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Six rules to avoid hybrid meeting hell

Martin Day, M365 solutions architect at Silicon Reef, a collaboration, productivity and wellbeing consultancy, explains how to ensure hybrid meetings work seamlessly for everyone

‘Let’s give it a minute for everyone to join’, ‘You’re on mute’, ‘Can you all see my screen?’, ‘Sorry, that’s my doorbell’, ‘I have a hard stop at half past’. Ah, the good old days of conference call bingo. I remember them like they were yesterday.

Now that enforced home working is over and people are allowed to return to the office, it is time to familiarise ourselves with the much trickier proposition of hybrid meetings, where some people are in the office, some are at home and others are in another location entirely – a café, the library, the park.

This presents new challenges. In the old home-working world there was greater commonality – it might have taken time to get used to but at least everyone was in front of their own screen and present and involved to the same degree. Now, there are likely to be different levels of representation and engagement. All participants in a Teams or Zoom meeting will still be present, but because of their different locations and set-ups they may not be equal, which could cause some to feel side-lined, distracted, perhaps even resentful.

There is no getting around this. It is, after all, what most of us wanted. In our own survey last year 71% of workers said they’d resign if they didn’t get flexibility and in a study by Gartner 82% of company leaders said they plan to allow hybrid working in the future. We’ve made our bed and now we must lie in it.

Hybrid meeting etiquette

In short, we need a new set of rules if we want to avoid a two-tier system where office workers get better quality interactions than home and remote workers, or where no one collaborates well owing to terrible habits such as talking over others, having loud background noise or ignoring the chat function.

1.  Rule one is simple and applies as much to a traditional meeting as to a hybrid one: be prepared and give it some thought. Just because a meeting is on a screen, doesn’t mean it’s any less important. Set or read the agenda, bring the required information, give others the respect they deserve and ensure there is a goal, actions and someone to take notes.

2.  Rule two is to create a consistent experience. This can be done in two ways: either stipulate that everyone joins the meeting in the same way – for example all on their own screen with headphones, regardless of location – or appoint a chair to referee. That person has a responsibility to maintain the balance between in-person participants and virtual ones, for example by looking out for anyone who has raised their hand on screen and keeping an eye on the chat function. They should bring everyone together and break down the disconnect between participants as best they can.

3. Rule three is about, well, rules. If the price of flexibility is obeying a few mutually beneficial guidelines, it’s a small price to pay. Examples might include stipulating that all virtual attendees have their cameras switched on or that those at a desk screen in a busy office mute themselves until they want to speak. Teams enables you to set all these basic guidelines in advance, including auto mute.

4. Rule four is to make use of all the features available to you. If the furthest you’ve got is to switch your meeting view to Together mode – the one where everyone appears as though they’re in a theatre auditorium – you need to try harder. Meetings are chances to fuel creativity and generate ideas: try using the integrated Teams Whiteboard for creative collaboration, or record the meeting and share the transcript so people can find relevant content afterwards without needing to view the whole thing again. Businesses can take this a step further by updating their meeting rooms to be Teams Rooms. These are set up specifically to bridge the gap between people working remotely and those in the office so that everyone can be seen, heard and participate fully from anywhere.

5. Rule five is a great one. Consider not having a hybrid meeting. Sometimes meeting in person is best. Tech has come a long way in the past few years, but no matter how introverted we are or how far we might live from the office, sometimes face-to-face is better. And sometimes, we need to be pushed out of our comfort zone and do the right thing for the whole team. According to research from the NeuroLeadership Institute, about a third of us like to work at home, a third at the office and a third hybrid. With such an even split, we should all consider compromising at times.

6. Rule six should please a few. Allow mindless, or perhaps mindful, chatter. When we used to amble along to office based meetings, we’d chat, laugh, gossip and share. Sometimes over-share. This is important and helps to build camaraderie and replace the serendipitous encounters people miss. When you’re ‘giving it a few minutes for everyone to join’, as you always must, encourage chatter. Just don’t say the phrase ‘watercooler moment’ because we’re British and have taps and cups of tea. Hopefully these six rules will smooth the transition to a hybrid meeting world. We managed to cope with remote ones, and I have no doubt that we’ll learn to cope with the next phase in our working lives too. It might seem a little clunky now but give it a while and it’ll feel like second nature because, as the last couple of years have shown, we’re all highly adaptable and capable of change. Now, I’d better dial off. I have a hard stop at half past.

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