When hybrid conference calls go sideways, they’re like bad meetings on steroids. Improperly managed, they’re not only chaotic, they also impede organizational decision-making. Remote workers feel this frustration most acutely. They’re at a disadvantage vying with onsite participants to contribute and influence meeting outcomes. Onsite participants simply ignore or undervalue remote participants—often because they can’t see them.
Facing these hybrid headwinds, remote workers become passive participants in group innovation or brainstorming exercises. How can teams successfully achieve hybrid work nirvana then?
At my company, aside from more general connectivity issues, we’ve observed that hybrid conference calls can fail in less tangible ways, such as when meetings are run using their former in-person formats. The problems that impinge hybrid workplace meetings aren’t solved simply because you can “see” every participant.
Just as a concert experienced in person affects fans differently than one watched on TV, a hybrid workplace meeting today can be less engaging or productive for participants than one conducted entirely in person. We believe that hybrid meetings don’t foster great decision-making—at least not without thoughtful prework and follow-up work.
The Wall Street Journal reported that large organizations such as Adobe, Apple, Salesforce, and Allstate among others, intend to make hybrid work a long-term practice. That places even more stress on the importance of getting hybrid meetings right.
How hybrid meetings should work
What does it look like when hybrid meetings are planned and executed more productively and appropriately? I asked our usability experts at my conferencing software company to study this question.
In today’s hybrid workplace, with workers in multiple time zones and only some onsite at company headquarters, decision-making isn’t bound by scheduled video conference calls. But in many, if not most, organizations, looping in off-site workers is basically hit-and-miss. Actual business decisions are often made by phone or in different message threads. While that’s simply going to happen sometimes, what matters is sharing new ideas or current thinking with the entire team.
Here are nine ways to improve your organization’s hybrid meetings:
- Think inclusion. Notify everyone on your team about your objectives for the meeting and any related project.
- Think completeness. Create a concise opening message on a team message board that spells out the goal of the effort, the timeline, defines everyone’s responsibilities, and provides pertinent materials.
- Post, post, post. All decisions should be highlighted on the team messaging board, keeping everyone looped in about what’s happening or in the works. Posting after-meeting notes will help ensure follow-through. The notes should again tag participants and highlight who owns which deliverables and when they’re due. Moreover, tag people, so they know when a new message or assignment is up.
- Asynchronous collaboration. Keep in mind, team message boards are not a one-way street. Encourage feedback, questions, and document sharing as needed. Utilizing cloud applications, such as shared whiteboards, enables real-time collaboration. This ensures that work keeps going without busy schedules and time differences becoming a blocker.
- Focus on prework. When it comes to scheduling hybrid meetings, prework pays off. While adding structure such as an agenda helps enhance productivity and team engagement, too much structure may stifle those benefits. If the agenda is too dense, for example, no one will absorb it.
- Goal setting. A longtime best meeting practice, setting meeting goals and objectives is probably twice as important in a hybrid setting. By sharing goals in advance, everyone can come prepared to contribute. Participants should know in advance who called the meeting, what it’s for, and how everyone will know if the objective has been met.
- Support time-shifting. Even before the pandemic, workers in many distributed organizations were “time-shifting” to better suit personal, family, or business team priorities. Now there are even fewer reasons to assume everyone can join a meeting in real time. That’s why it’s critical to record team meetings and make the recordings available in a team space on a collaborative communications platform. Remote participants will also use this space to pose questions that can be answered asynchronously at the meeting participants’ convenience.
- Engage remote participants. Keeping remote participants engaged and involved is largely just a matter of assigning someone on-site to keep an eye on them during meetings and encouraging their questions and comments (within reason, see next point).
- Cater to short attention spans. Attention spans have never been shorter. It’s a great idea to keep hybrid meetings as crisp as possible, which means avoiding over-presenting. While we all want to be heard, there are times you may need to impose limits. Everyone may want to ask questions or make points, but keep in mind, when that happens, the meeting won’t be as productive as it otherwise might have been.
Finding a productive balance in the hybrid world
The hybrid workplace is proving its value. A remarkable 83% of global workers surveyed by Accenture call it “optimal.” But, if leaders and workers fail to adjust their behavior to optimize a hybrid workplace meeting model, organizations will become inefficient, remote workers will languish, and morale—or even innovation—may nosedive.
Before the pandemic, many people thought about meetings strictly in terms of business productivity. Were we making decisions that advanced our business objectives? It’s still a worthy question, but today, we take a more nuanced view. Productivity in a hybrid workplace is about fostering healthy and engaged workers, leading to smarter business decisions, not just seeing how much stuff we can discuss by the end of the call.
Keep in mind the meeting itself is not the desired outcome. A team meeting remains what it’s always been: merely a means to an end. Hybrid meetings need to be planned and executed more thoughtfully and appropriately. What the world needs now isn’t more meetings, it’s smartly planned or better-managed ones.
Michael Peachey is a VP of user experience at RingCentral.