By Chloe Donohoe
Many organizations across the state – including the NCIOM – are figuring out a return to the office and adjusting to a world of hybrid work. As the NCIOM prepares to launch two new task forces later this year, we are contemplating the pros and cons of hybrid meeting structures. As part of this process, we have compiled best practices regarding the effectiveness and engagement of participants during hybrid meetings, and below we share our findings in hopes of helping other health organizations contemplating similar decisions.
Over the past year and a half, the NCIOM transitioned to fully remote work, conducting task force meetings and other stakeholder convenings primarily through Zoom. In some respects, we have found that a lot has been gained from remote meetings. We have seen greater participation and engagement from stakeholders in the Western and Eastern parts of the state, our meeting preparation processes have been streamlined and improved, and we have reduced our paper usage. Additionally, our staff have stayed healthy and have been able to take care of themselves and their families while working. The positive impacts of virtual meetings noted by our staff align with national data collected by Nature through a poll of its readers; 49% of respondents appreciated the greater accessibility and 21% appreciated the lower carbon footprint.
However, we also recognize that there are components of in-person meetings that are difficult to replicate in online meetings. In the past, our in-person meetings included several opportunities to socialize and network with fellow task force members. It is often during these periods when ideas spark, friendships and partnerships are built, and the collective ownership of the task force and its goals are enhanced. Additionally, in-person meetings allow for clearer communication amongst participants and involve fewer distractions than the home environment.
Because of these trade-offs, the NCIOM and many similar organizations are exploring a hybrid meeting style that would allow for participants to join in-person or remotely. According to Meeting Professionals International (MPI), hybrid meetings integrate technology with traditional meeting practices to allow at least one group of face-to-face participants to digitally connect with participants in another or multiple locations. MPI identifies several benefits of hybrid meetings, including reaching more delegates, providing new content delivery and communication options, connecting multiple events that occur concurrently or at different times or locations, and including people who could not otherwise attend (i.e., busy executives, global attendees, and people with child care or other personal needs).
To ensure that hybrid meetings are effective and engaging, there are several best practices to consider before, during, and after a meeting. The Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP) encourages organizations to focus on the needs of the remote participants first, or at least equally to the needs of the in-person participants. Below is a compiled list of 18 best practices from workplace and meeting experts.
Before a hybrid meeting, organizations should:
Do anything that can be done asynchronously online ahead of time with meeting participants.
- Several online project management platforms, such as Slack, Notion, Asana, and Trello, allow for participants to get actively involved asynchronously
- Input and questions can be collected using collaborative cloud-based documents, such as G-Suite Docs, Sheets, or Slides, or through polls and surveys with websites like Slido so that everyone has the same opportunity to share their ideas even if they aren’t able to speak up during a meeting.
Consider the length of a hybrid meeting. The 8:00 a.m.-to-6:00 p.m. agenda of an in-person conference might work better running from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for a hybrid event.
- You can schedule additional activities around the meeting time for the in-person participants, such as meals and networking gatherings.
Plan to bring the presenters to the physical event, particularly when arranging panels and other sessions in which a lot of back and forth takes place.
Make it easy for registrants to upgrade to in-person attendance if circumstances allow—or to shift from attending in-person to joining virtually if new restrictions keep them home.
Ensure that the meeting space is equipped with the technology needed for remote participants to fully engage.
- High-quality microphones and moveable webcams should be installed in the room so that remote participants can both see and hear all participants and presenters as if they are in the room. Some of these technologies include Jabra speakers or Slido’s Catchbox throwable microphone.
- Set up an additional monitor/s to show and hear full-sized remote participants. This will help in-person attendees accept remote colleagues as full participants.
- Consider the newest meeting room technology, such as Zoom’s Smart Gallery, which uses artificial intelligence to detect individual faces in a shared room and pull them into panels on the screen in gallery view for remote participants. Microsoft is also developing new types of meeting rooms optimized for hybrid experience.
Test all technology—in-room audio-visual and remote—prior to the event to ensure a smooth technology flow.
Host a “dry run” of the meeting’s technology so that remote participants will be more comfortable with what they will see and hear during the meeting.
