The Next New Normal: Hybrid Meetings

Published on September 30, 2021

Key Insights

  • Hybrid meetings can be challenges, but not impossible
  • Prioritize the online experience 
  • Ask for feedback and make adjustments
Feature Insight

By now, most of us have become comfortable with virtual meetings. So comfortable that we’ve found grace and humor when our most profound thoughts are orated on mute and are unbothered by talking to or staring at a still photo of a colleague instead of their actual face. But with many more faculty and staff on campus, we’ll need to learn to become comfortable with hybrid meetings. A meeting is considered “hybrid” when two or more people are physically located together and one or more people are connected to the meeting virtually. 

The Challenges of Hybrid Meetings

As we move forward with our Work. With Flexibility. plans, more and more of us will be part of hybrid meetings, so it’s important to understand the challenges that come with these meetings.

  • Missing social cues. Virtual meeting participants don’t have the advantage of experiencing non-verbal communication from other in-person participants, (e.g., fidgeting that could indicate nervousness or boredom). It’s also harder for virtual participants to sense pauses in the conversation in order to interject their own thoughts and comments. At the same time, facial expressions may be hard to detect from in-person participants because they are wearing masks. 
  • Absent from the meeting after the meeting. Most meetings don’t end when the camera is off or when participants leave the room. Often additional, insightful conversation takes place on the way out of the meeting room that virtual participants are not privy to. 
  • Unreliable technology. We’ve all experienced poor internet connection, computer problems, and problems with the virtual meeting platform. When this happens the in-person attendees can continue, but the virtual attendees cannot participate.

Before scheduling the meeting consider if a meeting is the best method for the purpose of this work. Meetings are great for collaborating and sharing ideas, but not all meetings are necessary. Avoid defaulting to a meeting and instead take advantage of other tools and resources when possible. 

Hybrid Meetings Done Right

Hybrid meetings, when done right, can be accessible and productive, but it does take a high level of awareness and prep time. 

Define a clear purpose. Before scheduling your meeting make sure there is a clear purpose. Send an agenda ahead of time, when appropriate, but also consider structuring your meeting around a set of questions to be answered, rather than topics to be discussed. Either way, a clear purpose will help keep the meeting focused and efficient. 

Prioritize the remote experience. Remote participants have the disadvantage of not being in the room, so prioritizing those participants will help to ensure an inclusive experience for everyone. 

  • Make sure that all references and materials are made available digitally and even sent before the meeting if possible. 
  • Instead of asking for a show of hands, use technology like Poll Everywhere.
  • In lieu of a white board, use Jam Boards or shared Google Docs. 
  • When using breakout rooms, rather than assigning all remote participants to one breakout room, consider the value of creating rooms with both in-person and remote participants. 

Assess the tech. Hybrid meetings aren’t hybrid meetings without proper functioning technology. 

  • Make sure you have a solid plan for audio technology. The Office of Information Technology recommends avoiding feedback when using tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts by designating one computer for sound (both microphone and speakers). All other computers should have their mics muted and speakers turned off. 
  • If possible, position the camera so that everyone in the room can be seen in one frame. 
  • To give remote participants greater presence in the room, consider an additional monitor or large screen with their faces or avatars.
  • Have a plan for when tech fails, be it an alternative host or dial in number. Also consider establishing norms for interruptions such as poor internet connections. How will you notify people at the moment (e.g., email, chat, text)?

Establish norms for participation. Within your meeting group or team talk about how you would like for people to join the discussion. The online participants don’t have the advantage of seeing body language, so agree on how they should join in the discussion. For example is an unmuted mic a good indicator? Or maybe it’s the chat. 

Assign a monitor. Depending on the size or purpose of your meeting, assign someone to monitor the remote participants to ensure they’re able to engage in the meeting. That person should also be responsible for soliciting their feedback and providing opportunities for them to share their questions and comments. 

End strong. Allow time at the end for the meeting to review important points, establish next steps, and answer questions. It’s also helpful to send a quick email to all participants with a recap and a next steps. 

Ask for feedback. Ask for feedback from participants in the room and in a virtual space. What was their experience like? What worked? What could have been better? This step is especially important for recurring meetings. Make a habit of asking for feedback about how meetings are conducted every few months. 

Regardless of the technology, meeting type, or location consider other ways to make meetings more dynamic and meaningful. For example, rotate meeting leaders or facilitators think about who might benefit from presenting at the meeting. Create prompts and opportunities for discussion, then invite others to share their opinions (share yours too) even if they are different from yours will help to improve psychological safety and make the meetings more inclusive.     

Upcoming Events

On Monday, October 11 benefits-eligible faculty and staff will receive an email from [email protected] with a unique link to the survey.

The pandemic and increased response to racism and racial bias have had dramatic effects on our job responsibilities, systems, processes, and norms. The Employee Engagement Survey is an opportunity for everyone to offer feedback about working at the University of Minnesota. Data from the survey will help leaders to understand the scope of the impact as well as how to make meaningful changes to support employees.

Despite the challenges we’re facing, we can all find ways to support employee engagement in our new work environment and these employee engagement resources can be helpful.