The last year has acted as a cultural reset, having forced both individuals and companies to reassess their capabilities and to swiftly and dynamically enact change in order to stay afloat in uncertain times. As we all know, one of the most significant changes experienced around the world has been the widespread adoption of remote working. However, what are meetings going to look like now that businesses are undertaking a workplace evolution and transitioning towards hybrid offices? Now is not the time to be complacent, but to appreciate that things are going to change, and that they might not necessarily be so straightforward.
Remote working, though popular with many, has its drawbacks. There’s the lack of human interaction and genuine collaboration with colleagues, the difficulty with onboarding new employees and, of course, the inevitable fact that some business meetings have become disjointed and disorganised.
The incredibly hyped hybrid working model, which brings together a blend of office-based, semi-remote and remote employees, gives all members of staff the autonomy to choose how, when and where they work best. That can be at home, in the office or both, ultimately allowing for flexibility across business structures and geographies, as well as generations, socioeconomic and parental statuses.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But if this is the long-term future of business then it would be illogical to assume it will just work simply because we have had a few months of relatively successful remote work. We need to challenge this model, identify its flaws and work to develop solutions. Let’s start with meetings, which are going to suffer unless companies seriously consider how they are going to be implemented in this new hybrid world.
The issues that face hybrid meetings
With employees spread all over (some in the office, some not) how will meetings work within this brand new business environment? The fact is that meetings will change forever, and companies need to consider the ways in which they’re conducted. The majority of professionals have adapted pretty well over the past few months, embracing the video meetings that have enabled us all to remain connected.
At first, for those not used to these types of meetings, the experience was novel and unusual, and while we may be at a point in which video fatigue is setting in, it has become second nature for employees to load up whichever service they use to conduct both informal catch ups with colleagues (hey, remember when we were all doing work quizzes?!) and also the more serious meetings, too.
Looking ahead, with some meeting participants being in the “room” and others joining remotely, there are some issues that will need to be resolved.
1. The unfair advantage of being in the office
A potential – yet major – problem is that the participants in the physical meeting room may have an unfair advantage over their remote colleagues who might feel slightly more disconnected and unable to pick up on social cues. There is a general feeling of community and togetherness that being in the same room brings, and it may be more difficult for someone joining via video to know when they can find a gap in the conversation in order to talk. We all know that detecting facial expressions, body language and the general vibe of a meeting is trickier when you’re not, you know, actually in the meeting. This could lead to those in the meeting room dominating proceedings and creating a disconnect between colleagues.
2. The lack of collaborative opportunities for remote meeting participants
Meetings don’t typically end when the participants leave the meeting room, with conversations carrying on as they walk out of the door and head over to the water cooler or the kitchen. This is all well and good for those in the office, but what about for those who dial in remotely? They are at risk of missing out on crucial insights and opinions, and potentially executive decision making, which could ultimately create two distinct (and potentially mistrusting) groups of employees – those in the office, and those that aren’t.
3. “Sorry, can you hear me?”
How many times have you been part of a remote meeting in which someone’s line is bad, resulting in them either not being able to provide input, or sometimes even meaning that they talk over other participants because they can’t actually hear them? Many people simply don’t have access to fast internet, either because they cannot afford the premium costs, or because their home infrastructure won’t allow for it.
Ultimately, in order for meetings in this new hybrid world to be successful, changes have to be made. In order to be truly effective, meetings must, first and foremost, be democratic, with everyone having their voice heard. As a result, if companies are going to continue having employees work away from the office, they must assess the fundamentals of how meetings are conducted and provide as much support as possible, to ensure that employees are able to not only attend meetings, but remain included, in spite of their physical or virtual presence.
It is often time consuming and inefficient to have everyone, one-by-one, deliver their insights, for example, so, in order to facilitate the implementation of more inclusive practises, companies must consider using tools and software to allow participants to share their opinions, even anonymously if required.
Additionally, meeting hosts can provide clearly defined summaries at the end of meetings, with decisions and next steps communicated to everyone. Detailed minutes should be taken and shared, and everyone (especially those who aren’t in the room) must be given the chance to deliver their final thoughts before they click that big “leave meeting” button. These subtle but important changes in habit ensure that everyone is on the same page, but, equally, if there are developments made while the kettle boils, these should be shared with the whole group. In a hybrid meeting environment, following up on meetings may become as important for the leader as preparing for the meeting.
Investment in the new normal
Successful implementation of hybrid working, for many organisations, could mean significant investment, requiring, in some cases, an upheaval of infrastructure, both physical and technological. Remote working has highlighted some significant technology gaps that businesses must work to close if hybrid working is to be successful. This can include investing in new equipment, such as more powerful laptops, high-end video cameras and VOIP phones, which will make hybrid meetings in this new corporate world that bit easier. Looking ahead, the need for digital transformation has never been greater and businesses should not be afraid to spend money in the short term to ensure that they are in the best possible position moving forward.
In addition, beyond technological investment, significant time and energy will also need to be put into ensuring the transition towards new working routines is as smooth as possible, and that employees feel supported, adequately educated and, importantly, consulted during this process. Lockdown has further highlighted the need for investment into the cultural and behavioural components of flexible work, such as hiring employees from a variety of geographical and socioeconomic backgrounds and opening up job opportunities outside big cities. Yes, remote working has largely been successful, but this does not mean that companies can neglect the social investment into both the existing workforce and the potential new employees yet to join the company.
So what next?
Hybrid working has its benefits, but companies must understand that there will be unforeseen circumstances that we have not yet experienced during the relatively short 2020 remote working experiment. The shift to hybrid will result in quite frankly unavoidable issues, meaning it’s absolutely critical that we start preparing now. This includes investment (both financial and time-wise) in infrastructure, protocols, education and planning.
So much is hard to predict, but what we do know is that collaboration and communication are going to be more important than ever before, so ensuring that meetings are conducted effectively should be high up on the list of priorities for businesses around the world.