Many organizations are currently in the process of transitioning from all-virtual meetings to hybrid meetings, where some participants are in the room and others join from home. A 2020-2021 McKinsey survey of 100 executives indicated that “nine out of 10 organizations will be combining remote on-site working” as COVID restrictions ease. We’re now adapting to that new reality in the workplace.
After leading many meetings in hybrid and remote settings since 2013, I have adopted a number of inclusive habits. Research shows that diverse teams lead to better organizational outcomes. We can only take full advantage of diverse perspectives if we are inclusive. Here are four ways you can lead inclusive hybrid meetings that encourage input from everyone in the physical and virtual room.
- Create a structure and repeat it.
Very often meetings have a standard flow. For example, in a weekly team meeting, you might start with a status update on your latest group project, bring a list of issues that need to be addressed, invite questions or comments, and close with a list of next steps. If your meetings typically follow a pattern, establish a structure and repeat it. Then people can engage right away whether they are in the room or joining remotely. They also know when questions or comments will be invited. They can prepare and you, as the leader, won’t forget to provide everyone with equal opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
When the road map for a meeting is clear and everyone knows what to expect, it creates transparency and consistency. You reduce cognitive load, making it easier for people to focus on and speak up about the things that really matter.
- Share your agenda ahead of time.
Provide an agenda for the meeting ahead of time and include it in the calendar invitation. Collaborative online documents make this simple. Everyone can review the agenda before the meeting and even make notes. Participants who are joining remotely can add questions or comments in the meeting agenda if they feel uncomfortable jumping into the conversation.
Before the meeting ends, review the agenda with the group and address anything that might have been missed during the live conversation.
- Make sure someone monitors the virtual space.
If you want to run a truly inclusive hybrid meeting, it’s important to make a thoughtful plan about how you will gather input from remote participants. Your technology set-up is important. Ensure that your remote participants are featured prominently on a visual display in the room, ideally with cameras on so you can see their faces. Once you have a technical solution in place, the next step is to strategically include remote participants in the conversation.
It is very challenging to facilitate a discussion in a conference room and on a virtual call at the same time. Generally, the in-person participants have an advantage over their remote colleagues in this scenario. They can call attention to themselves using body language, gestures, and facial expressions in subtle ways that aren’t possible for those who are joining via video. Even when you intend to be inclusive as a leader, you cannot easily manage two very different discussion spaces at the same time.
To help ensure that participants joining via video feel included, assign someone to focus specifically on them. That person can monitor chat, notice a raised hand (virtual or real), and prevent the need for video participants to call attention to themselves in uncomfortable ways in order to be heard.
- Build in moments for reflection and don’t feel compelled to fill the silence.
This tip comes from many years of experience leading conversations in the classroom – give people time to reflect. So often, we feel uncomfortable with silence and we fill it quickly. People process information at different rates. Also, silence is noticeable – if people get distracted because they are joining remotely and multitasking on email or Slack, a pause can bring them back to focusing on your meeting.
Pause and encourage both remote and in-person participants to review your notes and agenda. You can also use a collaborative tool, such as a whiteboard or a jamboard, and invite people to take a few moments to silently add their remaining thoughts before you wrap up. Introverted participants who feel uncomfortable jumping into the conversation, whether they are in the physical room or joining on a call, will have an opportunity to contribute their ideas in a medium that is more comfortable for them.
In this new world of technology-enabled work, if you want to be an inclusive leader and ensure that everyone on your team has the opportunity to contribute their best ideas, it’s important to take an intentional approach to inclusive hybrid meeting design. Let the technology recede into the background and focus on the true purpose of your meetings – sharing creative insights and executing effectively on your mission.
For tips on using technology to facilitate your hybrid meetings, see What it Takes to Run a Great Hybrid Meeting. Bob Frisch and Cary Greene, Harvard Business Review, June 3, 2021.
For more on the value of diverse teams, see:
- Why Diverse Teams are Smarter, but Don’t Feel That Way. Podcast with Dr. David Rock, Columbia University professor Dr. Valerie Purdie-Greenaway, and Dr. Paulette Gerkovich. March 4, 2021.
- Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters. McKinsey report, May 19,2020.
- Why Diverse Teams are Smarter. David Rock and Heidi Grant, Harvard Business Review, November 4, 2016.
If you want to offer your leaders a workshop on inclusive hybrid meetings, visit my contact page and schedule a complimentary discovery call.