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.”