It’s relatively easy to have a meeting when we’re either all remote or all together. But when some people work online and others work in a physical location, things can become a bit more complicated. A hybrid team is a configuration where part of the team works in the office, and part of the
team works elsewhere. Admittedly, this is the most difficult style of working but when the right processes are put in place, it can be just as successful.
One of the keys to a successful hybrid team is being able to move seamlessly from asynchronous modes of communication (email or text) to synchronous modes (phone or video). In general, it is recommended to have multiple communication channel options, not only for when things go wrong but also because different channels work better for different situations.
Due to COVID19, many offices will not be able to open and operate at full capacity for a long time. At the same time, some people don’t want to go back to the office, even when it’s safe to do so. The future of work is choice. We need to prepare ourselves and our companies for a new “hybrid” way of working.
Tips for engaging hybrid meetings
- CREATE A TEAM AGREEMENT. When we work together in the same place, we can see what people are working on. Behavior is implicit when we can easily observe people and make inferences. When we work remotely, we have to make our behaviors more explicit: leave nothing implied so that there is minimal room for confusion. Whether you’re starting with a fresh team on a new project, or whether you’ve been working together for a long time, creating a team agreement helps form the glue that binds your team together. Download the PDF: instructions and template
- USE GREAT EQUIPMENT. “My internet is too fast”, said no one. Ever. If you want your remote participants to feel like they are in the same room as you, you need to help them create a presence. That means that everyone has a reliable high-speed internet connection, a quiet place to call from (or a noise-canceling headset), a webcam, and great conference room equipment.
- TEST YOUR EQUIPMENT. Make sure the equipment you are using for the meeting works before the meeting start.
- TURN THE WEBCAMS ON. There’s nothing worse in a hybrid meeting than a microphone in the middle of the desk. A voice without a face is boring and unengaging. Get proper videoconferencing equipment installed and turn the cameras on.
- MAKE THE AGENDA ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYBODY. Make sure everyone has access to the agenda before the meeting starts. This helps people both prepare and stay on track.
- HAVE A FACILITATOR. A facilitator is responsible for making sure the meeting stays focused on the agenda items and that everybody’s voice is heard.
- ASSIGN A TECH PERSON. Assign someone to deal with any technical challenges that come up during the meeting so that the facilitator and participants can continue while someone else works on the problem.
- ESTABLISH YOUR MEETING ETIQUETTE. How will you know when someone wants to interrupt or speak? Will remote participants be on mute when not speaking? Are webcams expected? Are digital devices allowed in the meeting? Will you use ELMO? Is eating food ok during the meeting? Establish your meeting etiquettes ahead of time to get everyone on the same page.
- HAVE FEWER MEETINGS. Working remotely is a different medium, similar to the difference between radio and television. Both broadcast information, but the content needs to be designed for each medium differently. One of the keys to making remote work is being more conscientious about how we use our time. You should evaluate whether you really need a meeting or if the conversation can be done asynchronously. For example: For status update meetings, perhaps post using an app instead? For presentations, consider recording a video and sending it for participants to watch before the meeting starts. Instead of brainstorming together on a call, consider posting ideas to an online whiteboard before the call to give everyone a chance to think on their own time. Using a combination of communication types can also help give everyone a chance to speak up in a different way.
- TRY AN ICEBREAKER QUESTION. Icebreaker questions have two functions. 1) Science shows that if you get everyone to speak at the beginning of the meeting, they are more likely to speak up during the meeting. And 2) Icebreakers are a great way to get to know each other and create some psychological safety.
- USE A BUDDY. You can help remote participants be more present in the room by giving them a voice within the room. Having an in-person “buddy” can help remote participants interject themselves into conversations.
- HAVE A BACKCHANNEL. Most video conferencing tools come with some sort of chat functionality. Meeting participants can use the chat to post clarifying information, or just as a forum for questions.
- FAVOR THE REMOTE SPEAKER. When two people start speaking at once during a hybrid meeting and one of them is remote and the other one is in the office, favor the remote speaker because they have less context and less presence in the room.
- TAKE BREAKS. If your meetings are longer than forty-five minutes, consider taking a break. Especially for the remote participants. Starting at a screen for prolonged periods of time can cause virtual fatigue. A short 5-minute break will help everyone (in the flesh and remote) come back refreshed and ready to engage.