- This may include educating your remote attendees about using headsets, earbuds, etc., and not relying on the built-in microphones and speakers on their laptops for better audio capacity.
When planning activities or exercises, focus on how remote participants will engage and make sure that the meeting design is accessible.
- Use smart meeting tools to level the playing field and collect insights from everyone equally. These include phone-based survey tools like Poll Everywhere, whiteboard/annotation tools like Miroor Mural, and Q&A technologies like Slido’s live Q&A app.
- Reach out to instructional designers at local university as a resource.
During a hybrid meeting, organizations should:
Utilize staff to ensure the meeting goes smoothly and the remote participants are supported.
- Assign one “facilitator” to guide the conversation and keep it on track. This person should draw remote participants in, keeping them engaged and ensuring that their voices are heard.
- Assign “producers” to both the in-person and virtual spaces. The producers should know how the meeting should be run, be experienced with the physical hardware being used during the meeting (e.g., cameras, laptops, etc.) and the online platforms involved, and have the ability to selectively unmute participants.
- Assign a staff person (or fellow participant) to serve as an in-room “avatar” for activities that require a physical presence in the meeting room, such as during voting exercises.
- Appoint someone to take notes and prepare a summary to share with all participants after the meeting.
Begin the meeting by setting ground rules and principles for meeting together in a hybrid environment. Plan to reiterate the ground rules at the start of each hybrid meeting.
- Establish a safe word that you call out if anyone “breaks the rules” to get the group back on track.
Use an icebreaker to set the stage.
Enable the chat function for remote participants.
- This allows for peer-to-peer comments and learning. To avoid folks in the room missing out on this, consider a way for them to contribute to the chat through smart phones or possibly laptops set up at the tables.
Deliberately incorporate some quiet time into your meeting agenda to allow time for everyone to process and prepare responses.
Adopt a remote-first approach to the way you talk to and interact with your meeting attendees.
- Ask for questions from the remote participants first or address them equally with in-person questions.
- Give remote participants a space to be the first to react or join the discussion.
Monitor the online participant panel for cues that someone wants to speak, such unmuting, using the “raise hand” feature, or other alerting mechanism through remote meeting platforms.
After a hybrid meeting:
Survey everyone about their experience and ask questions about each aspect of the meeting described above, so that you can improve those that may be lacking.
Store meeting minutes in a place where participants can easily find them and come back to them at a later date. They could be stored in a shared folder through Dropbox, Google Drive, or another cloud-based storage platform.
Frisch B, Greene C. What it takes to run a great hybrid meeting. https://hbr.org/2021/06/what-it-takes-to-run-a-great-hybrid-meeting. Published June 03, 2021. Accessed July 05, 2021.
Fryatt J, Garriga R, Janssen R, John R, Smith SJ. How-to guide: hybrid meetings. Meeting Professionals International. https://www.mpi.org/docs/default-source/covid-19/hybridmeeting_howto.pdf?sfvrsn=e903c050_2. Published 2012. Accessed July 12, 2021.
Mrvova K. How to Master Hybrid Meetings: 22 Best Practices. Slido. https://blog.sli.do/hybrid-meetings-tips/. Published June 22, 2021. Accessed July 12, 2021.
Palmerby A, Palmer A. 10 Ideas for Effective Hybrid Events: How to enhance the conference experience for both in-person and virtual attendees. Northstar Meetings Group. https://www.northstarmeetingsgroup.com/Planning-Tips-and-Trends/Event-Planning/Event-Programming/hybrid-events-best-practices-tips . Published May 18, 2021. Accessed July 12, 2021.
Remmel, A. Scientists want virtual meetings to stay after the COVID pandemic. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00513-1. Published March 02, 2021. Accessed July 15, 2021.
Rodgers W. Benefits of in-person meetings: online vs. face-to-face meetings. Carr Workplaces. https://carrworkplaces.com/blog/benefits-of-in-person-meetings/. Published February 25, 2021. Accessed July 12, 2021.
Stone T. Considerations and best practices for running hybrid meetings. Institute for Corporate Productivity. https://www.i4cp.com/coronavirus/considerations-and-best-practices-for-running-hybrid-meetings. Published August 19, 2020. Accessed July 12, 2021.