4 ways to make your hybrid meetings more effective

The right technology and some simple steps can help everyone feel engaged whether they’re in the room or on screen.

By Jared Lindzon — June 29, 2021

Rachel Collier, a freelance public relations professional in Toronto, has been experimenting with hybrid meetings since well before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the course of her work, she frequently conducted in-office brainstorming sessions and presentations with agencies that had members attend remotely. Sometimes, she was the one calling in.

Collier discovered that some meeting types work just fine with participants in different locations — meetings where one person is doing most of the talking, for example — while others break down.

“It was rather effective for things like client presentations, but where it always fell short was brainstorms,” she says. “There’s nothing worse than being the person on the phone while everyone else is in person during a brainstorm; it really disrupts the natural energy and the discussion, and the way that ideas build on each other.”

As COVID restrictions ease, many companies are rapidly transitioning from an all-remote workforce to a hybrid model, in which some employees are in the office and others work remotely all or part of the time. According to a recent study from Microsoft, 73% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue after the pandemic, and 66% of leaders say their company is redesigning office space for hybrid work. Reimagining meetings is key to the hybrid model’s success, ensuring everyone can collaborate effectively and productively.

“The companies that will win in this decade and century should take some time to really think about how they want to do this,” says Adam Nathan, CEO of Almanac, a platform for distributed collaboration. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for companies to redefine work.”

Level the playing field with technology

People who aren’t physically present in a meeting are often at risk of feeling left out of the conversation. Depending on the technology available, they may not be able to see and hear each participant clearly (especially if in-person participants are wearing masks) and are more likely to miss physical cues.

“In a room full of people, 80% of communication is non-verbal,” says Andy Rhodes, HP’s general manager and global head of commercial systems. “Humans sense tension, they sense joy — and they get those clues from things like body language and speech patterns. Without the right technology, you lose all of that.”

Employees collaborating during an in person meeting at their office.

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Reimagining meetings is key to the hybrid model’s success, ensuring everyone can collaborate effectively and productively.

They also miss out on the informal pre-and post-meeting chatter: In-person meetings often begin well before each participant is seated and end after everyone leaves the room, as people walk back to their desks or grab a snack. “The chit chat — that is definitely something that gets lost in a hybrid setting, and it's an integral part of business,” says Collier. 

To avoid alienating remote attendees, Rhodes says it’s important for in-person participants to avoid sidebar conversations, and for those attending remotely to keep their cameras on throughout as a visual cue that they are active participants.


RELATED: Explore the technology that can help hybrid employees be productive from anywhere.


HP’s Elite Slice G2 devices, for example, make it easy to manage hybrid meetings and integrate with peripheral technology for optimal audio and visual quality. Rhodes notes that the right technology isn’t just about improving sights and sounds, but also about inclusivity, morale, and engagement. “The people in the room create a camaraderie that the others don’t experience,“ he says. “You need to consciously bring people into the dialogue way more than if they were all physically in the room.”

In some cases, that means providing remote staff with technology like microphones, cameras, and PCs. In other cases, it may require using a wide-angle lens to broadcast in-person meetings in conjunction with individual webcams for each in-person participant, so it’s easy to identify who is speaking. 

Help everyone contribute and collaborate

Collier recommends designating a moderator who will start the meeting only when everyone is present, make necessary introductions, and ensure everyone — especially remote participants — have the opportunity to contribute. “Whoever is leading the meeting needs to put more thought into moderation if you want to make it effective and keep people engaged,” she says.

“You need to consciously bring people into the dialogue way more than if they were all physically in the room.”

—Andy Rhodes, Global Head of Commercial Systems, HP Inc.

There’s also a greater chance of on-camera participants missing something important in a hybrid meeting, whether from glitchy video or at-home distractions. According to Nathan of Almanac, increasing documentation is one of the best ways to make sure all participants receive the same information, regardless of location.

“Having a centralized source of truth around what decisions were made, next steps, and the context, is critical not just for the people who aren't in the room but for the people who were present and need to understand what happened afterwards,” he says.

Nathan also recommends including a checklist in hybrid meeting invites with reminders to do things like turn on your webcam and identify who’s in the room and who’s remote to help keep all participants aligned and actively participating.

“Checklists, in addition to documentation, are a really good way to make sure people do the right things every time, because we’re all distracted and we're all human,” he says.

Tips for successful meetings when some colleagues are in person and others are remote: checklists, the right tech, and lots of empathy.

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Employees will have to assure that those working remotely are still heard and included during in person meetings.

Fortunately there are a range of digital collaboration tools that make meeting documentation simple, such as digital whiteboards like Freehand or Miro, messaging apps, and software that transcribes the discussion in real time so everyone has the same notes. Nathan adds that it’s important to use virtual tools that can be accessed by every participant, rather than physical documents and whiteboards that can only be used by those in the room. 

Provide tools that support flexibility and mobility

When it comes to hybrid workstyles, it’s important to note that remote workers aren’t always stationary, even within their own home. While employers are encouraged to offer their staff tools that can enhance remote participation, it’s important for those tools themselves to be flexible and mobile.

“I use my HP notebook all the time because I travel all around my house — we call it ‘micromobility,’” says Rhodes. “I go from room to room, I need to stand up and walk around, and sometimes I plug my notebook into my desktop PC so I can have two displays.” 

That’s why Rhodes recommends investing in devices that are lightweight and designed for being picked up and moved anytime you need to stretch your legs or take a call from the kitchen.

“Whether they’re at home, on the go, or in shared spaces, it’s important to enable people to move through these fluid states so where they are doesn’t impact how they work,” he says.

Show remote colleagues empathy and patience

Before the pandemic, the challenges that come with remote and hybrid meetings often fell on remote participants to solve on their own. After a year in which millions of people had to shift to remote work, Hardy Simes, strategy and innovation product manager at HP, believes that shared experience can help foster greater empathy and understanding moving forward.

Simes says demonstrating empathy can be as simple as having patience with remote employees when they suddenly have to contend with background noise or connectivity issues, or taking the time to fill them in on the small talk that occurred before they logged on. 

“Most of us have now been on the other end of that call — we’ve lived with fighting for bandwidth or fighting for the couch,” he says. “Now, we understand our [remote] colleagues on a whole other level because we've all been there.”