Over these past two years we’ve all become adept at managing virtual meetings. In 2022, we have a new challenge—hybrid meetings, where some attendees are in the room and others are Zooming in from remote location. In their new book Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting (Wiley), Emmy-winning broadcaster Karin M. Reed and Joseph A. Allen, Ph.D., a leading expert on workplace meetings, offer a guide to navigating this new normal. We asked the authors about how to encourage a robust exchange of ideas during hybrid meetings.
M+E: For brainstorming sessions where some attendees will be on site and others will be remote, what are two or three things that meeting planners should do before the meeting?
Allen: First, figure out how people will share their ideas. Perhaps assign a person in the room to record in-room ideas onto a virtual whiteboard that the remote attendees have access to and can add their ideas to directly. Second, identify in-room allies for the remote participants. It’s so easy to forget the people online, we already have memes to joke about it. By assigning an ally, it allows the organizer to facilitate the meeting and the ally to help them keep remote folks involved.
Reed: In a hybrid meeting, a leader has to be more proactive in facilitating the discussion. Just letting it be a free for all won’t work because those who are virtual will have difficulty breaking into the conversation being had around the conference room table. Establish a turn-taking policy that works for your team’s culture and then make sure people stick to it. By letting everyone know how to get into the conversation queue, it levels the playing field of ideas, allowing people to participate in a more egalitarian way.
M+E. What are some things that need to be done during the brainstorming sessions to encourage a free flow of ideas?
Allen: Establish the ground rule upfront that you, the meeting leader, plan to call on everyone by name for their ideas. And then proceed to do so. Also, make it clear that saying you don’t have anything to add is an acceptable response. Additionally, if you have that shared whiteboard, you can encourage people to add ideas as they come up and just put their name next to it. That way, while people are talking out their ideas, others are also generating theirs.
Reed: In a hybrid meeting, it’s also important to validate all forms of participation, including the nonverbal. During our fully virtual days, we all became more comfortable with using chat. That’s a habit that you can carry into a hybrid environment. It allows those who are remote to get into the conversation easier provided that the leader or other attendees take note of the comments and bring it into the dialogue. It also can be a less intimidating way for people to participate if they find it difficult to speak up.