“Hybrid Work Meetings are Hell.”
That was the headline that snapped me to attention in the Wall Street Journal in June of last year. The good news was, at least according to the second sentence of that same headline, “Tech is Trying to Fix Them.”
However, here we are, nearly a full year later, and the pain of poor hybrid meetings is still being widely felt. So poor, in fact, that many companies are now opting out of them completely and choosing to send everyone back to their gallery boxes on Zoom or Teams… or any of the other video conferencing platforms that continue to duke it out for customers.
Here’s the thing though. The problem with hybrid meetings is often not a problem that tech can solve.
The problem with hybrid meetings is often a PEOPLE problem.
Making a hybrid meeting effective requires a whole lot more than just supplying the technology for people to connect and collaborate. Certainly, that plays a role, but getting the most out of a hybrid meeting requires the right hardware, software and “skill-ware.” What’s “skill-ware”, you ask? We’re talking about the new approaches, policies and best practices that need to be taught in order to make a hybrid meeting work and not a waste of time.
It’s the people part that my frequent collaborator and three-time co-author, Dr. Joe Allen, and I have been working diligently to address over the last few years. As a leading meeting scientist, Dr. Allen knew that hybrid meetings can easily become a mess. The potential pitfalls are many. Tech mishaps that leave virtual attendees on the outside looking in. The inadvertent creation of a two-tiered system where those in person have greater access to information and opportunity than those who join remotely. Virtual attendees being completely forgotten about by their colleagues who are gathered around the conference room table. Even before the pandemic, I experienced all of these problems and more when I was asked to lead a hybrid meeting or teach in a hybrid environment. I found the multiple communication streams confounding to manage… and I was the communication expert in the room!
So what now? The majority of companies where employees have the potential to work remotely are opting for a hybrid setup. Workers are demanding it. Most employers are answering that call (with a few notable exceptions – yes, we are looking at you, Elon Musk.) However, hybrid work requires hybrid meetings, even if you’d rather opt out of them.
Hybrid meetings are the critical connective-tissue for hybrid teams to communicate, and this is where flexible work arrangements can become a logistical logjam. Even if you’ve figured out the math problem of getting teams together in person on certain days of the week, ad hoc meetings happen, and often they happen on days when at least one team member is not on site. Maybe that team member is the most important person to have in that meeting? Do you wait to meet until everyone can gather face to face? Not if you need an answer sooner rather than later.
Do you opt for a fully virtual meeting, sending your co-located teammates to scatter around the office? Nothing dissuades someone from coming onto campus more than telling them to saddle up their headsets and hop on their individual webcams to converse with their colleagues who are down the hall.
The answer SHOULD be… have a hybrid meeting, but often there’s pushback because those involved think hybrid meetings are too hard, too polarizing, too… unsatisfying for all parties. But they don’t have to be.
Here’s one of the most remarkable findings in the data Dr. Allen gathered for our book Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting – early adopters of hybrid meetings found them to be more satisfying with higher levels of participation than ANY other kind of meeting they had. The data also showed that these hybrid meeting pioneers had fewer bad meeting behaviors like monologuing and complaining. What’s more, they reported needing less time to recover from the previous meeting before they were ready for the next one.
What’s the secret? How did “Hybrid Meeting Hell” become “Hybrid Meeting Heck-yeah?”
Bottom line – those early adopters knew what they were doing. They researched best practices. They got everyone on board to follow them. They were intentional in their approach and were bound and determined to make them effective for their #FutureofWork which is very much NOW.
Why? Because they knew that hybrid meetings hold tremendous promise to be the most inclusive meeting of all. They allow team members to participate from wherever, whenever – presumably from where they work best. If each individual is optimizing their work style, it presents an opportunity for the team as a whole to optimize its collective performance level.
But it won’t happen without a serious effort to change processes, codify expectations and gain buy-in from all involved to follow the new approach.
If you google “hybrid meetings”, you will hit on a litany of articles speaking of the horrors of this meeting modality. I urge you to ignore them. Instead, look for those resources that offer help. Check out articles like this one in Forbes where Joe and I were featured. Put Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting on the reading list for your entire enterprise. Lacking enthusiastic readers? Send them to our immersive e-learning course The Hybrid Meeting Toolkit. All of these will help empower your organization to make the most of hybrid meetings… an essential communication pathway for hybrid teams.
Whatever you do, don’t quit on hybrid meetings. The energy generated by those sharing the same space can infuse the meeting experience for all – even for the remote attendees, provided that they are invited in. It’s worth the effort to learn how to do it right. It’s worth the investment in upskilling. It’s worth embracing this new way of meeting for the health of the enterprise as a whole. And you won’t miss the grumbling of your teammates who are wondering why they came to campus… only to spend the entire day on video calls.