The worst of the pandemic seems at last to be in the rearview mirror for most Utahns. No more avoiding gatherings with friends and loved ones. No more missing out on sporting events and concerts. No more being on the receiving end of suspicious looks should a sneeze slip out in the grocery store.

But one hallmark of the pandemic is here to stay: a greater portion of employees working remotely at least part of the time — which necessitates hybrid meetings that include both in-person and virtual attendees.

For businesses in Utah and elsewhere, adjusting to this new meeting paradigm is a monumental shift, and one that is crucial to get right. There are piles of evidence showing that bad meetings are disastrous, reducing employee engagement, increasing burnout and turnover and, ultimately, damaging the bottom line.

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The good news is that hybrid meetings offer tremendous upside. Not only do they allow employers to adapt to employees’ shifting work preferences, my research has found they are even more effective than in-person meetings, when done well. The bad news is that unlocking that potential is challenging, and the execution of hybrid meetings at many organizations leaves a lot to be desired, as many workers in Utah can surely attest by now.

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Part of my work as director of the Center for Meeting Effectiveness within the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health is consulting with businesses to help them avoid common pitfalls and establish a productive meeting culture. Here are a few key concepts that leaders must keep in mind as they implement hybrid meetings:

  • Invest in technology. This one is obvious but important. In order to hold successful hybrid meetings, a business needs the proper technological capabilities. And it’s not as simple as having virtual attendees call in via speakerphone. An ideal setup simulates an in-person gathering using cameras and monitors that allow virtual attendees to see their in-person counterparts and vice versa, as well as a good audio system that enables anyone in the meeting to speak and be heard. 
  • Proactively engage virtual attendees. It doesn’t do much good to have virtual attendees at the meeting if they can’t actively participate. This takes intentional effort. Useful strategies include clearly articulating how virtual attendees should indicate they have something to say (e.g. raising their hands or using the chat feature) and implementing a policy where they are given an opportunity to speak before in-person attendees.
  • Be diligent in tech training. The best technology in the world won’t make a difference if employees don’t know how to use it. Beyond the tech, organizations must also train managers in the skill of leading hybrid meetings and teach all employees how to participate in them. Giving them the technological resources and hoping they figure out how to make the most of them on their own is not a recipe for success.
  • Attendees shoulder responsibility of participation. Leaders aren’t the only ones who carry the burden of making hybrid meetings successful. All attendees should participate in good meeting behaviors, such as reviewing the agenda beforehand, arriving (or logging on) on time and seeking to provide input when appropriate. Virtual attendees, meanwhile, should have their camera on when possible and avoid multitasking

Even before COVID-19 emerged, hybrid meetings were the way of the future. The pandemic simply forced us to adjust sooner than anyone anticipated.

Now it’s up to businesses and their leaders to make sure they wield the capability of bringing together in-person and virtual employees in a way that improves their operations and worker satisfaction. Their ability to do so will go a long way toward determining their success now and in the post-pandemic world. 

Dr. Joseph A. Allen is a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Utah, and directs the Center for Meeting Effectiveness in the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. He has published more academic papers about meeting science than any other researcher in the world, and co-authored two books about meeting shifts ushered in by the pandemic: “Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work” and “Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting.”

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