The future of hybrid work

By

Max Shepherd-Cross

·

January 10, 2022

The jury is still out on hybrid meetings. Some managers believe meetings should be entirely in person or entirely remote, while others see hybrid meetings as a huge relief from the all-remote meetings of the lockdown era.

If you’d rather avoid hybrid setups, that’s probably because you’ve experienced common hybrid meeting drawbacks: one-sided conversations, few chances for remote participants to ask questions or share ideas, and a lack of audiovisual clarity for both sets of participants.  

While hybrid meetings can have shortcomings, they’re a requirement for a hybrid work environment. Plus, conducting hybrid meetings gives employees the flexibility to set their work schedule whether they’re in the office or working from home.

Successful hybrid meetings fulfil two main criteria: all participants are able to see and hear each other clearly, and all attendees are able to participate equally. Each of these aspects requires adequate planning and leadership skills to get them right.


Hybrid Meeting Setup for Better Video and Audio: All the Tools You Need

The setup for a remote meeting is simple—everyone logs in from their computer with their own microphone and speaker. If you used meeting software, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, to run remote meetings, it should work for your hybrid meeting too. Your internet setup from your remote meetings should be sufficient as well. But hybrid meetings require a more technical setup on the host’s end, so in-room and virtual participants can clearly see and hear each other.

Let’s first understand the basic setup of a hybrid meeting, and then break down each component with examples and recommendations for different meeting types.

Basic Equipment

Remote participants log into a hybrid meeting as they would in a fully remote meeting: they open the meeting link on their device and use their own camera, microphone, and headphones.

In-room participants use one device (a laptop, tablet, or phone) to log into the meeting. The rest of the equipment will depend on the size of your meeting. If it’s a small group of three to four people in the room, a laptop webcam, speakers, and microphone may suffice for virtual participants to see and hear their in-room counterparts and vice versa.

For a larger group of people, you need added equipment to boost clarity. First, you’ll need one or more external cameras to capture the in-room attendees and the speaker of the meeting. You’ll also need to connect a laptop to a large screen, so in-room participants can see virtual attendees better, as well as view presentations or videos.

Next, you’ll need an external microphone that picks up the voices of in-room attendees for remote participants to hear them. If your TV screen has speakers, they may be enough for in-room participants to hear virtual attendees. But if the speakers are not powerful enough, you may also need external speakers for remote attendees’ voices to be clear.

Hybrid meeting equipment
Hybrid meeting set up


Image source

To sum up, you’ll need a few extra pieces of equipment to enable both sets of meeting participants to see and hear one another. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • external cameras
  • microphones
  • speakers
  • screen

Device to Relay the Meeting

First, you’ll need a main device to host the meeting from the meeting location. A tablet or phone works, but a laptop will be handier to switch slides and connect to different external devices. Of course, keep your phone or tablet as a hybrid meeting backup in case your laptop malfunctions.

Connect your main device to any additional equipment, such as a screen, external speakers, cameras, and microphones.


Audio Devices

Most conference rooms are equipped with microphones to pick up the voices of everyone in the room. If so, you don’t need additional microphones.

Since the goal is for everyone to have the same meeting experience—with clear sound and the ability to participate—consider that your remote attendees need to be able to hear everyone in the room, not just the meeting host. For small- or medium-sized meetings, you could pass around a hand-held microphone or invest in a wireless, omnidirectional microphone-speaker combo like Jabra Speak, placed close to all participants.

For a large hybrid meeting, you might need more microphones or devices to make sure everyone can hear and participate.


Video Setup

A single laptop webcam may not be able to showcase all in-room attendees to remote participants, which is why you might need external cameras. You could also use a separate laptop connected as a “participant” in the meeting. The goal is to show the in-room attendees and the speaker.

Depending on the nature of the meeting and the number of attendees, you could show multiple angles of the room and a close-up view of meeting presenters.

If your budget allows it, you could invest in a 360-degree camera like the Owl, which has a built-in microphone to capture the voices and faces of everyone in the room.

