Remember the olden days when meetings happened in a room? With people and snacks and tables? And then remember when, overnight, meetings suddenly went entirely virtual, and your pants and shoes took a hiatus?
And just when we thought things couldn’t get messier, we’ve put it all in a blender and we’re working now in this clunky, hybrid middle-place. With some team members back in the office while others are connecting from home, so many people are wondering how to run a great meeting—one that leaves everyone feeling included, engaged, and equally able to contribute.
Let’s talk today about some simple, tactical strategies you can use to ensure your hybrid meetings are delivering both great experiences and outcomes.
It begins with the prep
A great hybrid meeting requires some thorough planning and consideration. It won’t happen by accident. So before you show up in the room (physical or virtual) give these factors some pre-consideration.
Begin with a clear sense of what you want this meeting to deliver. Do you need a decision to be made? A set of ideas to be generated? Challenge yourself to really think this through. Providing this clarity to your participants upfront will enable them to show up prepared to engage in the right conversation.
Note that certain purposes—like providing an update or reviewing a client deliverable—may not even require a meeting. In some cases, an email or a series of individual calls will do. The least effective hybrid meetings are the ones that just didn’t need to be meetings.
Clarity of purpose allows you to be intentional about whom you invite to the table. Hybrid meetings require you to pay more attention to each person’s experience, so minimizing the number of participants can be helpful.
Don’t be exclusive. But do be thoughtful about each attendee’s role in the discussion. Who truly needs to be present, and who can you update after the fact? Fewer participants will help dial your impact up.
Engaging a blend of participants requires some extra creativity. So, think ahead about where you want to engage your participants—collecting ideas, opinions, or individual sentiment—and prepare ahead by setting up some polls or whiteboards ahead of time.
This advanced set up will leave you, the host, looking prepared and polished, while keeping your meeting running smoothly and allowing all participants able to engage on equal footing.
Rules of engagement
Decide what “ground rules” you’d like to establish and send these out in advance. This will allow participants to show up ready for the action you’ve designed. What will make your conversation most engaging?
Some ground rules you may want to consider could be:
- Virtual participants please plan to be on camera if possible (but not mandatory)
- Ideas will be pitched in 60-second increments (so everyone gets a turn) so prepare to be brief and clear
- When in “listening” mode, please be on mute
- Prohibit “in-room” conversations (this is the thing that happens when people in the physical room mute hit their “mute” button and start having a side chat that virtual participants are excluded from)
Assign a “watch-deputy”
One of the hardest things about hybrid meetings is keeping virtual participants fully engaged. You want to pay attention to their experience. And you also need to focus on running the meeting.
So, ask someone to be your “watch-deputy," another trusted meeting team member who will pay special attention to your remote colleagues. If your deputy notices virtual participants are going off-camera or staying quiet, they can give you a signal to invite them back into the conversation.
During the meeting
You’ve done your pre-work, and everyone is set up for a fabulous hybrid meeting. So now let’s talk about strategies to set you up for success during the meeting.
Take a remote-first approach
This means that everyone—whether in-person or remote—logs into the meeting on their own screen to participate. I know, I know… you’re thinking “why should I bother going to an office if I’m just going to be staring at my laptop?”
The truth is, there’s no perfect solution here. And having seen hybrid meetings in many permutations, I believe this is the best (or least bad?) solution currently available to us. Having everyone on screen creates equal footing for all participants. And for those who have come into the office, there will be other benefits (water coolers and snacks in the pantry) available to them throughout the day.
Do a round-robin check-in
At the beginning of the meeting, remind everyone to have cameras on (if possible) and begin with a brief round of hellos. You may want to kick off with a question (First concert? Favorite birthday cake?) just to get everyone talking early. This, too, reminds all participants that every voice matters.
Use engagement strategies
Remember those polls and whiteboards you set up? Put them to use! Make your meeting as interactive as possible, and really get your participants thinking, asking, answering, and sharing. Even if you have a remote participant not on screen, at least you’re getting their energy and engagement by using these tools wisely.
Create mixed breakouts
Pose a question or challenge to your participants and put people into mixed breakout rooms (a blend of in-person and virtual participants)—even if only for a few minutes. Creating smaller groups challenges everyone to dial up their own participation and creates small moments of greater intimacy for everyone.
After the meeting
And finally, you’ve done it. The meeting has come and gone. But there are still opportunities to make it an even bigger win.
Document and share outcomes
Assuming your meeting was purposeful, it achieved something: a set of actions, ideas, or decisions. So, capture them in writing and share back with participants. This helps ensure the meeting was not only well-run, but its outcomes get actioned!
Capture feedback from your participants. Ultimately the best strategies are the ones that your team finds useful. So, ask people how things went, and what they’d do differently next time. You can keep evolving your hybrid meeting strategy over time.
And there you have some of my favorite strategies for rocking an awesome hybrid meeting. Let me know how these work for you—and don’t be shy about sharing some of your own ideas with me!