Did We Just Fall in Love With Hybrid Meetings?

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Last week, we held a two-day training session for our extended leadership team. We’d been planning it for months — the meeting room, the dinner activity, the team building exercises … the works! This was, as I’m sure you’re picking up on, more than just a meeting, this was going to be the first moment where our entire leadership team would be together in one room since the pandemic. This was going to be a form of therapy!

But less than a week before the meeting, we made the decision that those of us who would have needed to travel to get there, would no longer fly into Dallas where the meeting was being held. We agreed that we were comfortable with those local to Dallas still meeting in person, but that left us with the question – do we do the meeting 100% remote, or do we try to make it work hybrid?

Hybrid and remote are not new to us; we built Thought Ensemble to work under both options and we’ve made it work for more than a decade. We’ve had plenty of hybrid meetings, usually a bunch of people in a conference room, or a living room, with another set of people on individual video/phone feeds. That’s how we’ve done it for years at most of our clients too — one screen in the conference room with all the remote people linked in.

However, even some of our colleagues who are working onsite are now choosing to run their meetings 100% virtually. So, people are attending meetings via video even when they are just in the office next door. There are multiple reasons to run meetings this way: health, effectiveness, equity — you’ve probably seen the articles, but here’s one we found interesting.

After considering all of this, we decided we wanted to try it hybrid. We all joined virtually via our laptops, even those who were together physically.

Spoiler alert: It was AWESOME.

The individuals who were together in the same room benefited from physical cues, social bonding, and collective energy. To our surprise, however, the remote attendees also benefited from the physical energy created in the room! As a result, the overarching momentum was better and there was a sense of conversational equity with all of us speaking directly to our computers.

Here’s what we believe made it work:

1. The topic we were discussing was very collaborative in nature. We were reacting, as a team, to work that had been done to create some very innovative training for our company. Equal parts presentation, reaction, and discussion.

2. We bought a bad-ass portable speaker/microphone for $149. It was worth every penny. The sound was crystal clear — including the sound of the ladies brunching next door, which led to a meeting room move and why you see chairs in the background of the picture below.

3. The people on-site were super respectful about side conversations because that speaker phone picked up every whisper.

4. Everyone in the room got out their laptops and joined via video (with the sound muted of course). They didn’t have to look at each other through the video, but those of us who were remote could always see their faces even when they were looking at each other.

5. Those of us who were remote lined our tiles up in Zoom (did you know you can move them around?) so that it felt more real when people looked at each other in the room.

6. We changed our group exercises to work for everyone — no more printed handouts and sticky note exercises; we moved everything to electronic handouts and a Miro board.

7. And one intangible thing: we do know each other very well. We work together a lot so we can read each other’s facial expressions and know when someone has more to say.

See below for a picture of most of our group at the end of the session. See how happy they are? Note: I apparently cannot take a screenshot and smile at the same time, but you get the idea.

 

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