For in-room participants to clearly see remote attendees, you’ll need to connect your laptop to a large external monitor like a TV via HDMI or projection screen. A large screen will also help in-room participants better view any presentations or videos shared during the meeting.


Lighting and Background

Make sure the meeting room is well-lit, and the speaker’s area or podium doesn’t have a window behind it, or it may appear dark.  

Choose a solid-colored background behind the speaker with minimal décor to minimize distractions. Also, ask attendees to remain seated as much as possible to avoid distracting others.


4 Best Practices for Improving Participation in Your Hybrid Meeting

Once you’ve overcome your technical difficulties, you can focus on improving participation. That requires more than just planning. You’ll need to proactively encourage all participants to speak up, pay attention to remote attendees, and use smart, interactive tools.

But first and foremost, you’ll need to go back to the basics.


1. Establish Meeting Rules

Hybrid or not, all meetings need to follow some ground rules so participants can get more value out of them and be able to participate freely.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of basic meeting rules for a hybrid meeting:

  • Create an agenda. Send it to everyone before the meeting, so attendees come prepared.
  • Stick to your start and end time. This shows respect for attendees who are on time.
  • Invite the right people. If someone thinks the meeting is unimportant for them, allow them to decline.
  • Limit speaking time. Assign a time limit to each item on the agenda, including questions.

An additional important rule for hybrid meetings is to explain the setup to in-room attendees in advance. Attendees should know where the camera and the microphone are, so they know where to look and how to speak when they want to.  


2. Assign Facilitators or In-room Buddies

While most meetings have a host (like a team manager or team leader), hybrid meetings need more than that; they need a facilitator. A facilitator acts as a moderator or producer, keeping an eye on comments from remote participants and relaying feedback.

Facilitators don’t just read typed comments; they also watch out for other cues like someone raising their hand or unmuting themselves. For small meetings, facilitators may also double up as meeting hosts. For a large meeting, you might need two facilitators to monitor all participants.

An in-room buddy for each remote participant can help remote attendees voice concerns they’re not comfortable sharing out loud or simply ensure they get enough opportunities to speak. Let’s say you have four remote participants. Each of them should have an in-room buddy that watches out for their comments or gestures.


3. Use Interactive Tools

Hybrid meeting interactive tools
Interaction during hybrid meetings


Image source

If your hybrid meeting includes activities like polling or brainstorming, use interactive, cloud-based tools.

Some interactive tools and ideas for your hybrid meeting:

  • Use a phone-based survey tool like Poll Everywhere for polling.
  • Use a virtual whiteboarding tool like Miro for brainstorming.
  • Share documents with Google Docs or another document-sharing app instead of putting them on the main screen, so everyone can read them better.

If the meeting involves breakout sessions, ask all participants to get a laptop and log into the meeting (even if their camera and microphone are off throughout the meeting). This allows you to pair remote and in-room participants with each other too.


4. Go Remote-first for Questions and Comments

In-room attendees are at an advantage in a hybrid meeting: being present in the meeting room. The only way to level the playing field for remote attendees is to give them an added advantage, too: go to remote employees first for Q&A sessions.

Ask remote employees for their opinions or comments before switching topics. Allow remote participants to lead meetings occasionally. Finally, pay extra attention to post-meeting feedback from remote employees. Did they get a chance to participate fully? Were the audio and video clear? Do they have additional suggestions or comments?


Testing is the Key to Getting Hybrid Meetings Right

Before your hybrid meeting, schedule a 10-minute dry run to make sure your equipment works fine, iron out any hardware or software issues, and ensure both sets of participants can see and hear each other well.

Your first meeting may not be perfect, and that’s okay. After the meeting, collect feedback from both remote and in-person attendees and work on it to improve future meetings.

Running successful hybrid meetings is only one of many challenges you might face as a hybrid work manager. Check out other hybrid work challenges and how to overcome them too.

Max Shepherd-Cross

Max is one of the cofounders and CEO of Officely.

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