Should we do blended meetings?

As a result of the global epidemic, in-person work and once-familiar environments will be drastically altered. Companies that adapt to blended meetings first, just like they did at the outset of this journey, will have a leg up on the competition and will be better positioned to attract top talent and get the most out of their teams. The best approach to ensure that your organization is one of them is to develop a solid blended or hybrid meeting strategy.

Blended meetings, or hybrid meetings, are simply meetings where not every participant is in the same room. Not a new phenomenon by any means, but looking beyond, blended meetings and blended work is poised to become the norm. As organizations plot their returns to offices, they face the reality that many employees have relocated, and others, including new hires, may expect greater flexibility in their schedules.

But this new arrangement comes with it some challenges that you have to be aware about.

  1. Technical issues.

How many times have you been in a remote meeting where someone’s line is bad, preventing them from providing feedback or even causing them to talk over other participants because they can’t hear them? Many individuals simply do not have access to high-speed internet, either because they cannot pay it or because their home infrastructure does not support it.

2. Being in person

One potential issue is that those in the actual conference room may have an unfair advantage over their distant colleagues, who may feel more alienated and unable to pick up on social cues. Being in the same room creates a sense of camaraderie and togetherness, and it may be more difficult for someone joining through video to determine when they may find a gap in the conversation to speak.

We all know that deciphering facial expressions, body language, and the overall tone of a meeting is more difficult when you aren’t there. This could lead to individuals in the conference room taking control of the conversation and causing a rift between coworkers. Participants in distant meetings are unable to collaborate due to a lack of collaborative options.

3. Participants in remote meetings have limited opportunity to collaborate.

Meetings usually don’t end after the attendees leave the room, with conversations continuing as they walk out the door and into the watercooler or kitchen. This is great for those who work in the office, but what about those who work from home? They risk missing out on critical ideas and viewpoints, as well as possibly executive decision-making, potentially resulting in two different (and potentially distrusting) sets of employees: those in the office and those who aren’t. For enterprises, this isolation can be quite risky.

So what can you do?

  1. At blended meetings, speak up for the remote voices.

It’s vital that individuals who call in receive the whole experience of hearing what’s being discussed and shared, just as it’s critical that they get the complete experience of contributing equally.

In a mixed context, voices are intrinsically uneven, with priority naturally flowing to those physically present. Body language, direct eye contact, and subtle non-verbal signs indicate when they want to talk. They can also simply speak louder and more frequently than folks who call in.

In the end, changes must be made in order for encounters in this new hybrid environment to be successful. Meetings must be democratic first and foremost in order to be truly productive, with everyone’s voice heard. As a result, if companies want to continue having employees work from home, they must evaluate the fundamentals of how meetings are conducted and provide as much support as possible to ensure that employees are able to not only attend meetings, but also remain involved, regardless of their physical or virtual presence.

It is sometimes time consuming and wasteful to have everyone provide their thoughts one by one, thus firms should consider leveraging tools and technologies to allow participants to submit their opinions, even anonymously if necessary, in order to facilitate the implementation of more inclusive policies.

2. Share your in-room experience with others.

The reality is that the largest problem of blended meetings will be equalizing an experience that is intrinsically unequal, not scheduling or logistics of what technology individuals use to call in. How can you make folks who are not in the room feel as if they are a part of the team?

Consider what cameras and microphones you’ll require, as well as any projectors or gadgets you’ll require in the room and any recording options. The omni-mic in the middle of the conference table is dead, or at least it should be. Instead, try using a moving camera to capture motion in the room, individual mics for in-room attendees, and a fixed camera on any desk or whiteboard where everyone is exchanging ideas.

3. Blended meetings, like their in-person counterparts, require a clear goal and agenda.

This one was on the verge of being left off the list. How the aim is articulated, both in person and digitally, sets the tone for a meeting’s success or failure. It’s much more important in blended meetings, as team members from various places and possibly time zones may collaborate with team members on the ground.

4. Prepare.

Preparation is essential for every meeting, but it’s much more so when you’re dealing with a team that includes both office and remote personnel. When certain team members are in different offices, countries, or time zones, they encounter unique challenges. The meeting organizer should be mindful of the demands of all attendees and work out a time that is convenient for everyone. When team members’ preferences or availability change, they are allowed to make changes to the document.

Any critical documents that must be reviewed prior to the meeting should also be supplied. Nobody wants to waste the first 15 minutes of a meeting going over paperwork that might have been communicated ahead of time.

A well-defined agenda is crucial after everyone on the team is ready for the meeting. An agenda can help your team stay on track and understand what has to be achieved in the time provided. This reduces the amount of back-and-forth when the meeting begins, allowing the team to get right to the point.

5. Follow up

At the end of meetings, meeting hosts can deliver clearly defined summaries, with decisions and next steps sent to all attendees. Before clicking the large ‘leave meeting’ button, everyone (even those who aren’t in the room) should be given the option to provide their final remarks in detailed minutes.

These little but significant behavioral adjustments ensure that everyone is on the same page, but any developments made while the kettle is boiling should be shared with the entire group. In a hybrid meeting environment, the leader’s ability to follow up on meetings may become as crucial as his or her ability to prepare for the meeting.

It’s time to accept hybrid or blended meetings in order to stay ahead of the competition. Employees will expect flexibility, and being ahead of the curve is crucial if you want to attract the finest talent and create a mixed work environment that leverages your team’s skills. The only other option is to remain stagnant, and we all know how that goes.

Check out my related post: Is the big office meeting a slacker’s best friend?

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