Hybrid Meetings: Beating The Bottleneck

Despite the fact I hate hybrid meetings, I keep getting drawn into trying to make them work. I’m even co-hosting a facilitators’ event on hybrid meetings in London in a few weeks.

By “hybrid meetings”, I mean meetings where some people are together in a room, others are remote, connecting via technology.

Hybrid meetings seem to be almost universal these days: someone plans an in-the-room meeting and at the last minute discovers that one or more participants intends to “dial in”. Noooo!!!!! Hybrid meetings are almost universally horrible – especially for the meeting leader/facilitator, or for anyone who needs to get anything useful done in the meeting.

Hybrid meetings don’t work for human beings.

Fully-remote meetings, where everyone is on a level playing field with their own computer, webcam and headset, are much, much better than hybrids. Do these if you possibly can!

Noticing the desperate need to fix hybrid meetings, some brilliant minds are working on improving hybrid-meeting technology. With the best of today’s tech, everyone in a meeting can hear and see everyone else clearly, and work together on a whiteboard. Result!

But there’s still going to be a huge challenge: how to manage small-group or one-to-one interactions between individuals in the room and individuals who are remote.

These “side conversations” matter. People need them:

  • at the start of meetings, to get settled
  • in the middle of meetings, for the “external thinkers” to sort out their ideas, the “quiet ones” to summon the nerve to speak, for quick chats between collaborators, and for all kinds of “breakout activities”
  • at the end of meetings for sense-making of the kind that typically happens at the coffee machine after a co-located meeting.

People – including the tech designers – don’t pay attention to these small-group conversations. Either they’re easily missed, or they’re dismissed as irrelevant.

But they’re “irrelevant” because they’re relevant only to specific people. That’s why they should be small-group conversations!

In a typical hybrid meeting, every part of the discussion has to go through a single bottleneck: the room-to-remote interface. But trying to have small-group-type conversations in a big group doesn’t really work. It’s boring and it wastes a lot of time, for starters. It’s “irrelevant”.

Doing some of that small-group stuff using text chat is better than nothing, but doesn’t really do the job. And to other people in the meeting, it probably looks as if you’ve switched off from the meeting and you’re on social media.

Any hybrid-meeting-tech creators reading? You’re welcome to use this idea. Just let me know when you’ve cracked it 🙂

  • Many thanks to Mike Clargo of Meeting Toolchest for the email conversation that sparked this blog.

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