The Real Challenge with Hybrid Meetings

Virtual Working | Meetings

For the last two years, the pandemic transformed millions into remote workers and redefined workplace flexibility. As the pandemic appears to be easing into a more endemic status (at least here in the United States), many organizations will consider moving into the hybrid era – working some days in the physical office while other days working remotely. While each organization must make decisions about how, when, where, or even if employees return to the office, the hybrid era will be a collective challenge. Organizations must grapple with how to engage and retain top talent in a highly competitive landscape, build employee skills, and promote company culture. In this blog we focus on a key element that is a microcosm for how employee engagement, skills, and culture is visible: company meetings. We’ll highlight how organizations are planning to address hybrid challenges and outline the real challenge with hybrid meetings. And it’s not what you think.

Collaborating, or working together, is often done in the context of company meetings. This is the container in which groups of people connect, socialize, exchange ideas, make decisions, plan, and solve problems. Over 11 million meetings are held each day in the United States. At first glance, hybrid meetings seem to present a simple problem with an easy solution: if people are in different locations, just ensure you have the right technology and physical space to connect meeting participants in an inclusive manner. State-of-the-art hybrid meeting rooms are now being imagined, designed to bridge the physical gap between participants in a room and those who are joining remotely. These rooms contain cameras that automatically swivel to pan on the person speaking, sophisticated microphones, and smart screens with digital whiteboards. While these investments can certainly make the experience of seeing and hearing each other more pronounced, investment in technology and physical workplace alone will not solve the real challenge of hybrid meetings. Barco, a leading hardware and software company that focuses on display and conference technologies and works with 70% of the Fortune 500, correctly conveys the real challenge of hybrid meetings and critical success factor: facilitation skills.

Lack of strong facilitation skills is the real challenge of hybrid meetings. The ability to outline desired outcomes, consider stakeholders, develop an agenda, provide clarity on how participants should engage, and facilitate the conversation using whatever technology exists (or can be afforded) as a support tool is the secret-sauce of making hybrid meetings effective and efficient. If you’d like to validate this, here is a simple exercise: gather a group of 4-5 individuals at your company and ask them to generate a list of problems with hybrid meetings. Some challenges I’ve heard around hybrid meetings include the following:

  • Participants are multi-tasking
  • Difficulty managing engagement in a larger group
  • Participants speaking over one another or at the same time
  • Moderating the discussion between in-person and virtual participants
  • Technology difficulties tend to be unpredictable
  • Lack of clarity on how to engage, involve, or include others
  • Differences in camera etiquette or lack of process for how to deal with audio issues
  • Unequal representation between in-office and online participants

Now consider these challenges. Can they all be solved by technology? 90% of meeting problems are process problems not content problem. Sophisticated technology and advances are great, but without someone driving the meeting forward and guiding the conversation, the technology is only a passive enabler. Addressing multi-tasking, lack of engagement, low inclusiveness, and even addressing technology problems in the moment requires someone with strong meeting leadership and facilitation skills. They must communicate the purpose of the meeting, outline key meeting roles, build process and technology agreements with the group on how webcams, audio, and information is displayed and captured, and ultimately facilitate the conversation so all participants feel included, engaged, and focused.

Those organizations that can see past the glimmer of technology and see success as a combination of people, process, and technology will be prepared for the future of work which is coming – quicker than we can even imagine.

To retain existing employees and grow their company, organizations must invest in their people. If you are looking to shore up your investments and future-proof your workforce with deep facilitation and leadership skills, consider exploring Essential Facilitation or Facilitative Leadership which are trusted by many of the world’s top organizations.

About Chris Williams

Chris’ experience includes work in operations, recruiting, and complex research. He has supported senior-level executives in a variety of industries including economic development, government contracting, and strategy consulting. Chris holds a BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.