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Key questions to ask before facilitating your next hybrid meeting

You look at your calendar, and there it is — your first in-person meeting. It's the first time you've gathered with your coworkers or committee members for a meeting in months, which is so exciting! If you're like me, you're elated to be seeing people again and getting back to the work that motivates you. However, it is also a little daunting to think about how you can help your team or group (or yourself!) transition back into face-to-face spaces. But we might not really be in a face-to-face space.

In March of 2021, Microsoft released its first annual Work Trend Index that showed flexible work is here to stay because people want the best of both worlds. Their data shows that 70 percent of employees want remote work options to continue with 65 percent “craving more in-person time with their teams.” This means that hybrid meetings are not going to be a fluke activity because someone got stuck in traffic. They're going to be a daily occurrence that requires us, as meeting facilitators and leaders, to think through how we lead the group.

The Harvard Business Review shared an interesting article looking at eight key strategies to strengthen your hybrid meetings. Here are a few points I found helpful from their article, as well as my own experience:

Can the meeting location support a hybrid meeting?

Let’s face it — not all meeting rooms are created equal. Peter Block tells us in his book, Community, that we can’t let the janitor determine the outcome of your meeting. In the hybrid world, don’t let the room scheduler determine the outcome. If you know you're going to have people in the meeting room as well as joining online, consider the room set up for both groups.

  • Can everyone see each other? This is vital for building connections again and allowing those who are virtual feel like they're still part of the group.

  • Can those online hear what is being said from all corners of the room? Sound is always more important than video. It is most important that you focus on ensuring adequate sound for your meeting to increase participation and engagement.

  • Can those in the meeting space hear the contributions from those online? If the people who are in the meeting room can’t hear what the online contributor is saying, it can quickly become a lost idea. Or worse, you lose buy-in from both your in-person and online audience.

Can everyone access the materials?

As convenient as it might be to walk into the meeting room with a handful of agendas and documents for the group to review, that is not going to work. Ensuring that all meeting participants have full access to materials is vital. This will require effort by everyone who is going to be presenting information to the group. Those online will need to work with the meeting organizer to receive content in advance so it can be printed or sharing features enabled. Those in the room will also need to work with the meeting organizer to send their content to those joining online or ensure it is loaded into a common access point like Google drive.

Who is taking care of those online?

When we facilitate a meeting with everyone in one place, whether that is in person or online, we notice body language, eye contact, and other cues that help us to see when someone has an idea, wants to share something, or simply needs a break. As we utilize more hybrid meetings, a new role has presented itself. We now have the facilitator, the timekeeper, the notetaker, and the online facilitator.

The online facilitator has an important role in making sure those joining virtually have access to materials at the appropriate time, that their questions or thoughts are shared with the in-person group, and that they can hear and understand what's happening in the room. You know the joke Sarah shared that was so funny and everyone laughed for five minutes? The people online might not have heard it and are now skimming email or social media because they feel ignored and disengaged. The support of one additional facilitator can enhance the overall experience of a hybrid gathering for everyone.

The last thought I'm going to leave you with today is to stop and ask yourself if the meeting is necessary. What is its purpose?

I really enjoyed the book The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters by Priya Parker. (She also did a great two-part podcast episode on Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast.) I love the question she encourages people to reflect on when defining their meeting purpose: “Ask not what your country can do for your gathering, but what your gathering can do for your country.” Brilliant! What are you truly trying to accomplish? I can think of many meetings I've attended over the years when no one could have answered that question. If we're going to be successful in a hybrid world, we need to know the purpose behind what we are doing. One thing many of us have learned through the pandemic is how valuable our time is, and if a meeting is not adding value, it may become one that is filled with skippers and distractors.

By taking time to think about some of the ideas I shared with you today, as well as remembering your strong facilitation and agenda writing skills, you'll be well on your way to a successful meeting experience. Happy facilitating!

Author: Christy Kallevig, Extension educator

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