Designing the Post-Pandemic Meeting



 

by: Rae Ringel and Maya Bernstein

Long before COVID-19, businesses around the world were grappling with a problem – how do
you run a meeting when some participants are on the screen while others are in the office?
Typically, the divide reflected headquarters vs. satellite, regional, or international offices. The
problem was not restricted to the meeting itself, but also to the well-known phenomenon of
“the meeting before/after the meeting”, i.e. the discussion and free-form exchange of ideas
that takes place when those on the screen are muted or offscreen. Anyone working in the
“other” office is familiar with frantic calls, emails or text messages to people “in the room,”
asking what they missed. And so, a key challenge of the hybrid became the office version of
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

When the pandemic thrust us all onto the online format, it created enduring difficulties for
businesses and organizations. However, in this area, it seemed to provide an unexpected
solution. Suddenly everyone was equal. Suddenly everyone, regardless of title or geographic
location, had to fit into the same box on the screen. Participants were using the same tools to
be heard, to participate, or to contribute. And now that we have all gotten used to this format,
we face our next evolution: with vaccines rapidly increasing, we seem to be headed back into
the office at some point in 2021. Great news! Well, not exactly.
Going back to the office does not mean going back to how it used to be, nor should it. We now
recognize the benefits of remote work. This means that offices will be smaller and many people
will not return. When a meeting is convened in the future, the division of room to screen will
not be based on location. Every office and location will be divided between remote and in-
office workers. Arguably, this is even more complicated than us all being remote together.
How do we ensure that meetings are structured well and that collaboration and teamwork are
not diminished?

We can view the return to a hybrid model as a problem we need to fix, and many are doing just
that: trying to “solve” the hybrid “problem”. We would like to argue the opposite: the hybrid
model is not a “problem” but an opportunity, and it should not be “solved,” but rather
explored, designed, and ultimately celebrated. What we have learned is that hybrid is no longer
the problem, it is the solution. Giving presentations, running meetings, gatherings, and
brainstorming sessions can actually be better in this hybrid mode.
Better?

We anticipate that, as we emerge from COVID-19, more people will have the choice between
working from home or returning to the office. While some companies have decided to shift to
remote on a permanent basis, the majority are trying to get a handle on a hybrid working
environment. This type of situation would see some employees working remotely while others
will continue to work in the office.

This sort of flexibility is a huge draw for talent: 68% of millennial job seekers said they would be
significantly more interested in working for companies who offer the option to work from
home. Many would even take a pay cut for this opportunity.
Allowing employees to work from home also ensures that each person can work from his/her
place of greatest potential. It also allows us to tap into a global workforce, save on the carbon
footprint, and is ultimately more equitable.

But Not Easy

We acknowledge that it is really difficult to engage people virtually and in-person at the same
time. But it is inevitable – it’s going to be happening more and more. Instead of going “back” to
how we used to run hybrid meetings, primarily focused on the people in the room, we
encourage companies and organizations to use a design cycle to imagine and realize the most
productive and effective hybrid meetings – the meetings of the future.
Here are some concrete tips to increase the likelihood of successful hybrid meetings:

1. It is crucial to dedicate a specific person or group of people to take responsibility for the
design and facilitation of the meeting. Too often, no one is thinking about and working
towards ensuring the meeting’s success; this is often an afterthought. It is crucial to
ensure that it is someone’s job to design and run the meeting. The first step in
designing effective hybrid meetings is to appoint someone who is trained to design
effective ones.

2. Ask yourself: why are you meeting? Make sure the answer really makes sense. Do you
really need to meet? Prioritize asynchronous work – have fewer meetings – and use
meetings to be creative and do something together, rather than to simply share
information.

3. Prioritize the design cycle to figure out what kind of meeting to create to achieve your
purpose. Immerse with the participants in advance: what might they need to feel
included? Ask yourself and them how might you best leverage their talents and
perspectives? Frame the purpose of your meeting and be clear on what it is meant to
achieve. Imagine creative ways to engage the participants and connect those who are in
the room with those who are virtual; and Prototype – test different ways of gathering
rather than getting locked into a predictable structure.

4. Manage meeting time and attendance thoughtfully. Who needs to be in this meeting
and why? The answer to that question is different from who needs to be informed
about what happens in the meeting. Be selective and deliberate about who attends. And
think about the metaphor of interval training for meeting times: your meetings should
be short and intense – they should get your heart rates up! They should be followed by
breaks. Avoid death by meeting.

5. Normalize digital meeting tools. Technology is an essential part of hybrid meetings, but
it shouldn’t be looked at as something for the remote employees only. Instead,
normalize the use of digital meeting tools for everyone. Yes, this includes adding video
conferencing links to invites, but it goes well beyond that. Instead of using whiteboards and post-its for brainstorming, use virtual tools such as MIRO or Mural by default. This
allows thoughts and ideas to be recorded and accessed after the meeting. Instead of
taking physical meeting notes, take them in a collaborative Google doc. That way
everyone can see them immediately and add notes or questions for others to share.

6. Virtual/physical teams. When assigning working groups or teams, ensure they are made
up of people who are in-person workers as well as those who work remotely. Make
hybrid collaboration the norm rather than the exception.
As we transition out of this difficult time, we encourage you not to try to “go back” to the way
things were. Instead, embrace the changes that have emerged. The world, technology, and the
office environment never “go back” to anything; they always go forward. Start thinking now
about your new office environment and how it has already been transformed during your
absence. The rapid scale-up and improvement of work-from-home technology is not going
away; in fact, it will continue to change and evolve long past the current lockdown. This should
be thought of as exciting, not daunting. Therefore, use this time remaining in the pandemic to
think through strategies that support hybrid configurations and the various ways in which this
type of working can make your organization stronger, more diverse, more efficient and
ultimately, more successful.

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