Offering a work-from-home option is no longer negotiable if you want to keep your teams staffed with talented employees. When asked what they would do if they had to return to the office full-time, a recent study from PromoLeaf found that more than half (52%) of remote workers would quit. That’s a jump from a post-pandemic Gartner study, which found that 39% of US adults would leave their job if remote work were no longer permitted.
People do miss seeing their coworkers, though. They even miss in-person meetings. And going into the office at least a few days a week makes people (86% of them) feel more secure about their jobs than those that work fully remote.
The key to keeping your team — and keeping them engaged — is hybrid work. It’s the best of both worlds, allowing people to work remotely or go into the office, either on a schedule or as the work demands. And that means you are likely looking at hybrid meetings — with some people gathering in a conference room while others call in from home — for the foreseeable future.
This meeting model is different from all-video calls or all in-person meetings. It raises technical challenges, requires new skills, and demands that someone on the call — perhaps many people — develop mad facilitator chops.
To help you get it right, I spoke to leaders who have mastered the art. They told me what works, what doesn’t, what you need to buy, and how to transform meetings into a productive part of your day.
What is a hybrid meeting?
“A hybrid meeting is a modern approach to conducting meetings that blends in-person and virtual elements,” explains Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter. “It allows participants to join a meeting from different locations, some in a physical meeting room and others remotely through videoconferencing or other online collaboration tools.”
In olden times, when the technology handling this was shaky or a mere speaker phone, hybrid meetings were awkward. The remote team often shouted into a room of chatter and were often ignored or forgotten. “Hybrid was common before the pandemic,” says Jim Kalbach, chief evangelist at MURAL. “We just sucked at it.”
But in the past few years, this model has evolved. It is now easy to bring remote people into a conference room and get excellent meeting engagement. The widespread adoption of hybrid meetings has also brought people from all times zones into gatherings they might once have never been invited to.
When done right, it can be more productive — and less trouble for participants — than any other kind of meeting. But most hybrid meetings need work.
According to a 2023 Gartner report, hybrid meetings are usually significantly less productive than in-person meetings or virtual ones. Yet it predicts that by the year 2025, 65% of workers worldwide will choose to attend meetings this way.
“The renewed conversation around hybrid is not that it’s new; it’s that we have to get it right this time,” Kalbach says.
What do you need for a hybrid meeting?
“If you’re trying to make sure that engagement is equal across virtual and in-person participants, that starts with technology,” says Ray Kimble, founder and CEO of Kuma, a global privacy and security consulting company.
Everyone — remote and in the office — needs a stable, high-speed internet connection for this to be viable. A video conference platform such as Webex, Zoom, or Teams is also essential.
But don’t skimp on the hardware if you want this to go well. According to Gartner, one reason hybrid meetings are less productive is that workplaces don’t have the right gear, with less than half of employees reporting that their company has a well-equipped conference room for the purpose.
“One of the key pieces is making sure you have the right setup and that whoever is coordinating the meeting knows who is where,” says Molly Brown, vice president of engineering at Qumulo, a data storage company.
Qumulo has built out its conference rooms to create a better hybrid meeting experience. “We have some rooms that have Zoom Room screens,” says Brown. Other rooms have Owl conference cameras or other video systems.
“Clear and immersive audio is paramount,” says Erik Pham, CEO of HealthCanal. “We invest in quality microphones, speakers, and headphones to eliminate audio disruptions and ensure that all participants can be heard and understood.”
Hybrid meeting technology
Collaborative software tools — running inside your Zoom, Webex, or Teams or by sharing a screen — can evolve your hybrid meetings from a conversation about work to actual work. These move the focus of the meeting away from the talking heads and toward the task at hand, which, if you hope for collaboration, is the direction you want attention to go. They enable you to share information in the moment, brainstorm, and capture ideas, and eliminate post-meeting housekeeping.
“Embrace collaboration platforms,” says Maryia Krauchanka, chief research officer at Cloverleaf.me, a coaching automation company. “These platforms should be intuitive, making it straightforward for team members to contribute, discover, and access shared insights.”
When you have the right tools, you can quickly go from agreeing on an idea to collaborating on its execution. Pull up a digital whiteboard to brainstorm ideas. Instead of discussing a design, build it together in a collaborative chart such as Lucidchart. Or work out the details of a project plan by pulling up your work management tool.
Brown says that Qumulo uses digital whiteboard Miro during its hybrid meetings. “It’s useful for retrospectives, ideation, and brainstorming exercises,” she says. Sometimes, though, holding a piece of paper up to the camera works, too, she says. “When we are talking about core designs, some people like to have a piece of paper and a pen handy so they can draw a design.”
