Have you suffered through a hybrid video meeting where you’re remote while a few of your teammates are together in person?

Here’s my question. Did you at any point:

  1. A) tune out and get some other work done because two people in the room were so far from the mic that they were completely inaudible?
  2. B) concoct a grand conspiracy theory about what the people in the room were talking about each time they muted the microphone?
  3. C) stab your pen into your hand to distract you from the rising fury of this inefficient and ineffective approach to conducting a meeting?

Hey, if you did any one of those things, I get it. These half in-person, half-on-video meetings are brutal.  Here are a few alternatives that you can try:

Improving Hybrid Meetings

In general, I’m not a fan of hybrid meetings, and even before Covid, my advice was to either have everyone in person or everyone online. If you can’t make that happen and you can only nudge your team toward a less crappy hybrid meeting approach, try one of these.

  • Instead of sharing videos of people’s faces, try sharing a screen that allows everyone in the meeting to be looking at the same work product, but not at each other. You could share a word file so everyone can see a note-taker documenting the conversation, a spreadsheet that allows you to talk through a budget, or a Gantt chart to move around tasks in an ongoing project. Sharing a document and audio can be much more efficient than adding video.
  • Give the remote folks a break now and then by having breakout discussions that are divided between those in the room and those on video. It will be easier to focus with a smaller group who are all on the same tech. Those in the room can enjoy not having to look at tiny faces in boxes while those on the video can stop squinting to see who the small person is in the shadows. (Don’t overuse this approach because you’ll amplify us versus them disparities if you always group the in-office versus remote team members.)
  • Have each person in the room looking into a laptop camera so that each participant appears as a single frame whether they’re in the meeting room or remote. Just remember that you’ll want a speakerphone in the room and for each participant to turn off the audio on their laptop. (This really works, I was in a meeting done this way last week and it was seamless and the best hybrid meeting experience that I’ve had.)

Humans—We’re Weird That Way

Regardless of which side of the hybrid meeting you’re on, remember to cut your teammates a little slack

If you’re in the meeting room:
  • Don’t put the speakerphone on mute and talk to one another. It’s just human nature for those on the video to assume they’re missing out on something they want to hear (whether that be juicy details, nasty gossip, or funny jokes).
  • Don’t have side conversations in the room. Your speakerphone is going to make a complete mess of the different signals and the people on the line aren’t going to be able to make out anything.
  • Don’t unwrap your ridiculously over-packaged six-piece lunch right beside the speaker. For those who have the volume cranked up to be able to hear Larry at the far end of the room, the noise is excruciating.)
If you’re remote:
  • Don’t turn off your video halfway through the call. It’s too distracting for those in the room who are wondering if you’re there or not there. If you need to go to the washroom or answer the door, get up and leave your screen empty so that people know you’re missing out.
  • Don’t be texting other people in the meeting. That’s equivalent to someone in the room whispering to someone. If it’s something related to the topic, use the chat so that everyone can see it. If it’s only relevant to one person, make a note and follow up with them after the meeting.
  • Try to have your camera in your eye line. I’ve seen multi-monitor setups where the camera is on a different computer than the one the person is looking at. It’s really hard to read your body language if I can only see your ear. Similarly, if your display is too high relative to your camera, everyone will spend the meeting inspecting the lining of your nose—and the health of your mucus membranes is really not the team’s business.

If hybrid teams are here to stay, then improving your approach to meetings is going to be important. What say you? Any tips to add? What’s working, and what’s definitely NOT working, for you?

Further Reading

Team Building Exercises for Remote Teams

Reset Your Remote Management Approach

Wasted time in meetings