How can we make hybrid meetings work?

During covid-19 lockdown many people discovered a version of remote working for the first time. I say a version because people that have been doing remote work for years all say the same thing, this version of remote work was different. Companies called it Working From Home, yet it felt much more “Living At The Office”

I don’t know when we will have beaten covid and we can go safely back to the office. Yet I do think the world has changed and I doubt we will be 100 % fully at the office anymore. 

This means that when we go back, we will be working in hybrid mode. Yet today hybrid meetings don’t work. If you ask remote experts, they all say, don’t do hybrid meetings.  

As an agile coach, one of my expertise is facilitating in-person meetings. As a person who worked with remote teams since 2005, and led collaborations with the global agile community since 2007, I also have experience with remote meetings. And although I have some ideas and tips from hybrid meetings, I have to admit that holding great hybrid meetings is a problem we haven’t solved.

And yet the answer “don’t do it”, reminds me of the best answer the agile community had in 2005 around remote work. The general advice was to put people in a room and that got the best results. Yes, when we put people in a room it’s much easier to create trust.

Many people will tell you that when people are together, we have big bandwidth communication. I disagree with that. I think when we are in a room, it’s easier to create trust and when we trust each other we have big bandwidth communication. In the end, that feels the same, yet it’s not, because when it’s about trust if we can create the same trust in a remote setting, we have the same bandwidth in our communication. 

That’s why these days people will tell you, everyone has to turn on their cameras. Because when we see each other it’s easier to create trust. It’s usually the people with lots of privilege that will say this. A large house, with a great office to work from and a broadband internet connection. Now I am a big fan of video in remote meetings, yet when I hear people talk about forcing it, I get curious about why, and very often I hear that people are distrusting the people on the other side. Now that distrust and the blaming messages that result in that, make it a lot harder to end with a trusting relationship. I think we get a lot further if we are curious why people can’t turn on their cameras. When we ask questions to discover what’s going on, we usually encounter the full person. And when two people really encounter each other, trust starts to build. And when we have trust, a lot better communication starts. 

Most people in my collaboration projects, I have never met in person. And we collaborated sometimes for years on projects. Many of these people I feel I trust more than my neighbours. 

I trust them because of what we achieved together.  And I’m not alone, there are many open source projects that have changed the world, where the core team has started fully remote. Although some might have met over time, usually most of these teams work in a completely dispersed way. The agile world has and can still learn a lot about remote work from open source projects. These days there are a lot more people that will tell you that a fully engaged remote team is possible.

Creating such a team takes a lot of deliberate action. Just like you don’t automatically get a great meeting when you put great people in a room. We get better meetings when we facilitate the meetings. The same is true for remote meetings, doing great remote meetings is harder than great in-person meetings, because not all of us are already familiar with remote facilitation. Luckily by now, there are tons of books about remote working. 

And that’s for me the problem around hybrid meetings. I agree we are not consistent in doing great hybrid meetings, yet I disagree that it means we should not do it. I think we should gather great practises how we can make hybrid working better so that we are prepared for when we go back to the offices to have better hybrid meetings because let’s face it, the reality will be, that we will have people in the office and at home, and we want to create a trusting relationship between all participants independent from where they join our meetings. 

Let me start by sharing one tip:

One of the best ways to make sure that everyone in a hybrid meeting feels welcome in the meeting, is by having two facilitators: one facilitator for the people in the room and one facilitator for the people remote, that last person also needs to work remotely. 

Please share your tips for creating better hybrid meetings…..