As even the staunchest proponents of in-office work must now admit, hybrid work is here to stay.
Hybrid work has grown rapidly in recent years — its growth was supercharged by the pandemic — and can offer many benefits to both companies and their employees. However, common office rituals, like meetings, have an added level of complexity in hybrid settings.
Hybrid meetings can be even harder to make work than in-person or remote meetings since you have two groups with very different experiences of the meeting. But despite the bad press, meetings are still important for keeping your team on the same page and getting collaborative work done.
In light of this, you’ll have to figure out how to help your remote and in-person team members communicate clearly, build great structures for teamwork, and connect with each other despite their contrasting environments. This guide will help you do that.
What are hybrid meetings?
Hybrid meetings are meetings where some participants are located in a physical location together, such as an office, while others join remotely using video conferencing software. This format allows for a mix of in-person and virtual participation, facilitating collaboration among distributed team members.
If you can get meetings right, hybrid work will be more productive and engaging — for both remote and in-person team members.
The unique benefits and challenges of hybrid meetings
Hybrid collaboration is difficult on its own, but hybrid meetings are uniquely challenging to pull off. Because the meeting brings in-person and remote teams together, team leaders and facilitators need to conduct more upfront planning and preparation.
However, they also give teams lots of opportunities to create positive working relationships and brilliant work, no matter where participants are located.
Challenges of hybrid meetings
- Disconnection between in-person and remote team members
- Lost information as project documents may not get shared between teams
- Technological glitches derail a hybrid meeting more easily than an all in-person or all video meeting, since you need the technology to work between a video conference and a physical space.
Benefits of hybrid meetings
- Fewer meetings — you need more planning for hybrid meetings, so you become more thoughtful about how many meetings you schedule. This also means meetings are likely to be more impactful.
- Better documentation — you have to use digital tools for brainstorming and documentation.
- Digital collaboration — provides space for people who work differently, learn differently, or express themselves differently to contribute in a way that works best for them.
- Flexible work environment — team members can still participate even if they are on a work trip or working from home.
How to hold a successful hybrid meeting
A hybrid meeting will have a similar structure to in-person or virtual meetings, but a hybrid meeting needs more organization and planning because you will need to make sure everyone, both online and in-office, can easily participate.
1. Decide if you need a meeting or an asynchronous collaboration
The best meetings are the ones that are productive and important. Before you even start planning a meeting, figure out if the task you’re trying to tackle could be handled asynchronously. This is even more important for hybrid work environments because meetings take more effort. They need to be planned more carefully and require a lot of technological support.
To avoid burnout and meeting fatigue, reserve meetings for the tasks that need everyone in the “hybrid meeting room” simultaneously. This will make team members more engaged when you do have meetings because they will know it is important and necessary. For asynchronous “meetings,” establish clear communication policies.
Related: How asynchronous collaboration could solve your meeting problem
2. Create and share the hybrid meeting agenda
Hybrid meetings need clear agendas so that teams at home and in the office can prepare. Build an agenda or even a collaborative meeting template that outlines what will be addressed in your meeting. Review your planned activities to make sure that all attendees can actually participate in them. Avoid a physical sticky note board, for example, as that would exclude your remote participants (this also has the double issue of not lasting beyond the meeting, making it difficult to effectively use meeting feedback to plan next steps).
Your agenda should include:
- The purpose of your meeting
- What decisions you need to make
- Any information participants need to read or collect beforehand
Share your agenda in advance so team members have time to gather the materials and do any necessary pre-work. They will also have more time to think about the meeting points and generate insightful ideas. Share the location for in-person participants and the virtual meeting link for anyone remote.
3. Create a communication plan
A communication plan sets the norms and practices for communicating during hybrid and online meetings. This helps set some basic guidelines to improve the meeting experience for all participants.