- ASK YOURSELF… “Am I fully part of this meeting?” This question is the ‘hybrid meeting litmus test’. Ideally, you feel fully part of the meeting: engaged and present. If you don’t feel fully part of the meeting, ask yourself “What do I need to do/ask for to feel more fully part of this meeting?”.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
- A4 print-ready Supercards! Perfect for your hybrid meetings.
- The ultimate guide to remote team meetings via Miro
- Useful resources for hybrid meetings via ON:SUBJECT
Hello everybody and welcome to episode number one hundred and sixty-four, today we are going to be focusing on tips for hybrid meetings and what I mean by hybrid meetings is meetings that have remote participants and in-person participants and I think those are the hardest kinds of meetings to have. When we are all in person it’s pretty easy to have a meeting and when we are all remote it’s pretty easy to have meeting. But when you have some people that are remote and some people that are in person, it just gets exponentially harder the more remote people that you have. Now if you only have one or two remote participants that are beaming into an in-person meeting I highly recommend getting a Kubi Telepresence robot, they are about seven hundred US dollars apiece. This allows a person that is beaming in to move themselves from side to side and also you can shake your head up and down and side to side of course and it’s great for the remote participants because they actually get sort of an equal place at the table. They are not just beamed in like a really big head in front of anybody or beamed in on a laptop that doesn’t move and they are just looking at the same person across the table from them. So the Kubi is great for that and for the in-person people the Kubi gives the remote participants movement which really humanizes them, so that is really a tip for a hybrid meeting if you’ve only got one or two participants. Get a Kubi Telepresence robot, K.U.B.I and tell them Collaboration Superpowers sent you. Okay but I’m going to have to say if you want to have good hybrid meetings it is really important that you’ve got great equipment like having a great internet connection and a great speaker, not one of those old fashioned spider phones that sits in the middle of the table that nobody can hear unless you’re leaning over it. You’ve got to get a good spider phone if you must, they do have much better quality these days but also just a good speaker. The Jobber has a great portable USB conference phone called the jobber speak 410 but there are also great conference room equipment setups out there and it’s very good to invest in one of those. The other tip in the beginning is make sure that it’s a quiet environment. If it’s really in an open office space the remote participants won’t be able to hear anything. So for everybody that is participating, it’s important to have a quiet background, I really love something that Agel Bill said in my interview with him which is ‘people think that they want to be co-located but what they really want is really want is high bandwidth communication.’ So if we have good equipment and a good internet connection and a quiet background we can go a long way to making everybody heard. Now along with being herd is being seen and I’m a big believer in turning the videos on. As you all know that I’ve listened to this podcast, turning the webcams on for the remote participants so that we can see them. It just keeps things far more engaging and if possible think about leveling the playing field by having everybody in the meeting calling into a video conference system but if you absolutely can’t then there are definitely ways of making these hybrid meetings work. One thing that I advise for any meeting in person, remote, hybrid or not hybrid is have a meeting facilitator, now this is not the person in charge of the meeting. This is somebody who facilitates the agenda and is responsible for making sure that the agenda items get spoken about and that everybody’s voice gets heard. Always a great idea to have so have a facilitator for all of your meetings. My next tip is to establish your meeting etiquette and for online meetings for example when a person wants to speak they can raise their hand to indicate that they want to speak, everybody can mute themselves when they are not speaking in order to minimize all the background noise. [inaudible – 04:03] who I interviewed in episode number one hundred and fifty four taught me how to do the jazz hands which is when you hold your hands up and you kind of shake them when your jazz dancing and that means that you’re really excited about an idea or you really agree with something that somebody is saying. So establishing meeting etiquette visual cues can be really helpful for the team and of course if you want your own set of super cards virtual meeting cards that give virtual clues to your colleagues then just head on over to the website collaborationssuperpowers.com/super-cards. I am a big fan of the Elmo technique which stands for enough let’s move on, these are cards that you can hold up and it just indicates to somebody who is maybe going on and on to long that you’ve had enough and you’re ready to move on to the next topic. Some people feel that this is a really rude technique, so of course, that’s why you have to establish your own meeting etiquette, something that I really like and one of my colleagues really doesn’t like. And another fun meeting etiquette that I have seen is when you meet people online and in person you can shake hands but you can do a couple of toodledo things like you can wave or my favorite is to do the first bump. So that’s a really fun ways of saying hi, so instead of shaking hands when like we are in person we fist bump