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Reset your meetings


September 8, 2021

The way we hold meetings has been evolving rapidly over the last eighteen months and, with the advent of hybrid working practices, we need to adapt again.

Whether for communication or collaboration, meetings have always been an essential part of office life. Working in isolation can stifle innovation and creativity, and even the most introverted need the psychological benefits of feeling part of a team.

How can you reset your meetings to get the most out of them in a hybrid world?

Organising the meeting

It’s always been important to plan meetings well, but as our ways of working have become more flexible, careful planning is critical.

Check that the planned attendees all need to be there and that they are the right people to contribute to the objective of the meeting.

When scheduling the meeting, ensure that you choose a time that makes allowances for each attendee’s working hours and location.

Another consideration is whether you, and other attendees, are likely to have another meeting afterwards. If this is the case it can be useful to shorten the meeting to allow a gap for people to change location (and mindset) between meetings. For example shortening it to 50 minutes to provide a 10 minute gap.

Preparing the attendees

There are five pieces of information the attendees need before the meeting:

  1. The timing of the meeting, both start time and duration. If it’s a long meeting it’s useful to reassure them that there will be breaks and, if appropriate, establish the times for those breaks.
  2. The location of the meeting. This might be a physical location or instructions for joining online. If attendees are travelling to the meeting make sure they have clear directions, particularly if it’s been some time since they were in the office. For online meetings, ensure everyone has access to, and knows how to use, the necessary software.
  3. The agenda for the meeting. Let them know what the meeting will cover and the amount of time allocated to each point.
  4. The objective(s) of the meeting. For each appropriate item on the agenda, explain what the objective is – eg to make a decision, discuss options for future consideration, generate ideas, put something on the record.
  5. The tone of the meeting. Telling attendees what the tone of the meeting will be in advance helps them to arrive in the right mindset. For example, the tone could be “fast, serious, solution-focused” or “imaginative and creative”. More about setting the tone for meetings.

Running the meeting

Whether online, in person or hybrid, be careful to keep track of the time so you don’t over run.

If the meeting is longer than 75 minutes ensure that you schedule a short break. You might also choose to do this for shorter meetings if your attendees’ attention is waning.

At the end of the meeting give all attendees the opportunity to review the effectiveness of the meeting and ask for a comment from each one.

Online meetings

Often, attendees who aren’t confident using the technology for the meeting will join a few minutes early to give themselves time to deal with any issues. If you log into the meeting five minutes before it’s due to start you’ll be there to help them sort out any problems.

When the meeting begins, check that all the technology is working and that everyone is comfortable using it. Ask each person to say hello in turn to ensure you can hear them and that there aren’t any feedback issues. Let everyone know what to do should there be a technical problem for one or all attendees.

Run through the etiquette for the meeting, for example:

  • When people should mute.
  • Whether visual presence is required throughout.
  • How to raise points or ask questions.
  • That attendees shouldn’t check emails or texts during the meeting.

When asking questions or requesting comments it’s useful to address this to specific attendees. This will help to avoid awkward silences or everyone speaking at once.

In person meetings

In a hybrid working environment meetings might be one of the few opportunities for colleagues to see each other in person. If this is the case, you should make a time allowance for informal chatting and networking before the meeting begins.

This might also be the first time that new starters have met their colleagues in person, so be mindful to welcome them and set a good impression about the meetings culture in your organisation.

Hybrid meetings

Hybrid meetings involve attendees being present both in person and online. In these cases you should be aware of the risk of “presence disparity”, where online attendees have a less immersive experience than those who are there in person.

One solution to this is to ask those in the office to join the meeting through video conferencing, rather than going to a meeting room together. This will ensure that everyone has the same experience of the meeting.

However, this may seem rather a waste of an opportunity for more collaborative working. When you go ahead with hybrid meetings it’s extremely important to ensure that those joining online are involved and engaged to the same extent as those in the room.

You might, for example, ask those in the meeting room to practice personal “muting” in the same way as online attendees do. Another useful technique is to give everyone a brief opportunity to ‘check-in’ at the start of the meeting, to say hello, explain their role and express their expectations from the meeting.

Technology is key to effective hybrid meetings. All participants should be able to hear and see each other, and share screens, effortlessly. In our new world it’s no longer acceptable for attendees to be straining to hear what is being said or not being able to see content created during the meeting on whiteboards or flipcharts. Using large screens which can display life size images of remote participants can be particularly useful in helping to give them equal stature to those in the room.

After the meeting

Ensure that minuted decisions and agreed action points from the meeting are shared with the attendees.

Where meetings are online or hybrid, these can be shared real time by using technology such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or Trello. This can also save you time after the meeting as you won’t have notes to type up and circulate.

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