Conference phone, laptops, virtual team software, and a ‘mini-me’ icon representation for each of the remote participants
Hybrid meetings are those that include a conference room of people and a smattering of remote participants. This type of meeting is much less effective for everyone involved than either fully in-person meetings or all virtual meetings. The people on their phones cannot see the expressions, presentations, and other visual cues that those in the room enjoy, which greatly reduces the effectiveness for those folks located remotely. It also puts a strain on those in the room as they stuggle to keep remembering that there are participants not physically present. As a result, the overall meeting is less effective than it could be. Here are a few things, however, you can do to improve these situations to maximize each participant’s contribution:
- Do it 100% virtually—If the number of remote participants is greater than about 20% of the meeting size, it is best for the entire team to meet virtually from their respective desks using phone conferencing and desktop-sharing tools. This levels the field and enables everyone to communicate in a manner that everyone understands.
- Bring laptops for data sharing—This is getting easier these days because everyone brings a laptop to meetings anyway; but if you ask everyone to do so, it is easier for brainstorming and sketching sessions to be done online so that remote participants can be included.
- Avoid overheads—Unless you have access to high-resolution video equipment and remote participants can view a video stream from that system, avoid using the old-fashioned overhead projector technology when meetings include remote participants. Instead, show your presentations to the in-room folks using your laptop and a video projector and at the same time share your presentation using a desktop-sharing application to the remote folks). Or, avoid the noisy projector completely and share from the laptops.
- Use satellite microphones—You can greatly improve the clarity of in-room discussions for remote meeting participants when everyone in the room is close to a microphone. Using a wireless microphone and trying to hand it off from one person to another is awkward and just slows down the meeting. It is much better to have a series of well-placed satellite microphones linked to the main speakerphone to augment audio pickup.
- Assign a buddy—Assign a separate person in the room where most of your team is meeting to act as a ‘buddy’ for the remote participants. This assures that everyone not physically present in the room has a local representative. The buddy might periodically say something like, “What are your thoughts, Mary?”, where Mary is a remote participant.
- Bring a teddy bear—Bring some form of icon to represent each person on the phone. Affix a photo, or at least the name of the remote person to his/her icon, and set it on the table near the conference phone or some conspicuous place everyone can see. Icons serve as subtle visual reminders that there are others in the meeting who are not physically present.