The 2021 Meeting Challenge: Managing Hybridity

At the end of March of 2020, as everyone was dealing with the shock of sheltering in place, we had a client that had an “aha”- a moment of clarity in the midst of the chaos that would define her leadership in a hybrid world. With over 40,000 people in her organization scattered across the country, she was one of the few still working with a small team in the office. During a meeting, she realized she wasn’t giving any of her newly remote leaders, who joined on video, any attention or acknowledgment. Her back was to the camera, and she was totally focused on those in the room.

The image above represents that scene – one typical in hybrid meetings of the past. Unfortunately, this won’t work with the multifaceted ‘virtual first’ workplace of 2021. We can and must do better to ensure equal footing for all employees.

Three things to think about starting today:

  1. Low-hanging fruit first.

    Set-up your camera angle and lighting so you’re well-positioned and clearly seen. We shared some great remote dos and don’ts when this pandemic first started, but see less than ideal setups daily and encourage employees to take their setup more seriously to be more visible. This last week Tom Brady appeared on the Late Late Show with James Corden after his recent Super Bowl win. He shared the moment when he threw the Lombardi trophy over the water to a fan into another boat in a post-Superbowl celebration and reflected that he wasn’t thinking at the moment. While others were interested to learn about the revelation, I was instead WOW’d by his house camera setup. Despite being easy on the eyes as my wife might think, he was a great model for Zoom video setup – centered framed, great lighting, clear, relaxed, confident and friendly. Click on the video below to see for yourself – it starts right at his great camera setup.

    My point is that you want the other person to feel like they’re having a conversation across the table from you, and that’s exactly how that came across.

  2. Always be fair.

    This recent HBR article which we also highlighted in last week’s blog post, raises a major concern every company and HR team needs to stay ahead of fairness in the workplace. Those that are in the office and close to leaders have a leg up vs. those that are remote. We can start to address this immediately with the setup of every meeting. One pro-tip comes from a CEO I worked with last month – for his board meeting, he asked every attendee, even those in person, to bring their own individual computer. When leading a hybrid meeting, your biggest concern should be those not in the room and this one shift helps accomplish that. Look again at the image above, and take a second to imagine everyone looking down, at their own computer, with their own individual camera.

    The big screen at the front of the room suddenly becomes unnecessary – and the feel of the meeting is transformed. With everyone participating on their own device, the playing ground is now equal.

  3. Get people talking.

    Round table discussions, weekly meetings, and even QBRs can frequently turn into a one-way messaging tool, sharing from the top-down only.  Instead, take advantage of these critical meeting times and open up the dialogue by getting everyone talking. Kent State shared a study that showed if people aren’t speaking or interacting within 2+ minutes, they’ll tune out and go to another screen. Recently we worked with a client who had 14 participants on a key discussion, where we engaged people from the start, encouraging them to come off mute for a second to say hi (vs. an intro that might take too long) – to help them feel comfortable speaking up and to make sure their tech worked. Psychologically, this opened up their willingness to participate actively and to come off mute to contribute/challenge/inquire. Start asking questions or encourage topics that promote dialogue early in the meeting- even a simple “hello” can go a long way for engagement.

Equality has so many multi-faceted points to it, along with inclusivity – and the changing workplace will make it that much more challenging. We have to make sure everyone on a team or in an organization has a voice and feels heard, as that will lead to better engagement and a better culture. It starts with communication and doing it right.

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