Hybrid meetings can be the toughest

Jul 26 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Meetings where everyone is present are probably the easiest to run (which, given the number of bad meetings we attend is a terrifying thought). Remote meetings are often a problem, because technology and distance conspire to limit participation and increase feelings of isolation. But perhaps the hardest meetings to run effectively are those when you have some people in the room and some on-line, a "hybrid" meeting.

Why are these meetings so difficult? Well, you have the regular problems of remote meetings, plus some unique complicating factors. These are some of the ways things can get complicated and a tip or two to mitigate the problems:

The people in the room are gathered around a speaker phone while the remote folks are dialed in. This creates problems with call clarity and everyone's ability to hear what's being said. It might sound silly, but the strain of trying to make out what's being said in the room can be physically exhausting and cause the remote folks to tune out.

What you can do: Be sure that the meeting leader is paraphrasing and repeating questions and comments. If you can't hear someone, ask them to speak up. Often the people at home will be able to hear and be heard better if they use the handset rather than speakerphone. Every little bit helps.

The meeting leader is often in the room with one group, and is receiving a lot more input from them than the folks on the line. In a meeting, a raised eyebrow, a confused look or a raised hand can visually cue the start of a conversation. This means that, unless the leader is very careful, the conversation tends to be about (and with) the people in eyeshot, sometimes to the exclusion of those out in the provinces.

What might help: this requires a bit of self-control on the part of the leader. Practice asking the people online for feedback or comments first, before taking the first visual cue that pops up. Another tip is to project the webmeeting on the wall so that remote participants can send chat messages, comments or questions without interrupting, but they can be seen by all participants equally.

Sometimes (not that this would ever happen with your team) the people on the phone are so used to being excluded, they become passive right from the start. The norm becomes putting the phone on mute and answering email.

It takes some work, but set expectations for participation when the meeting starts and don't be shy about calling on people by name (with fair warning) if you really want someone's specific expertise and input.

When people are remote, they are sometimes calling in from places not conducive to good input. Dialing in from the back booth in a Denny's may allow you to hear the meeting but it's not going to allow for that person to participate verbally.

You think I'm kidding, but often people choose their location for reasons other than optimum participation. If someone's input is critical, let them know in advance that they need to be somewhere quiet where they can speak freely.

It's not always possible for road warriors to control their environment (airports , except for club lounges are pretty much a lost cause) but if they think about it, they can often be in better locations more conducive to real work. That Starbucks run can wait.

Yes, these hybrid meetings are sometimes the best you can do, but with a little thought and some extra effort they can be more effective than they've been up lately.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.