Use these examples for your own hybrid meeting communication plan:
- When in-person participants speak, speak into the microphone and introduce yourself
- Remote attendees should stay on mute until they’re ready to speak
- Be sure to share the material discussed and tools used on the screen so all attendees can meaningfully participate
- Use an online whiteboard platform so all attendees can take notes and add ideas in real-time
- Broadcast the Microsoft Teams or Zoom audio throughout the meeting room so all attendees can hear the remote participants
4. Warm up your team before you start the meeting
It can be hard to overcome the awkwardness of a conversation where half the meeting attendees are in a room together and half are on a screen. That means icebreakers, check-ins, and warm-ups are especially important to start hybrid meetings off on the right foot.
You can try using:
- Online warm-ups to bring up the energy level in the room
- Virtual Icebreakers to get your team comfortable talking to each other
- Check-ins so your teams better understand where each of their coworkers is coming from that day
Whatever strategy you use, make sure your meeting participants are all engaging in the same activity at the same time, so they are interacting with each other.
5. Assign a facilitator to balance participation
Contrary to a common belief, both in-person and video attendees can end up talking more in a hybrid meeting. A facilitator can help you be more deliberate and structured in the way you take comments from team members. This can help prevent the conversation from being dominated by one side or the other.
Hybrid meeting facilitators should:
- Politely step in if one side is speaking more
- Ask for comments from anyone who seems like they haven’t gotten a chance to speak
- Keep the meeting moving forward so it doesn’t go over time
Also, with a shared digital space like Mural, facilitators can use tools like private mode and anonymous voting to avoid groupthink and gather meaningful, honest feedback.
6. Use digital collaboration tools to stay on the same page
Digital collaboration tools like online whiteboards can help your hybrid team visualize their ideas and understand each other better. As an added bonus, they also create documentation as you work, making later asynchronous work easier.
Attendees will work together better if they are all using the same technology. You don’t want half your meeting drawing on a whiteboard and half your meeting collaborating digitally. For hybrid meetings, you can assign one person to add everyone's contributions to your virtual whiteboard (just like you would with a physical whiteboard) or have each attendee use their own laptop or tablet.
7. Follow up after your meetings
Make sure your hybrid meetings are as useful as possible by soliciting structured feedback and follow-ups.
- Identify next steps: Clean up and share your meeting notes or virtual whiteboard. (With Mural, you can use tools like tags for sticky notes, or find & filter to quickly organize your notes and feedback.) Then identify action items and assign them with timelines.
- Improve future meetings: After a few meetings, it will also be helpful to start meeting reflections for employees to share feedback and to improve your hybrid meetings.
- Celebrate wins: Positive feedback should be encouraged, too. Host virtual celebrations to give your teams a chance to socialize, connect with each other, and recognize team wins.
Hybrid meeting tips and best practices
To avoid common problems, use these tips so your hybrid meetings will go off without a hitch.
Be mindful of your participants’ perspectives and experiences
The meeting experience can be very different between remote and in-person attendees. Are remote attendees given the same opportunities to contribute on the same level as attendees physically present in the meeting room? Take into consideration what extra support remote attendees may require to improve the accessibility, inclusivity, and equity of hybrid meetings.
Inequities can often be amplified in hybrid environments, so take stock of what you can do to level the playing field for remote attendees that may have caretaking duties, mental or physical health restrictions, or language barriers.
Take advantage of asynchronous collaboration
Hybrid teams can use asynchronous collaboration to get global teams on the same page and different roles working within the same context. When your team is working together asynchronously, it doesn’t matter what time zone they’re joining from or what department they’re in.
Meeting prep and follow-up are great places to collaborate asynchronously; save meetings for the tasks that have to be done face-to-face (or screen-to-face). Use tools like Google Docs and Mural to share thoughts and build ideas. Set expectations for timelines that give everyone a chance to contribute.
Related: The definitive guide to asynchronous communication
Keep meetings short and start on time
In-person attendants can socialize while waiting for a tardy meeting to start, but remote participants will be stuck waiting in front of their screens. To avoid this, make sure your meetings start at the scheduled time. Meeting via video conferencing can also be a lot more tiring, so keep hybrid meetings short and efficient.
