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Effective Management of Online/Offline Meetings

With hybrid work becoming more common, it's never been more important to keep meeting participants engaged.
Jacquelyn Adams
Contributing Writer

“Anyone on the call have questions?” Two hours into the meeting and this was the first time they had checked for signs of life from the remote board members. The question was followed by radio silence as I put down my snack, unmuted, and responded “No, this all sounds good to me.”

When it comes to hybrid offline/online meetings, this type of interaction is all too common. With some participants in-person and others remote, often it is the former who are running the show, while the latter wonders why they even bothered logging in. This is new and complicated terrain for many of us, but besides being practical in many respects, it is essential now that there is a prevalence of having remote workforces. However, this means that it is also essential to find ways to maintain engagement and accountability. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you make your next meeting an effective one:

  1. Share the playbook Clarify expectations in advance so everyone is prepared to meet those standards. Some examples of this include:
    • Avoid redundant redundancy When the reading is summarized during the meeting, it can feel like a waste if you read it beforehand. To use the group’s time most efficiently, do not provide a summary and only address questions, concerns, and implementation plans.
    • Test the tech Please, in the name of all that is good, test new software in advance. Untimely software updates should never delay or interrupt meetings. And with that in mind…
    • Watch the clock We all have endured that dreaded silence as we wait for stragglers. Consider putting in place consequences for being late. Since bringing donuts isn’t an option, the guilty party could have the honor of breaking the ice with a twenty second song/dance performance… or go the more traditional (aka boring) route and assign them to be the notetaker for the next meeting. This serves not only as a motivator for punctuality but can build comradery as well.
    • See you onscreen This article by Harvard Business Review listed having participants use video as their number one tip. Again, it’s all about accountability. When we can see each other, we’re less likely to get distracted and more apt to stay engaged.
    • Say no to multitasking Create clear and firm guidelines on texting, social media, and any other activities during the meeting. Participants should treat this like an in-person meeting.
  1. Take the lead Sorry facilitators, you just had additional duties dumped on your shoulders, because with more platforms comes more responsibility. According to the World Economic Forum, “a strong guiding hand becomes even more important in a virtual setting.” Here’s what a facilitator should keep in mind:
    • Engage… socially I’ll just say it, icebreakers can be really awkward. Still there is a need to create genuine connection within the group. In his newly published book, Office Optional: How to build a connected culture with virtual teams, Larry English states, “Sometimes we include an agenda item where everyone shares their highest high and lowest low for the month. Some moderators kick-off meetings with a question like ‘What is the grossest food you have ever eaten?’ or ‘If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?’ Either way, for the first five minutes or so, we talk on a personal level before diving into business.”
    • Get all the feedback By consistently and randomly requesting feedback from individuals, no one is caught off-guard because everyone knows they need to pay attention. English additionally noted, “Depending on the meeting size, we poll everyone to ask their opinion at key checkpoints. They stay engaged and you get the value of why you had each team member on the call in the first place.” This also encourages the less vocal members to be more involved. #allthewinning
  2. Level the playing field There is a natural tendency for in-person participants to be given a higher priority status. So if all else fails, meetings expert, UNC Charlotte Professor Steven Rogelberg suggests having those participants who are in-person log in from their computers. It’s not a typical solution, but if it solves the problem, we will call it a success!

Rogelberg went on to say that while many people prefer online meetings over in-person meetings, his research demonstrates that only “50% of meeting time is effective, well used, and engaging — and these effectiveness numbers drop even lower when it comes to remote meetings.

The pandemic has accelerated the need for remote workforce capabilities, but it’s more than technology infrastructure and applications. There is an opportunity to re-model policies and processes that support real-time collaboration and workforce engagement in support of productivity gains.”

Brandon Pfeckl, CIO of PWCSA

During this time when hybrid offline/online meetings have become a necessity rather than a convenience, it’s guidelines like these that will help hold the group together while they are apart.

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