From microbusinesses to multinationals like Google, Apple and HSBC, the research is in. A not-so-surprising majority (70%) of businesses plan to implement some kind of hybrid working arrangement so that their people can split time between onsite collaboration, and quiet-zone work at home.
This decision seems, for the most part, to be driven by the fact that businesses are reporting major challenges when trying to lure employees back into the office, when most now prefer to work at least two days at home. Fears of returning to work are reported to include the hassle of commuting, the preference for comfortable clothing, a concern about crowding on public transport and in city centre office spaces.
So, hybrid it is, at least for now. And while this caters to what staff really want, it does throw up a particular challenge: that of hybrid meetings. How do you make meetings powerful, efficient and equitable when some are onsite, and some are not?
The hybrid meeting conundrum
The hybrid model poses challenges for running meetings. The inevitable inequality can fast create disengagement and a sense of inequality that must be proactively overcome. Oscar Trimboli, creator of the Apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening, says that there are three key ways to conquer such disengagement: with proactive hosting, creating a physical connection, and of course, with personalising the experience.
1. The host with the most
The success of a hybrid meeting is firstly contingent on the way you host.
“There’ll typically be a host who is onsite, however, it helps in hybrid meetings, to have an off-site co-host,” Trimboli explains. This presumably levels the playing field, providing a powerful voice on behalf of those who are not onsite. The alternative to this is to ask the remote participant to host the meeting themselves.
The meeting itself can also be planned around engagement.
“Any event or communication opportunity should feature a change in modality or interactivity at least once every seven minutes. So a 45-minute broadcast will not be nearly as engaging as a 5-minute overview followed by a break-out room session, and then followed by a spokesperson report-back before another 5-minute presentation.
These days, video conferencing enables much more variation in modality, thanks to break-out rooms - which can really facilitate engagement and connection in the material being discussed.
2. Bringing the physical into the virtual
“The second thing to try doing is making the tangible props that are available onsite, available offsite too. A client of mine in the US made this possible via a barbeque meet up for which remote staff and satellite offices were delivered the same meal as was had in the primary location. Onsite people were paired up with an offsite person to eat together. The entire event was designed around inclusion and connection, regardless of location.”
This idea could be executed in other ways and on smaller budgets, too - using lunch vouchers or organising a coffee meet up online. “When I coach leadership, my first question is always going to be: How many coffee meetings have you had with your staff this month? If staff are going to be remote, perhaps it is leadership’s responsibility to ensure that they get to the people.”
“Typically they’re working remotely because family circumstances make that more viable, or they simply live a long way from the primary office,” says Trimboli and makes a lightbulb-moment point: “People are not choosing to be remote in the psychological sense, so perhaps in this new world, the onus is on leadership to travel to the people.”
3. Personalise the experience
The third way Trimboli suggests hybrid meetings can become more inclusive is by personalising conversations with participants. He describes how he thanks Jan from accounts for her encouraging smile throughout the presentation, or how he asks Alison about her placeholder photo of her on the Golden Gate Bridge. Acknowledging people - whether or not they have their webcam on, is a fantastic way of making them feel seen. This helps to overcome the disconnected feeling we can sometimes get when we’re working via Zoom.
Employee engagement 3.0
People have been through a lot lately. Quite aside from organisations needing to attract and retain talent, it seems as though the right thing to do is try and see each individual, both physically and emotionally.
Bringing physical encounters to fuse with the virtual are a great way to make hybrid meetings more enjoyable for everyone involved - and no matter how they decided to participate.