination status and personal preference, to name a few.
What is a hybrid meeting?
The term “hybrid meeting” is being used to describe a meeting with participants attending both in-person and virtually. In other words, a group of people will be together in one room, while others will join the conversation through a videoconferencing software, and to put it bluntly, it’s more demanding to construct a successful hybrid meeting, therefore the risks of error are greater.
How has hybrid evolved?
Intersol has been facilitating hybrid meetings for the last decade. As early adopters of engagement software such as FacilitatePro, Zoom and other meeting platforms, we were often called upon, even before the pandemic, to facilitate in-person meetings with participants who joined remotely. In fact, our earliest hybrid meeting dates back to 2008! With that said, these types of hybrid meetings were the exception and virtual meeting technology has evolved as rapidly as most of the world has grown accustomed to it.
Fortunately for meeting facilitators, tools such as online flipcharts and other collaboration software make it possible to engage with both in-room and online participants. Be that as it may, it’s not as simple as sending a Zoom invite and patching a few participants into a meeting and forgetting about them.
What do you need to consider?
Whether you’re an organization hosting an internal hybrid meeting at the office or you’re engaging a number of stakeholders at a hotel conference room, your tech considerations will vary. All things considered, all hybrid meetings should, at minimum, have:
- An audio/visual communication tool for both in-person and virtual attendees. Depending on the requirements of the meeting, this can range from running Zoom on each participants’ laptop connected with headphones, a boardroom videoconferencing system or a Polycom device.
- A common means for both in-person and virtual attendees to contribute to and display visual data. This could be an online flipchart like FacilitatePro or virtual sticky notes on a collaboration tool like Mural. It is important to make data visible.
- High quality internet. If you’re not familiar with the Internet quality of your meeting location, ask that the hotel, conference center, etc. to provide details on network capacity. Is there dedicated internet access for the meeting room or is it shared? Is there sufficient bandwidth for the virtual meeting to run smoothly?
- A virtual platform “producer”. Each hybrid meeting should have a resource who’s task it is to ensure the communication platform runs smoothly and who is comfortable enough with the technology to be able to instruct participants on its use. This includes ensuring the platform settings are correct. Are dial in numbers required? Do you need a waiting room? Will you be using simultaneous interpretation? Will you be using breakout groups? Even if you will be tasking an A/V company to run the platform for your meeting, it is a good idea to have a resource that is familiar with the virtual platform and what settings your meeting will require.
Besides establishing ground rules related to any current public health regulations in your region, it’s a good idea to set ground rules related to the technology being used to connect virtual participants to the meeting.
It is critically important that participants make use of the mute/unmute function in the virtual meeting platform if everyone is using their own device. I’m sure most of us have experienced the dreaded “voice echo” during an online meeting that happens when a microphone is picking up more than one audio feed. Despite best efforts, everyone forgets to mute/unmute from time to time. To mitigate this, rather than remembering to always clicking the mute/unmute button, if you’re using Zoom, try having participants hold down the space bar to temporarily unmute their microphones only when speaking. This is a relatively standard function but the key you need to hold down be different depending on the platform being used.
This practice can even be built into an icebreaker or introductory activity at the beginning of the meeting to give people a chance to test it out. While this may not be a big deal to in room participants, those attending virtually with thank you for providing clear audio and, in turn, will be able to participate more effectively.
Know your Audience
If you’re organizing a hybrid meeting, it’s a good idea to identify how comfortable your participants are with virtual meeting platforms and technology in general. There’s a good chance you and maybe even all of your colleagues have plenty of experience on virtual platforms, but that is not the case for everyone.
Acknowledge virtual participants
Hybrid meetings are new to most people. Those who are participating in-person are likely not used to considering the virtual attendees’ quality of engagement. It is a best practice to acknowledge those who are participating virtually first, both to keep them engaged and to set the tone for all participants that the meeting is hybrid and all attendees have an equal opportunity to participate. Encourage virtual participants to keep their cameras on if possible and if there is a question being posed to the group, ensure they have equal opportunity to contribute and that you are engaging directly with their video feed.
Hybrid beyond the pandemic
At this point, you may be asking yourself if it’s worth it to invest so much effort into high quality, accessible hybrid meetings given that, as restrictions continue to lift, businesses hope to return to the pre-pandemic circumstances. One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that it is often not necessary to fly round-trip across the country for a half-day meeting.
Hybrid meetings are a great way to connect more often with a team that is dispersed across the country or globe, save on unnecessary travel expenses and to ensure your organization is considerate of the environmental impact of air travel.
Much of the workforce was thrown into the virtual meeting world at the onset of the pandemic and forced to sink or swim only to realize that the water isn’t so bad. The implementation of virtual aspects to your meetings to increase accessibility and create new ways to collaborate is valuable tool that it undoubtedly here to stay.
If you want to avoid an outcome where people feel unheard, disregarded, unengaged, unequal, learn more about implementing hybrid meeting techniques at your organization, contact email@example.com for more information on our public and in-house trainings.