How to bridge the gap between in-person and remote meetings

The views expressed by the contributing Entrepreneurs are their own.

With the right technology and facilitation, hybrid meetings can offer the best of both worlds: the benefits of in-person meetings, such as non-verbal communication and spontaneous collaboration, combined with the convenience and cost-effectiveness of remote meetings.

But to truly reap the benefits of hybrid meetings requires going beyond our intuitions and gut reactions about how to manage meetings and investing in quality AV technology, developing new meeting standards, and training participants in the use of this technology and compliance with these rules. Otherwise, hybrid meetings can be a miserable experience for both in-person — especially for remote participants, as I’ve seen in consulting 21 organizations on how to implement hybrid work arrangements.

Related: What’s the Best Way to Run a Highly Effective Hybrid Meeting?

Importance of great meeting AV technology

One of the most critical elements of a successful hybrid meeting is excellent audio and video (AV) technology that allows all participants to see and hear each other clearly.

Many conference rooms are long and narrow, and cameras are usually located at one end of the table, so those at the far end are not easily visible on video. This creates a problem for remote participants as they cannot clearly see the body language and gestures of the attendees. Similarly, remote participants need to be able to hear the points heard by everyone in the room, but typical cramped meeting rooms are not set up to receive audio well for all participants, only those at the head of the table.

Remote participants must see the person speaking at all times. Doing so requires a camera that tracks and focuses on whoever is currently speaking. They also need a second camera that points across the room to catch their colleagues’ non-verbal cues. After all, the point of a meeting is not just one-way communication from the speaker. He also observes the reaction of the meeting participants to the speaker. Finally, they need a third camera to show the PowerPoint and/or whiteboard.

In-person participants, in turn, must be able to clearly see remote participants. This means, ideally, sitting on one side of the table and on the other side having a large conference room screen with the remote participants. Then the physical focus of the in-person participants goes to the remote participants, not each other.

Separate facility for remote participants

Another important factor for successful hybrid meetings is having a separate facilitator for remote participants. Team Leaders serve as the traditional meeting moderator and already have their hands full personally managing the meeting section and agenda while also being a participant.

Instead, the team leader must appoint an in-person participant as the remote moderator. This person’s role is to ensure that remote participants can participate fully in the meeting and that their contributions are heard and acknowledged. They can also help manage any technical issues that may arise. The remote facilitator should solicit feedback and input from remote participants and intervene on their behalf as needed. They also need to read aloud conversations typed by conference participants who ask the remote moderator to make a point on their behalf.

Related: Running hybrids is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity

Express yourself through emojis or chat

Remote participants must cooperate with the remote moderator and support their perspective and full participation in hybrid meetings. They need to be expressed as a reaction to what people are saying via reaction or chat emojis.

The challenge is that you can’t see the remote participants’ responses to what the speaker is saying, so the remote participants have to be more careful about their responses. Fortunately, by using chat or reaction emojis, they don’t need to interrupt the speaker or disrupt the flow of the conversation. Such features are much easier to use, especially for introverted participants, making them more likely to shine as remote participants in hybrid meetings.

And because there is someone in the room whose job it is to make sure the remote participants are heard—the remote moderator—that person will interrupt the speaker on their behalf. For example, a remote participant can indicate that they have a question or comment in the conversation. If this happened in the room, the speaker could see that someone was frowning or looking confused. But they can’t see it as easily for remote participants. However, the remote mediator can intervene on behalf of the remote participants, addressing their confusion and ensuring that the remote participants can contribute.

Rules of conduct for in-person participants

Personal participants should pay attention to remote participants and make an effort to include them in the conversation. This can be done by logging into the meeting from their laptops or phones and monitoring remote participants’ responses via chat or emoji. In fact, they can contribute to the conversation if they join the meeting and make sure they don’t miss the valuable conversation thread.

Similarly, self-represented participants must overcome their intuitive and natural temptation to prioritize other participants. They should give preferential attention to remote participants and encourage other participants to do so. This is why it helps to sit across from the remote participants, not the colleagues who are participating in person.

Participants in the educational meeting

Achieving this change in norms and addressing cognitive biases requires training of both in-person and remote facilitators, as well as participants, including in-person and remote. The new rules will feel artificial and awkward at first because everyone will have to deal with their miscalibrated intuitions, but they will help maximize everyone’s participation and address the problems with typical hybrid encounters. Training — which should include practice and role playing — will help overcome initial discomfort and make it easier to align with the new rules.

Part of the required training includes creating feedback systems for continuous improvement. So, especially as teams begin to figure out the new meeting paradigms, they need to measure and get feedback on the quality of the hybrid meeting experience, for in-person and especially for remote participants. As you make these transitions, survey participants on various aspects of the meeting, such as their overall assessment of their meeting experience, how well they were able to hear and see others, how well they thought others heard and saw them, how well they were able to participate and influence the meeting, how well the in-person participants accommodated the remote participants, how well the facilitator accommodated the remote participants, how effectively features such as chat and emojis such as “raise your hand” were used, what could would have done better to improve their experience and impact, and related questions. Specific feedback should be provided to meeting facilitators, including watching recordings with a coach who can highlight specific moments when the facilitator performed well and other areas where they may need improvement.

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