Hybrid meetings: what you need to know to have a successful hybrid session
How do you have a successful, inclusive hybrid meeting? Assistant professors Language and communication Lisanne van Weelden and Tessa van Charldorp were commissioned by Deloitte to investigate the challenges of hybrid conversations.
A new normal
After working from home for more than a year, a new normal has presented itself: hybrid working. We organise our staff meetings, research sessions, lectures and seminars in a hybrid fashion. Hybrid means that part of the attendees are present physically and part are present virtually. At first sight, we could expect such meetings to be highly effective. It provides everyone the opportunity to participate from wherever they are and meetings can be planned faster. Therefore, we would expect hybrid meetings to be cost-efficient, to be inclusive, and to enhance equality. The challenge, however, is to have a hybrid meeting that is successful and inclusive.
The challenges of hybrid conversations
Hybrid conversations are challenging as they take place in two different settings, both offline and online. Because attendees don’t share the same environment, they don’t share the same experience. There are several obvious examples that illustrate how this experience differs. Physical attendees can start a side conversation in which online participants cannot participate. When a presentation is shared on the main screen, virtual attendees become small squares in the corner of the screen whereas the physical attendees remain life-size. Physical attendees can see each other’s full body non-verbal communication while virtual attendees cannot. During a heated discussion among physical attendees, virtual attendees are forgotten. And, when using a single camera for the physical space, the virtual attendees cannot see clearly which of the physical attendees is speaking.
Because attendees don’t share the same environment, they don’t share the same experience.
As a result, there is no communicative inclusivity, creating the possibility that virtual attendees feel excluded and experience an unequal opportunity to participate in the conversation. To arm ourselves against these challenges, we should improve our hybrid conversation skills.
Hybrid conversational skills
So how do we create an environment in which every attendee feels included and has an equal opportunity to participate in the conversation? We looked at the elements that make both offline and online conversations successful and found workarounds that partially compensate for the difference in experience. Below are the four most important steps of successful hybrid meetings.
Depending on the purpose of the meeting, decide whether a hybrid meeting will work. We suggest that for routine meetings, information sharing and small group discussions, hybrid meetings work just fine. For more creative sessions or complex or sensitive discussions, face-to-face meetings work better.
Make sure you have the right technology to hold a successful hybrid meeting. Preferably the physical location has two screens (one for a presentation, note-taking, etc. and one for the virtual participants). If there is only one screen, always stop sharing the presentation when there is interaction. Preferably there is a good camera so that the virtual attendees can see the entire room.
Set specific rules beforehand and make sure these rules are communicated to everybody. The most important rule is that there will be two hosts: a physical host and a virtual host. Each host is responsible for representing the people in their own setting. Other rules that should bet talked about is when people need to mute, raise hands, turn on/off the camera and use the chat functionality.
Use the following hybrid meeting communication skills to make a difference:
- Both hosts make sure that there is interaction between the physical and virtual attendees before the meeting starts. While this type of 'small talk' may feel unnatural, it is essential to make virtual attendees feel included;
- Preferably, the virtual host opens the meeting and introduces both physical and virtual attendees;
- Both hosts continuously keep an eye on the attendees in their setting, assign turns and monitor speaking time;
- Use the functionality of the room in the same way as virtual attendees: mute when no one is speaking and raise virtual hand when someone wants to speak;
- Speakers should not include the environment around them in their talk if the environment is not shared;
- Physical participants should avoid side-conversations unless asked to do so.
The future of hybrid meetings
Putting these tips and tricks into practice makes virtual attendees feel included and creates communicative equality, making hybrid conversations effective. We anticipate that the hybrid meeting, hybrid week start and hybrid lectures are here to stay. So, let’s work on those hybrid conversational skills.
Written by Lisanne van Weelden and Tessa van Charldorp