Hybrid meetings – how to do them successfully
By Caroline Norris, on 19 October 2021
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so (well ok, lockdowns did feel a bit like that sometimes) you probably know what a ‘hybrid’ meeting is. Just in case, though, it’s a meeting where some of the participants are in the room and some are joining via a digital platform like Teams or Zoom and are therefore ‘remote’.
One school of thought is that you should avoid hybrid completely, but realistically it’s going to happen, especially now we are gradually going back into the office and most of the people attending a meeting may well be in the same physical location. In this case it would be absurd for them all to join remotely from their separate desks when they could be sat in a room together.
So how do you ‘do hybrid’ well, so that everyone feels included?
Disclaimer: Note that this guidance is focused on meetings rather than teaching, which is covered in Steve Rowett’s very comprehensive blog post on Basic hybrid teaching in UCL spaces.
Wherever possible, share resources such as presentations or documents beforehand. This is good practice for meetings anyway and makes them more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Make use of collaborative platforms such as Teams to start a discussion and get input prior to the meeting.
Getting the technology right is key. For the richest experience, everyone in the room should join via Teams or Zoom, not just the remote participants, so that everyone can be seen on camera. However, it is vital that there is only one microphone and one set of speakers in use to avoid the dreaded feedback cacophony! If the number of people in the room is small and you are quite close together, you can usually just use the audio equipment on one person’s laptop, the obvious person being the chair of the meeting. If the meeting is bigger or people are very far apart, you can use a conference speaker, such as those made by Jabra (other brands are available). Practise the setup in advance of the meeting and check people can be heard at the furthest distance from the microphone. Some UCL meeting rooms also have room cameras, microphones and speakers which can be used and some are even ‘Teams enabled’ so the room itself can join the Teams meeting.
It probably goes without saying, but don’t forget to share your screen for remote participants. It’s easy to forget this, especially if you are using a large monitor or projection to share your screen in the room. If you want to share ideas using a whiteboard or post-its then opt for a digital interactive whiteboard for everyone to use.
Starting the meeting
- Set clear expectations of what is expected from people at the start of the meeting. How should people indicate they wish to speak? Are you using the chat and if so, for what? If everyone is on a device you can ask everyone to use the raise hand feature in Teams/Zoom. Another option is for people to actually raise their hand or use both, particularly if not all remote participants are visible on camera. Make sure that the people in the room know to speak loudly and clearly.
- Do introductions if it is a first meeting of the group or membership has changed. This can help everyone to feel included in the meeting.
- Encourage everyone to participate and to let you know straight away if there is something they can’t see, hear or understand due to being remote.
It’s important to make a special effort to make remote participants feel included. Depending on the size and nature of the meeting and the balance of remote and in room participants, you may find the following helpful:
- Have a ‘co-pilot’ who can read out any questions or feedback in the chat and alert the chair to anyone who wishes to speak or if anyone is unable to hear something being said.
- Call on remote participants by name to check if there is anything they wish to add to the conversation, especially if the matter being discussed is particularly relevant to them. You may want to ask them first, so they don’t feel like an afterthought.
- Describe what is happening in the room if remote participants won’t be able to see it. You may also need to repeat some of what is said in the room or say who is speaking if they are not on camera. Even things that are irrelevant to the main business of the meeting (like someone fumbling around with cables to connect to the projector) should be explained so that remote participants don’t feel left out.
- Be aware of what remote participants see. Even if everyone in the room is on camera, remote participants can’t see where people are in relation to each other or other objects in the room. Non-verbal interactions between people or pointing to something in the room probably won’t make sense to remote participants. Make a point of looking at the web cam especially when you are speaking to help make remote participants feel connected.
- Set aside a bit of social time, either at the beginning or the end of the meeting, for participants to chat to each other. Traditional meetings where all the participants are in the room usually have a few minutes where people are arriving and can say hello to each other before the meeting begins so find ways to incorporate this into your hybrid meeting too. Starting meeting a few minutes after the hour can give people time to have a comfort break, move between rooms etc. but also allow for this social element to happen.
Most importantly, be ready to adapt and change as you go along and find what works best for you. Expect a few hiccups to begin with, but in the long run hybrid meetings can give you the best of both worlds so it’s worth persevering!