online. In any case it’s important to define as a team what your meeting etiquette is going to be that way everybody knows how to behave and it just makes things run more smoothly, kind of like creating a mini team agreement for your online meeting. The next tip is to make the agenda items or the note taking accessible to everybody. So in person you might hand out an old fashion paper agenda but what about the remote participants? So it’s important that everybody has access to it, one of my favorite online meeting organizational tool is lucid meetings and they basically allow you to set an agenda and have everybody take notes at the same time and add contributions as you go through the meeting and it’s a really fun tool. If you do use them tell them Collaborations Superpowers sent you, they like knowing that but the point is, it’s great to get everybody on the same page when the agenda items are accessible to everybody. A great couple of tips that came from Mark [inaudible – 06:13] an agile coach that I interviewed back in episode number nine is ‘if it makes sense, assign each remote participant a buddy so that they have some sort of tether to the in-person meeting. That way if anything happens they have somebody to go to and they don’t have to interrupt the facilitator or the flow of the meeting. So that can be a really good tip and the other great tip that Mark suggests is having a back channel so a chat, a running chat that people can use to ask for clarification or ask questions or post links to what they are talking about. Having a back channel is a great idea and also helps keep people more engaged because they have something to do and focus on and it’s also a good way to take notes during the meeting. Now in all of my meetings I really like to start with an ice breaker question and I’ve said it before and there is a bunch of information on the Collaboration Superpowers website about ice breakers but just really quick as a recap ice breakers have two functions; one is to have everybody go around and say something because science says that if you’ve said something before the meeting starts you’re more likely to speak up again during the meeting, so that increases engagement. The second thing is that it is a great way to get to know each other, so you can do an ice breaker question around food for example, or drinks and it’s just a little bit of insight into somebody’s personality. Now they should be really quick and they should be fun and not emotional. So don’t do any, if you only had one year to live questions, those can get surprisingly emotional, what we want to do is just, ‘favorite color, favorite vocation spot.’ light-hearted quick answers. Another tip that I got from an interview was when two people start speaking at once during a remote meeting like somebody is remote and somebody is hybrid. Always favor the remote speaker because they have less context and are less present in the room, so that can be part of the meeting etiquette actually and then something to look out for when you have remote participants especially if you have the remote participants beamed up on the screen, something to look out for that I didn’t think of and thank you to [inaudible – 08:20] for pointing this out which is ‘a lot of local participants kind of get fixated on the remote screen because it’s like this running TV effect.’ It always catches your attention, so that is something to look out for and another reason why we should try to level the playing field whenever possible and have everybody go remote but sometimes you have that running TV and just to know that it can be a little bit distracting for the in-person people and the last tip that I have for you today is during any meeting that goes on for more than forty-five minutes it’s good to take a break. For remote participants, it’s especially good to take a break because they’ve been sitting or standing in front of their laptops sort of staring into the screen focused on that. If you’re having a good remote engagement and it’s just not healthy to sit and stare at the screen for long periods of time. So as a meeting facilitator it is really great to be able to say ‘okay we’ve met for forty-five minutes let everybody take a five minute break, the remote participants can go and look at something of in a distance, sort of readjust the eyes or do some stretching and I suggest everybody does a little bit of movement during that time and then come back. You’ll find that your participants are much more refreshed and alert. So I hope that you’ve enjoyed those tips, I am sure that this is not all of the tips that exist of course, so if you have suggestions for things that have worked or not worked during your hybrid meetings I would love to hear them, you can put them in the comments of this podcast post of the website or you can email me. You can send me audio clips of your tips and I will include them in the next podcast that I do. In any case however, you want to get in touch all of the contact information is available on the Collaborations Superpowers website. If you want to hear more stores and get all the greatest tips and insights from Collaborations Superpowers then definitely sign up on the newsletter. Every other week you get all the best stuff delivered straight to the inbox of wherever you are, that’s collaborationssuperpower.com/newsletter. A big thanks to our very organized podcast producer Nick [inaudible -10:30] he is the one that makes us sound so pro, you can hire him to make you a star at podcastmosnter.com and another big thanks to our dazzling designer Alfred Boland he’s the one that makes us shine so bright. You can hire him to make you look cool at bolandan.nl. Alright everybody, until next week lets go out and have great hybrid meetings wherever we are and be powerful.