Now that companies around the world are welcoming their employees back to the physical office, team communication and culture are changing once again. Over 70% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65% are craving more in-person time with their teams. This leads to another shift from the “new normal” with everyone working from home to a hybrid setup.
Companies now face the challenge to on one hand give employees the flexibility to work remotely or from the office, and on the other hand to provide structure and tools to allow equal contribution for both scenarios. This is especially true for hybrid meetings. A recent study shows that 48% of participants are not speaking in hybrid meetings. The research suggests this is due to “an excess of virtual meetings and the cognitive load associated with them” which overwhelms people. In addition to the number of meetings, participants disengage when they think their active input is not encouraged or welcomed.
We have talked to HR leaders, managers, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion researchers (DE&I) to discuss the best ways to improve engagement in hybrid meetings. In summary, to improve engagement you have to improve on DE&I. Equality and inclusion aren’t limited to removing physical barriers. In the context of meetings, it also means catering to different communication preferences and creating equal, unbiased participation opportunities. Meeting organizers need to actively change the way they plan and run hybrid meetings.
Here are 3 ways to improve engagement in hybrid meetings by incorporating DE&I methods.
1. Plan ahead
At first, this might sound obvious and redundant, but on average 62% of calls and meetings are unscheduled or conducted ad hoc. While colleagues working from the office might have the context needed for an ad hoc meeting, remote working colleagues often lack access to conversations that are taking place in person. To allow equal participation, plan meetings ahead and include:
A detailed meeting agenda
Background information and access to content that everyone should familiarize themselves with before the meeting or hand out a summary at the beginning of the meeting
A call for action, if you expect participants to present, share an update, or to give feedback. Even better: include the preferred format for the requested participation (verbally, written, visualized, etc.) For example:
Agenda Item 1: Status Update. Every participant has 5 minutes to give a verbal update on their projects, if your updates include statistics, please prepare a slide to share with everyone.
Agenda Item 2: Proposal from Team X. Please familiarize yourself with the proposal (link or attachment) from team X to change Y by date Z. Please send me any question you might have about the proposal by date Z. Participant A and C, please prepare the following numbers: KPI 1, KPI 2, KPI 3 in a simple sheet, which will help the team to make an informed decision.
Agenda Item 3: Recap Project X. We will recap project X as a team to capture our learnings. Please prepare 1 slide each using this template (link), including your challenges and roadblocks, things you would do differently if you could start project X again, things you would keep if you could start project X again.
2. Equal speaking times
Planning your meetings ahead also allows you to plan for equal speaking opportunities. If you allocate time for feedback or discussions, check if you actually allocated enough time for everyone to speak. Depending on the topic, make sure every participant has at least 5 minutes to prepare and share their feedback. From our experience, this is the minimum time needed to allow for time to think beyond the initial reaction. Also, keep in mind that most discussions need more lead time than anticipated, as clarifying questions need to be addressed first. For smooth turn-taking and to reduce interruptions, you can screen share the order of speakers as well as use an automated timer.
3. Use collaboration tools
Speaking and verbal feedback is not everyone’s preferred way to participate in meetings.
It’s also prone to unconscious biases, as participants might not only judge the content itself but how it was delivered and who delivered it. To enhance diversity of thought, meeting organizers should try to incorporate written, visual, and interactive feedback options. As teams differ in needs and preferences, there is no one way to do it right, but multiple options to explore. Recently, a variety of tools have been developed to improve virtual and hybrid meetings. Start experimenting with which tools increase engagement for your team.
Virtual whiteboards like miro and mural boards help to structure feedback and collaboration in real time. They are an alternative or addition to verbal feedback and can help to group similar opinions. Make sure to leverage their templates.
Voting tools like slido and kahoot allow for quick decision-making. We further recommend allowing anonymous voting, to get honest, unbiased feedback.
Interactive Q&A sessions are possible with tools like mentimeter and slido, which allow users to submit questions and upvote questions from other participants.
About the author. Susann Fischer is the co-founder of Kollektiv MFG. Her personal mission is to be an ally, partner, and mentor for women by breaking glass ceilings and creating just workplaces. Kollektiv MFG develops Calvah, a virtual meeting assistant that helps to plan and run meetings more inclusive, equal, and collaborative. Calvah is in closed alpha until January 2022.