Our friends at the Western Regional CACs have recently published the article below, on the topic of moving from virtual to hybrid meetings.
As we all know, the world shifted in 2020, and many of us went from being in the office full-time to working remotely and participating in virtual meetings and trainings. In fact, in 2021, Western Regional Children’s Advocacy Center (WRCAC) dedicated a Roundup to understanding how to best approach virtual meetings. However, now, many of us are finding ourselves settling somewhere between being fully virtual and fully in-person. For many of us, multidisciplinary team (MDT), case review, and staff meetings have become hybrid meetings. Hybrid meetings involve some attendees participating in-person and others remotely through a web-based platform such as Zoom.
Although we can apply some lessons that we learned from going remote in 2020, hybrid meetings present their own challenges and opportunities. For reference, WRCAC is a fully remote team, but we are part of the Chadwick Center for Children and Families in San Diego which operates primarily in-person. So, we have learned firsthand what it means to be part of a hybrid work environment and be part of hybrid meetings.
Here are some tips you can use if you find yourself hosting hybrid meetings:
1. Assign a facilitator or two. Just like we encourage MDTs to have a designated facilitator, any hybrid meeting environment should have an assigned facilitator. It is this person’s role to make sure that the meeting runs smoothly and that everyone has a chance to participate. Depending on the size of your meeting, it might be best to have two people share this role. For example, one person can lead the meeting and the other can keep notes or capture key action items agreed upon. Keeping up with what is happening on the screen and in the room can be a challenge with just one facilitator. For example, it is very helpful to have someone who pays attention to questions and comments in the chat box or those who may have their virtual hands raised during the meeting. This can help virtual participants feel more included and able to contribute to the meeting instead of just listening.
2. Use the best technology you can. We understand that not everyone can invest in the newest and latest technology but invest in what you can to make sure your hybrid meetings can be as accessible and successful as possible. Think about what would make your meetings run better. Would stationing microphones around a meeting room help online participants hear everyone more clearly? Would something like a meeting Owl that has cameras and microphones that follow those who speak in a room help? Would a large screen in the on-site meeting room help participants feel like the virtual attendees are in the room with them? For meetings where attendees will be viewing content (such as a slide deck) it may be helpful to have two screens in the physical room, one to project the virtual attendees and one for the content materials.
3. Get acquainted with and test the technology. Most of us are used to Zoom these days. However, you need to make sure that peripherals like cameras, microphones and speakers are working and positioned properly so that everyone can be seen and heard. Good sound is essential for hybrid meetings. It is helpful to consider the room set up to ensure the microphone is adequate for the size of the group, and that you do not need an expansion mic to ensure the voices in the physical space can be heard by those attending virtually. Find ways to minimize background noise and echoes whenever possible. When you are in the meeting room yourself, it is easy to forget what the experience may be like for those on the other side of the screen. So, test out the technology with someone prior to the meeting to see what the experience is like for those in the virtual meeting as well as in the room. If possible, dedicate someone to oversee technology during your meeting.
4. Set ground rules and expectations. Make sure that all your participants, especially those who are virtual, understand how best to participate in terms of how they should ask questions, participate in discussions, mute themselves when there is background noise and for those in person, limit side conversations, rustling of paper, tapping on tables, etc. to reduce background noise for those online. Consider asking your virtual participants to leave their cameras on to increase the feeling of being in-person.
5. Distribute materials before the start of the meeting. If you are going to be handing out an agenda or supporting meeting materials at the meeting, be sure that your virtual participants have these items prior to the meeting. Consider adding them to your initial meeting invitation or having a link to the documents in the cloud where they can be easily accessed during the meeting.
6. Make virtual attendees feel included and engaged. As mentioned earlier, it can be very helpful to have two facilitators for hybrid meetings in order to make sure that virtual participants can have their voices heard as much as those that are participating in person. However, there are also tools that can help with engagement. For example, if you are going to be capturing the ideas of participants, using a virtual whiteboard instead of one in the room can be helpful. This allows those in-person and virtual to see what is being written down. Consider what tools would be best for your group, if any, and try to determine if they truly add value to your meeting.
7. Have a contingency plan. As far as technology has come, we all know that there are days that it simply does not work the way we might hope. Plan for this ahead of time by having, for instance, a call-in line if your platform or internet goes down. Suggest to your virtual participants to also be prepared to call in to participate if they have technology issues on their end.
8. Follow-up. One of the biggest challenges of hybrid meetings is making sure that the sound is good for all participants. For this reason, we suggest following-up hybrid meetings with a summary of the meeting, next steps if applicable, and any actions decided upon during the meeting. You do not necessarily have to take minutes, but a summary can help make sure that everyone is clear on decisions and actions needed. Of course, this is always helpful for those who cannot attend as well.
There is no wrong or right answer as to what kind of meeting – virtual, hybrid or in-person – is best for you and your organization. Sometimes circumstances dictate the outcome – for example, the WRCAC team is dispersed throughout the country and can mostly only participate virtually. However, if distance is not an issue, have conversations with your colleagues and team members. Decide together what is best for your teams at this time. What we know is that we now have flexibility and options that we may not have considered or used in the past. Using technology to our advantage can help us increase the participation and engagement of others.
Here are a few lessons the WRCAC Team has learned during hybrid meetings we have hosted:
1. Play around with the technology. Some technology works better with Zoom via the web instead of the Zoom app and vice versa. For example, we found that The Owl works better with the website version of Zoom.
2. Have extra help available. Hybrid meetings take more staff and planning than one might think. Having extra staff on-hand to help with any unexpected challenges is important. Having someone monitor the chat or online activity can be especially important in making sure that everyone’s voices are heard during the meeting.
3. Prepare your attendees. It can be helpful to prepare both your in-person and virtual attendees with information at the beginning of the meeting as to how technology is going to be used. Sometimes the use of extra technology requires a little patience, so, helping everyone understand what to expect can be helpful with that.
4. Be flexible! Technology can be our best friend when it works as planned, but there are times that we have to adjust and go with plan B thanks to technology issues.
If you’d like to be put in touch with the WRCAC folks about this topic, let me know and I’ll make the connection.