It's no secret that the workplace has changed forever. While some people are gradually returning to an office setting, most have embraced remote work as a desirable alternative. Women, in particular, prefer remote work over men, as the flexibility may allow for a better balance of work and family. Many work teams are also adopting a hybrid schedule, with employees working in the office a few days a week.
As we move into this remote (and hybrid) world, it's vital to adopt new management techniques to facilitate effective communication, promote inclusivity, and maintain parity among all employees. One way we can do so is by learning how to master remote and hybrid meetings. Both experiences are vastly different and require unique approaches.
Learning the Art of Remote Meetings
In the "old days," when most employees spent hours in an office or cubicle, meetings were easy to schedule. Perhaps you often held impromptu meetings or had meetings about your upcoming meetings? When your team is remote, it's a whole new ballgame.
Before you schedule a remote—or even hybrid—meeting, you need to decide if it needs to be a meeting at all.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- If canceled, would anyone miss it?
- Does a decision need to be made?
- Is it a complex issue to talk through ideas and solutions?
- Is the goal to build camaraderie?
- Does everyone have the information they need to contribute?
Remember, meetings are for collaboration, decision-making, and culture building, not for updates.
When you're not co-located with someone, there is an inherent communication barrier. So, make sure everyone is on the same page before the meeting starts. Send out a detailed, clear agenda to meeting attendees. Collect questions in advance so that they can be addressed in a timely and thoughtful manner.
During the meeting, welcome everyone and encourage friendly small-talk before it begins. Having a friendly icebreaker can set a positive tone for the meeting, plus put attendees at ease. Also, be sure to build your presentation around discussion rather than just a slideshow.
Documenting the information from the meeting is just as important as the meeting itself. If necessary, take notes so you can update anyone from your team who couldn't attend. Or record the meeting so you can share it with them.
Perfecting the Hybrid Meeting Model
A hybrid meeting is admittedly trickier than a remote one. One of the biggest reasons is the power imbalance between remote and office workers, resulting in an unconscious bias against remote workers. Without even realizing it, we may harbor discrimination against someone with a different work arrangement because it complicates our lives. During a hybrid meeting, it is essential to help remote attendees feel like first-class participants, not afterthoughts.
First, you must have adequate technology in the meeting room. Your virtual attendees need to see and, more importantly, hear everything in the meeting room. There should be a webcam in the room that covers the entire space where people are sitting. No one should sit with their backs to the camera. The conference room should be equipped with microphones placed around the room so the virtual attendees can hear all the in-room participants. Test it thoroughly in advance. If you can't provide adequate video and audio, everyone should meet virtually instead.
When leading the meeting, log into the conference system—such as Teams—five minutes before the session starts so that virtual attendees can interact with those in the room beforehand. Once the meeting starts, set the tone immediately by looking into the camera and addressing remote employees. It may be helpful to combat unconscious bias and dominant voices in the conference room by starting the meeting with the remote employees. Ask them to comment first or ask them questions first.
Ultimately, a hybrid meeting requires respect. Set a ground rule for no sidebars in the conference room—they're distracting and inconsiderate. Don't provide lunch or snacks for in-person attendees unless you have a way of doing the same for virtual ones.
Just remember, planning a meeting no longer involves simply putting together a schedule. It requires thought about meeting design—to promote collaboration and foster collaboration between digital lines.