Can Hybrid Meetings Really be Inclusive?

Meetings are a staple of office life. They play a key role in decision making, and their place in workplace culture is secure. Even in the height of the Covid pandemic when so much of what we thought was fundamental to work got flipped upside-down, meetings still happened – they just took a different form, as we all got used to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other virtual meeting platforms. Increasingly over the last year or so, though, companies have required some workers to return to the office a few days each week in a hybrid work world. Without all the key stakeholders in the office in person every day, meetings have taken on a new form – hybrid meetings. And if you’ve been part of hybrid meetings, you know they can be a mixed bag.

A few months ago, Building Bridges Leadership was hired to run a workshop for an international client. They would be meeting in person, but as a non-proft institution their budget didn’t have space to pay for the costs of flying in a facilitator and providing accomodations, so I led the workshop remotely. We collaborated to ensure the program would work given the situation, and tested the techology ahead of time – I was on a large screen in the room, along with slides. All seemed set. But a key part of the workshop was working in small groups repeatedly throughout the session; all of a sudden, the hybrid function broke down. With forty voices speaking at the same time in a small room, they couldn’t hear me calling time over the speaker system from thousands of miles away, and as a result, we lost time with each small group breakout. If I had been there in person – or if the entire meeting had been onlone for everyone – it would have been significantly easier to get their attention and keep the meeting on track.

If you’re not leading the meeting, it can be even harder to feel included when joining a hybrid meeting virtually. Those who tend to jump in and speak up first – whether in the room or online – often dominate the meeting, and those who take time to digest information and reflect before commenting will usually get ignored or left behind. So what can you do to ensure your next hybrid meetings are inclusive?

This Week’s Tips:

Take specific action steps to plan for inclusion in your next hybrid meetings:

  • Consider your non-meeting options. If this is mainly informational, you may be better off using asynchronous communication instead. If your team engages in Slack or another project management software, use that for smaller communications (with the option to discuss at the next meeting if needed). This also avoids the need to plan around people who have very different work schedules.
  • Prepare and send pre-reading ahead of time, with a request to bring thoughts for discussion to the next meeting. This removes the need for the meeting itself to be a presentation of information, and allows those who need time to digest and reflect on information to have that time prior to meeting.
  • Treat each attendee as a key contributor. Depending on the size of the meeting, this may be easier said than done, but there are always ways to make this work. If your meeting is twelve or fewer, leave the last ten minutes to go around the group and ask if there’s anything further each person would like to add; check in with each person before allowing someone to go into depth, and if what they bring up requires more time, this might be something to devote time to in the next meeting. If your meeting is larger, take time for 8-10 minute paired/group shares during the meeting (keep remote attendees with other remote attendees), and have each group report out to the meeting; this necessitates a longer meeting time, so plan appropriately.
  • Invest in hybrid meeting technology. Technology is often a downfall in hybrid meetings. If your company plans to hold hybrid meetings on an ongoing basis, consider technology specifically designed for hybrid meetings, such as the Meeting Owl. Any barrier you can eliminate will help build inclusion in the hybrid meeting space.
  • If you’re attending (not running) the meeting, make requests ahead of time. You can still have an impact on how hybrid meetings go by making requests for some or all of the tips above.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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