In September, organisations across Ireland returned to the office, many for the first time in over 18 months. While most workers returned to the same office building, they did not return to the same work environment.
The past year and a half have ushered in a new era of working – a modern, hybrid workplace where fully remote, fully in-house, and hybrid workers work together as one unit. In this new era, workers need to be able to collaborate just as effectively with those in-person as those operating remotely.
Recently, we published ActionPoint’s Return-to-Work Operations Checklist. In it, we identified a few key areas that organisations need to carefully consider as they enter a modern, hybrid workplace. One area that is worth focusing on is the modern office meeting experience. In the past, office meetings were mainly conducted in-house. If a person or two had to dial-in from a remote location, they were the outlier. Then, during lockdown, organisations became accustomed to video conference sessions where all attendees dialled in remotely. The modern hybrid meeting will be a blend of both, and organisations need to accommodate everyone.
The Evolution of the Hybrid Meeting Place
Below is a quick evolution of the workplace meeting and what we need to keep in mind as we move from face-to-face to modern hybrid meetings.
Fully in-person meetings
Meetings were carried out in a conference room in the office building itself. All attendees were there in-person. If someone was doing a presentation, they could do so with the help of a projector and PowerPoint presentation. Attendees could hear each other, see each other but, more importantly, connect with each other effortlessly. Team members could hold eye contact, read body language and pick up on subtle social cues. If someone wanted to talk next, they could either raise a hand or the room could pick up on some small, almost insignificant action that signalled their intention to speak. Conversations were fluid and everyone was on an equal footing.
Hybrid (majority in-house)
These were the early days of hybrid meetings. The majority of team members were in the meeting room, however one or two might have joined remotely. This usually meant that a laptop was placed on the table with remote workers dialling into an online meeting room.
This stage lacked connection. The in-house attendees were still able to read body language and maintain eye contact. However, when the remote attendee spoke, they were speaking into a void. No effort was made to ensure that the meeting was an equitable experience for all attendees. It was generally accepted that attending meetings remotely was a much inferior experience, but it was simply the price you paid for joining remotely. This created a huge disconnect between remote and in-house attendees.
Modern hybrid (almost 50:50 split)
The hybrid meeting place is still a work in progress. However, we know what the goal should be and what the challenges are. The goal is to create an equitable experience, where attending remotely is as effective and satisfying as attending in-person. The risk of hybrid meetings is that in-person attendees become anonymous
faces in a room, while remote attendees are left speaking into a void. Every effort must be made to unite the group and make everyone feel connected.
The New Hybrid Meeting Experience
In 2021, after 18 months of working remotely, we all have the chance to build a better hybrid meeting place. Below are 10 quick tips for better connection in the hybrid meeting place.
- Set ground rules to make sure everyone feels equal and included. This could include making it obligatory to have a camera on (or be in front of a camera) whether you are joining remotely or are in-house.
- Avoid side conversations. It’s normal for sub-groups or side conversations to break out during a meeting. However, when this happens in a hybrid meeting remote workers are completely excluded. Make sure that all conversations are held as one single group.
- Introduce remote attendees to the group and carry out a quick roll call. During the opening exchange make sure that everyone on the call can hear and see each other properly. This helps to make remote attendees feel more included. It also creates a connection between those in-house and those joining remotely and reminds everyone to be cognisant of one another.
- Be remote-first in interacting with your attendees. When posing questions or looking for input, engage with remote workers first. This helps to set the tone for the entire meeting. The natural reaction is to engage with those in front of you. However, starting with remote workers first creates a more inclusive environment.
- Plan all meetings in advance. While you are getting the formula right, make sure all meetings are planned in full. This means having an agenda in place, testing all technology in advance and making sure everyone knows their role. Spending the first 10-15 troubleshooting is a real momentum killer.
- Consider video from the remote participant perspective. When you are setting up cameras in a meeting room, always consider what online attendees need to see to be fully engaged. This includes having a clear view of everyone in the room, the whiteboard and shared presentations. Make sure to continually ask if online colleagues can see everything properly or if they have any blind spots. Each meeting then becomes a chance to make incremental improvements to the hybrid meeting experience.
- More than just thumbnails. If it’s possible to do so, project the online meeting room onto a big screen. This gives remote attendees a greater presence in the room. Large images help in-person attendees accept remote colleagues as full participants and provide a constant reminder to include them in the conversation.
At ActionPoint, we can assess your organisation’s hybrid work readiness. We take a holistic approach to examining your infrastructure and can help prepare a roadmap for success. As you take your initial steps towards returning to the workplace, why not give us a call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can walk you through what’s involved and what’s expected of you as you reopen a new-look modern workplace.