Returning to the office – not creating a hybrid meeting monster!

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I deliberately haven’t titled this blog 'returning to work' as for the vast majority of the sector we didn’t stop working. We just changed how we did things! But with offices and other spaces now able to reopen we are starting to consider our options moving forward.

Quick definitions: In this blog, we define a hybrid meeting is any meeting where at least one person is connecting virtually whilst others are meeting 'in-person'. Physical meetings are where everyone is 'in-person' and virtual meetings are those held remotely on software such as Teams or Zoom.

Do you need to have a meeting?

First things first. Both pre and post Covid we’ve all had meetings that probably didn’t need to be meetings. Often there are other ways of achieving the same goals and outcomes. In fact, it could be argued that the lure of Zoom and Teams actually made it easier to hold unnecessary meetings as it became easier to find meeting slots and invite more people! So moving forward we do have the opportunity to look at where and how we work again. Just this time it’s without pressures and stresses of a new global pandemic!

How do we decide which is best for us?

I would love to give you a magic answer to that one but in reality there isn’t one! It boils down to thinking about who you want to attend, the people you are working with and the content you want to discuss. This will help shape whether physical, hybrid or virtual is right for you. There is no hard and fast rule. For some people physical is the better option whether that’s because of digital inclusion or some other reason linked to the nature of the meeting. For some virtual meetings work better as it reduces travel and supports with issues such as childcare.

Can Asynchronous Approaches Work?

There is a fourth option too. Asynchronous approaches are not actually a new thing. It’s basically when you communicate without the expectation of an instant response. This means a recipient can receive, review and reply at their own pace and when convenient to them. The most common tool used for this is email but tools such as Trello, Slack and Teams Messenger are becoming more common.

The latter tools, such as Slack, were introduced in part to prevent the email bombardment. The sort of internal chats where you don’t need a call but didn’t want to add another email to pile! Personally it think this is more useful for internal work and / or project focused work but if you want to find out more this blog from Fellow outlines some of the initial considerations and how it works.

Being inclusive

People attend meetings because they want to participate – this is an important consideration for all meetings but especially for hybrid events, you will need to plan how are you going to ensure equal participation in the session. According to Owl Labs, the number one challenge for remote workers during hybrid meetings is being constantly interrupted or talked over so careful facilitation is needed to ensure all the voices in the meeting are heard. If you are using a whiteboard in your session be aware that people in the room can grab a marker and jump in which can be isolating for remote workers who almost become spectators. Solutions may be using online tools such the inbuilt whiteboards in Zoom or Teams or through third parties such as Mural or Miro and having someone in the room inputting the room’s elements (also helpful for not taking and not having to keep reams of flipchart!). Fellow has done a great blog with some tips and considerations.

Tech issues

Unsurprisingly, IT issues are the second most common challenge in hybrid meetings. Some issues we don’t always have control over such as unmuted mics and rogue pets but the other issues fall into:

  • Bad planning: Sometimes a barrier to good hybrid meetings are the simple things like not actually including the link to the meeting in the invitation or only sharing the agenda on the day rather than emailing it across in advance to everyone.
  • Connectivity: Sometimes internet connectivity is out of your control but there are some things you can consider; if you’re hiring a venue check its internet connectivity or if you are hosting from the office, think about the best space to connect. Calls can take a lot of bandwidth so think about if you have alternatives to the network you will be using, which colleagues (not in the call) will be using at the same time.  
  • Physical set up: One of the solutions to connectivity and some of the issues mentioned above is how the calls are physically set up including ensuring people can see each other. There are multiple ways to do this using a mixture of conference room equipment as well as a savy use of laptops. Catalyst have written a great blog explaining how they did it which should be helpful.

Software solutions

There are always software solutions that can help make meeting more interactive or to support hybrid event (and this could be a blog in itself). Tools like Gather Town and Wonder have gained some media attention over the last few months for their innovative approach. Ultimately, these are still video conferencing tools – the difference is the feeling of autonomy in terms of being able to choose where to go and interact. Making better use of tools on platforms, Zoom's choose your own breakout room may help create similar empowerment for uses of things like breakout sessions and webinars etc. We are increasingly seeing more solutions for livestreaming with YouTube, Instagram and Facebook live being the most common. That’s before some of the solutions already mentioned that help with polls and whiteboards etc. As always be led by what you need and then find the tech that works for you rather than the other way round!

I know that this blog has probably given you more things to think about than solutions regarding what to do and I really don’t apologise for that, it was deliberate! But hopefully it’s given you some thoughts and ideas to talk about with your teams and the people you work with as you consider future meetings, events and work

Salford CVS
Author: 
Marie Wilson, Strategic Lead

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Salford CVS is the city-wide infrastructure organisation for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; providing specialist information, advice, development support and opportunities for influence and collaboration.

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