Hold hybrid meetings in a conference room
A quiet, dedicated space for a meeting is even more important when you’re incorporating virtual attendees into an in-person meeting. To avoid distractions, you want a meeting space that is free of outside noise.
You’ll have the audio from remote attendees playing out loud in the room instead of on headphones. So a conference room will also make your meeting less disruptive to anyone outside the meeting. Reserving a space also lets you set up all your technology and room layout in advance.
Related: Learn the differences between hybrid and remote working styles.
Check your technology ahead of time
There’s nothing more disruptive to a hybrid meeting than non-functioning technology! Test audiovisual equipment and internet connections far enough ahead of your meeting so you have a chance to troubleshoot them. A quick meeting rehearsal can uncover any potential problems you might encounter during the meeting, so it's worth taking a few minutes to test out tools, the remote participants's experience, and get comfortable with the conference or meeting room.
Tools to facilitate better hybrid meetings
Hybrid meetings inherently depend on technology to make them work. The right collaboration tech stack will help facilitate better and easier communication and collaboration between your remote and in-room team members.
To hold hybrid meetings, you’ll need tools that help you:
- Share, store, and archive your work
- Video conference between in-person rooms and remote workers
- Communicate asynchronously
- Plan and track work
- Collaborate, brainstorm, and plan visually
Here are some of the tools that can help you with these tasks.
Video conferencing technology built for hybrid meetings
Video conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams Rooms are built specifically to help hybrid meetings be more effective. They may auto-focus on attendees’ faces and either put the speaker on camera or give each in-person team member their own box on-screen.
This more advanced video conferencing software will improve how connected your team feels. It highlights faces, making it easier for everyone to see body language, identify when someone wants to talk, and form a personal connection with each teammate.
Team communication and messaging tools: Work asynchronously to support meetings
Asynchronous collaboration is one of the helpful elements of remote work that even in-person teams can benefit from adopting. Tools like Slack are the hybrid answer to phone calls. They keep a record of conversations, unlike in-person conversations, so team members can go back and reference items or refresh their memory.
Remote communication through Slack also gives workers who need a little more time to gather their thoughts and generate helpful ideas the space and time they need to contribute their best ideas. Use Slack collaboration to push projects forward between meetings so that your meeting time is focused on the conversations that do need to happen in face-to-face meetings.
Project management tools: Track projects to keep meetings more focused
Track projects in a way that is visible to all team members so that everyone on your team has clarity into how the project is progressing. Jira, Azure DevOps, and Asana are all great tools for making hybrid work processes accessible and transparent across in-person and remote teams.
Visual collaboration tools: Collaborate more creatively and productively
Teamwork is all about sharing ideas and collaborating on developing new ones. Mural is a digital collaboration platform that brings more value to your team, through guided methods and advanced engagement and facilitation features — whether you work remote, hybrid, or async.
That’s why we’re one of the most trusted collaboration tools for enterprise organizations.
One of the biggest hurdles hybrid meetings face is understanding the ideas the team members or clients on the other side are trying to express. Mural helps you design and facilitate productive sessions that include everyone inside and outside of the office. It even integrates with your other tools, so you can easily act on the plans you’ve made and prepare for the next meeting.
Effective hybrid meetings make for successful hybrid teams
Hybrid collaboration can be harder than you think. Teams divide along in-office and remote lines. Spontaneous socialization is less common, and the connections are more tenuous. Technical glitches are also a much bigger problem than if you’re all sitting in a room together.
The solution to all of these problems is positive, productive time together — in short, good hybrid team meetings. Your role, as the person planning the meetings, is to remove as many roadblocks as possible. After using this guide, “new normal” means better hybrid meetings and more impactful collaboration.
Remember: Try including an asynchronous aspect. Learn how to use async to fix your meetings and balance the working styles in your workplace in our Async Collaboration Guide.