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By: Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs

As offices around the world begin to open up and companies start to establish their hybrid work models, business leaders need to ensure that they have the right tech and strategies in place to navigate this new world of work. It’s crucial that business leaders create policies that ensure both those working remotely and in-person are able to actively collaborate in all business meetings to prevent a two-tiered system. Ensuring meeting equity is the first place to start when it comes to preventing a culture which favours colleagues working in-person. 

In the spirit of Halloween I’ve outlined how to navigate a handful of meeting horrors that can arise from hybrid working.

The Current State of Hybrid Work

We’ve heard the many stories of companies allowing workers to stay fully remote or forcing a return to the office. However, in our annual State of Hybrid Work Report which polled 500 business leaders based in the UK, the majority (84%) of UK businesses plan on having a hybrid, flexible or remote workforce post-pandemic. This is in line with the overall trends we’ve seen globally. HR wise, 88% of UK business leaders are keen to explore progressive policies aimed at the future of work post-pandemic such as working from anywhere, unlimited holidays and four-day working weeks.

As office spaces shift so will the tech we use to power them. Consequently, nearly all (94%) of UK organisations are putting policies in place to prepare for a post-pandemic workplace. More specifically, 43% of organisations plan to adopt communications tools (such as Slack, Zoom, and Meeting Owl conference cameras). Additionally, 33% of businesses are providing at-home and in-office equipment for employees so they can easily work from both locations as only 16% of companies expect employees to return to the office full-time. These plans are an important first step towards productive hybrid working, however, there are still best practices that need to be followed when it comes to hybrid meetings. 

Steering clear of hybrid meeting horrors

  • “Oh sorry Lauren, can you repeat yourself? I didn’t quite catch that”

We’ve all heard those infamous last words, and we all know how quickly that can derail the task at hand. With hybrid meetings, tech is incredibly important – in this case, the audio and visual elements of the room for those dialing in. 

Covid has accelerated the evolution of videoconferencing technology to enhance virtual meetings. As companies invest heavily to better enable hybrid meetings, new features are being introduced to improve face-to-face communication among in-person and remote attendees. Some of these top tech tools include Owl Labs’ 360-degree smart meeting cameras and Zoom features like the smart gallery wall – that helps identify who is speaking.

  • Including everyone (remote or in-person)

An important way to ensure equality among participants is to give those dialing in greater presence in the room. In addition to the main screen in the center, you can set up an additional large monitor showing “life-size” panes of the remote participants for the duration of the meeting.

These larger visuals provide a constant reminder to include remote colleagues in the conversation. Lack of inclusion in conversation among remote participants is the most common issue with hybrid meetings, and this is just one of the ways to help mitigate it.

  • Letting the collaboration flow

Collaboration tools often used for in-person like whiteboards are harder to use when those dialing in cannot see them or get involved with. This is why it’s important to review each activity or exercise focusing specifically on how remote participants will engage. Consider what tools and techniques, digital or physical, can be used to maximize their interaction with the in-room attendees.

Often, making everyone in the meeting join in on a digital tool works best for those who are dialing in. It can seem like common sense to group all the remote colleagues into one breakout room while those in the room have smaller discussions – but that simply emphasises their remote-ness instead of including them in the conversation. 

  • Strategic plan of action 

Effective meetings take preparation, and this is even more true when it comes to hybrid meetings. Zoom overload is a reality, so putting the right meeting planning in place will ensure it’s a good use of time for all participants. This is even more true when it comes to hybrid meetings. Creating a clear agenda, sharing the meeting purpose, agenda and goals prior to the meeting will ensure all participants are on the same page and informed. Ahead of the meeting, consider their personalities and how they will act in either scenario – are some more quiet? Do some tend to speak over others? Ensure there are plans in place to work around this.

A facilitator is an important part of these types of meetings. They should keep remote colleagues engaged and ensure their voices are heard, not interrupted or talked over. At times, the facilitator may need to use ‘raised hands’ or call on participants to ensure that all voices are heard.

Overall, hybrid meetings when executed well can be just as productive, if not more, than in-person meetings. But if meeting leaders simply default to old school meeting tactics, those working remotely can quickly feel alienated from their in-person colleagues. Adopting the right technology and rethinking your company’s approach to meetings can ensure that you maintain an engaged and committed workforce that puts ideas and creativity before location.

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