“We’ve explored specialized hybrid meeting software solutions that facilitate equitable participation for both on-site and remote employees,” says HealthCanal’s Pham. “These platforms offer features like virtual whiteboards, breakout rooms, and attendee engagement analytics.”
Instead of sacrificing an entire human to the task of taking notes, you can have an AI, such as Otter.ai, transcribe the meeting. “These services automatically transcribe and translate spoken words into text, enhancing accessibility and comprehension for all meeting participants,” says Pham. They will also hunt for action items from the meeting and share the notes with everyone who attended.
Hybrid meeting best practices
In addition to having the right technology in place, the following tips can help make for a more effective meeting experience for all, regardless of whether they are in the office or dialing in remotely.
1. Put everyone on the screen
Good hybrid meetings require people to be good at moderating, facilitating, and participating. For that, you need skills, habits, and meeting hygiene.
For Mark Schlesinger, senior technology fellow at fintech company Broadridge, the all-video calls that became the default meeting method during the pandemic brought a heightened level of collaboration that his team didn’t want to lose in hybrid meetings.
“Suddenly everyone had a voice,” he says of the Zoom calls. “It wasn’t always the conference room taking over the conversation.” As the company moved to a hybrid model, “we needed a solid solution to retain this collaborative nature.”
Schlesinger discovered the solution — a mashup of video calls and in-person meetings — when discussing the problem with his in-college daughter. She told him that the rule for classes at her school was, “even if you’re on-site, everyone has to flip their device up and enable video so everyone can see everyone, including the instructor and remote students, on their screen.”
This is, essentially, what they are doing at Broadridge, though they use in-room audio for better fidelity. This setup retains everyone’s voice, gives a visual — and a name and title — to everyone in the meeting, and “it’s less likely that the conference room talk will overshadow the remote participants,” says Schlesinger.
2. Get help with moderation
A good facilitator is essential to a hybrid meeting. And everyone I spoke with agreed that improving your own facilitation skills and developing those skills on your team is essential to the future of a hybrid meeting universe. Since the entire world suddenly needed to start building this muscle when remote work became ubiquitous, online courses in meeting facilitation have become common. But sometimes, even the best facilitator needs help.
“I try to have somebody moderate the chat,” says Brown. Because watching the chat channel while speaking to a group requires more sensory inputs and gray matter than most humans come equipped with. Tasking another team member with watching that channel helps remote people ask questions, and get them answered, so that the in-room participants don’t overshadow.
3. Set shared expectations
Many people I spoke to suggested issuing a meeting-etiquette policy so that expectations around participation and matters once dictated by the workplace will be spelled out for meetings that happen, in part, in living rooms, basements, and spare bedrooms.
“You can set these meeting expectations at any time,” says Trish Bishop, an IT project manager turned leadership coach. “You can say, I’m feeling like the team is not getting full engagement in this hybrid environment. Let’s set shared expectations.”
She suggests getting the team to come up with the rules themselves, rather than issuing them from on high because it’s easier to get buy-in and the expectations will more likely reflect the reality of people’s home lives. The rules can cover everything from whether the video camera should be on, what an acceptable background is (at least for externally facing meetings), or if a presentable wardrobe is required.
4. Respect everyone’s time
But no policy directive, however egalitarian, will overcome a poorly planned or managed meeting.
“Keeping people engaged is a habit that starts with the agenda,” says Kuma’s Kimble. “If you’re not sticking to a set agenda and not respectful of people’s time, they will check out.”
Losing people in meetings is a problem that extends beyond the conference room.
“Nothing kills a culture and destroys motivation like having too many meetings or meetings where nothing gets done,” says Dean Guida, founder of Slingshot and CEO and founder of Infragistics. “It affects performance and whether people quit or stay.”
5. Create equality through purpose
Kalbach says good hybrid meetings need more than an agenda. “You need a purpose and a way to get there,” he says.
Even with an agenda, he says, the usual dynamics unfold. Dominant voices talk while quieter ones fade back and maybe — if their camera is off — cook pasta or do laundry. You will be looking for ways to bring everyone’s attention back.
“If you bring an activity, though, then say, ‘Let’s do a two-by-two matrix and we’re going to decide together by voting’ — that way, you ensure participation,” Kalbach says.
Another trick for keeping a meeting focused, he says, is to create a system for turn-taking.
“A popular one is popcorning, where the last person to speak picks the next person,” he says.
Not only do these tricks overcome verbal traffic problems, “you can start thinking about meetings as places where you get stuff done,” he adds.
Once you start looking for a purpose instead of an agenda, you’ll find it. If someone says, “We need to get this document together,” and your meeting needs a purpose, you might bring the document and get the work done in the meeting.
“That way, you come out of the meeting with no action items because you already did the work,” Kalbach says.
IT Leadership, Staff Management