Outstanding Hybrid Meetings


Those of you who know me know I’m not afraid of broaching controversial topics, and today I’ll be discussing one of my favorites. Politics? Religion? Nope–hybrid meetings!

Like many organizations, Emergent has been holding, hosting and facilitating hybrid meetings more and more since 2020. For sake of clarity, hybrid meetings are those in which some people participate remotely, and others participate in person. I love bringing this subject up at dinner parties, social gatherings and at family get-togethers. It always provokes a strong reaction from those on both sides of the divide: those who value working and meeting from home love the hybrid model, and those who want everyone back in the office ASAP tend to have a less generous opinion.

The reason I like bringing this topic up so much is that everyone is right! We certainly need in-person connection to be effective in many work situations,  but remote participation offers unique advantages. In the grand scheme of things, remote work will continue, in-person work will be needed, and hybrid options are likely here to stay!

Many people view remote work solely as an effect of the pandemic, facilitated by technological development and public health needs. But a look at the long-term trends in working from home reminds us that this is not a new phenomenon. A substantial portion of this nation’s workforce has been working from home for decades:

Decennial censuses show home-working was declining, both absolutely and relatively, from 4.7 million in 1960 to 2.2 million in 1980 (at right, top). Between 1980 and 1990, however, the Census Bureau reports a 56% rise, to 3.4 million people. In the 2000 census, nearly 4.2 million, or 3.2% of American workers, labored where they lived. Since then, the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates document a continuous rise. By 2020, over 11 million people, or 7.3% of the U.S. labor force, reported their primary job was mostly performed at home. The 2021 ACS one-year estimate was 27.6 million people primarily working from home nationwide, or 17.9% of employees.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9988592/

You’ll notice, of course, a major bump in those numbers between 2020 and 2021. This rapid change caught many companies on the backfoot. Almost overnight, they were forced to adapt to an almost entirely digital work environment. Even as returning to the office became possible, a bell was rung that could not be unrung. Many companies integrated work-from-home options into their “new normal.” As a result, the hybrid meeting became commonplace.

But this brave new world has brought its share of troubles, and we’ve all had less than ideal experiences with the hybrid experiment. I’d like to share some learnings and suggestions to improve the quality of these meetings so that they match or exceed the effectiveness of in-person get-togethers.

When planning effective hybrid meetings, the first and most critical step is to determine whether the meeting can actually be conducted well in the hybrid form. This seems obvious but seldom happens. Many people assume all meetings can be held in this form, but this isn’t the case. Think about the following when considering the best method for the meeting:

Are there essential reasons to be together? For example, a physical experience like sharing a meal or undergoing a trust exercise will not translate over technology. It will leave those who are participating remotely feeling excluded or disadvantaged. This alienation is harmful, and the negative effects of going through with the meeting might outweigh the convenience factor. In such situations, leaders should find a time when everyone can participate in person, or else restructure the meeting so that the experience is more or less the same for all participants.

Once it has been determined that a hybrid meeting is appropriate, Ground Rules or Operating Guidelines need to be established, communicated, and reinforced. Some guidelines for effective hybrid meetings we have found most helpful are:

  • Everyone has an independent digital presence. This levels the playing field between those who are physically together and those who are not. This is usually accomplished by requiring everyone to join the meeting via computer, even those who are in the office.
  • Everyone has their cameras on. This helps create connection among all participants.
  • All remote participants are fully present. Being remote is not a reason to be multitasking. If the remote participant is at another worksite, they are expected to be as present as they would be if they were in the office. This means not tending to other business. If the remote participant is at home, they should make sure their family knows they will be unavailable for the duration of the meeting.

All meetings, hybrid or not, are greatly improved by the inclusion of an agenda. This proactive tool should be shared with all participants so they know what ground will be covered and what their role will be. The agenda should include the type of meeting that’s being held (such as brainstorming or creative meetings, decision-making meetings, information-sharing meetings, etc…). Most meetings are held with the assumption that everyone knows what the meeting is meant to accomplish, but this assumption can be faulty. Being as clear as possible in communications sent before the meeting is held is very helpful.

Finally, hybrid meetings, like most meetings, are best when there is adequate time allotted to review any and all action items and next steps, as well as clarify who is responsible for those action items. This includes specific milestones or deadlines, as well as some mechanism of accountability. We all know the feeling of hanging up at the end of a Zoom meeting and suddenly forgetting what we were supposed to do. Building in specific time for task assignment alleviates this issue.

While we won’t run your meetings for you, we can help you hold more effective meetings through our proven, experience-based coaching tools. If you want to learn more about leadership coaching and are interested in becoming a more effective leader, please reach out to me at bill@getemergent.com. I’d be happy to help!

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