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You’re setting up hybrid meetings wrong—here’s how to redesign your meeting layout to increase engagement

July 12, 2022, 4:00 PM UTC
Team in office sitting in a room during a hybrid meeting with two remote employees.
Hybrid meetings should be human-centered rather than office-centered.
Getty Images

Employers have struggled to recreate the same level of inclusivity and collaboration characteristic of fully in-person meetings within a remote work structure. That difficulty has been particularly acute in hybrid meetings, where some employees are gathered in person while others tune in virtually. In these instances, the meeting is dominated by the majority whether it be those present in person or virtually—albeit less often—resulting in one group feeling as though they are observers rather than full meeting participants.

Hybrid meetings especially yield such uneven encounters because they’re conducted under the assumption that all participants should have the same experience rather than the same opportunity. But when team members aren’t in the same place, it’s impossible to duplicate the same experiences for everyone. What often happens is those working in person have more opportunities to engage in spontaneous ideation and riff off one another, and end up leading the conversation as a result.  

Market research firm Gartner has a solution to address the difficulties of hybrid meetings: “collaboration equity.” It’s the idea that in hybrid meetings, leaders should find ways for all members to contribute ideas and participate in the discussion regardless of their physical location.  

“It is really a set of aspirational disciplines that relies on a set of work practices, advocates, and technologies to ensure that workers have an equal opportunity to be a full participant in team activities,” says Mike Fasciani, digital workplace research director at Gartner. 

To solve the issue of collaboration inequity, firms should look to adopt a human-centric approach as opposed to a design-centric approach. Design-centric workplace models ask employees to adjust to an office’s layout—the size and number of conference rooms, or the AV technology available—rather than tailoring it to the specific needs of hybrid teams.

Participants in hybrid meetings often struggle to engage fully because they miss pre- and post-meeting chats, can’t always access collaborative tools as efficiently, and aren’t able to share content with their colleagues as easily. These issues create a barrier between in-person and virtual meeting attendees, hindering team cohesion and, as a result, collaboration.  

“The standard conference room setup may work well for formal presentations but doesn’t work necessarily if I’m part of an agile team and we need to ideate and think through problems,” Fasciani says. “I’m going to need a different set of surfaces, a different set of tools that are going to allow me to work with my remote colleagues effectively.”

One of the simplest tactics to facilitate a human-centered approach, according to Fasciani, is requesting that all in-person meeting participants log in with their personal computers. This allows all attendees to have a distinct digital presence and equal footing when brainstorming because they’re able to leverage virtual functions such as a hand-raising button or a digital whiteboard. It also ensures that remote participants can see each member of the in-person team instead of a collective view of all participants huddled in a room.

Fasciani’s other main recommendation is somewhat counterintuitive: schedule less meetings altogether.

“Meeting fatigue and overload is real, so you really need to back off on the number of meetings that are held day in and day out,” Fasciani says. “That takes pressure off the meeting experience. If you have less meetings, you have less tension on trying to get that perfect meeting.”

With fewer meetings on the calendar, employees can focus less on preparing for an organized, formal share-out and can instead dedicate themselves to doing the work.

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