Hybrid work has become the norm in the post-pandemic world. In meetings today, it’s a safe bet that some participants will be attending remotely while others will be in the office. The interesting thing about hybrid meetings is that there is a natural tendency for in-person attendees to forget all about the remote participants.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to work remotely full time for over 20 years. Although I work alone, I often attend online meetings related to various projects. I can't count the times I have walked away from these meetings feeling like I might as well not have even logged in. Those who are physically present in the same room quite naturally begin conversing with one another, then sometimes forget to include their remote colleagues. This doesn’t happen in every meeting, of course, but it happens often enough.
The big question is this: What can you do to make remote attendees feel more included?
Microsoft offers a list of best practices for participating in Teams meetings. While not all of Microsoft’s best practices apply to every situation, the list is worth reviewing. For the purposes of this article, however, I will provide four best practices specifically geared toward hybrid Teams meetings. Some of the best practices are derived from Microsoft’s list, while others are based solely on my own experiences.
Before making any changes, however, the very first thing that you should do is honestly evaluate your hybrid meetings. After doing so, if you determine that your remote users are indeed suffering, you should consider implementing these best practices. If you find that no real problem exists, making needless changes will probably be perceived by participants as bureaucratic and annoying.
1. Encourage – But Don’t Require – Cameras
Camera use is an important part of making sure that everyone can participate in a hybrid meeting. After all, if in-person attendees can’t see the remote attendees, they tend to forget about them.
At the same time, a mandatory camera-on policy can do more harm than good. If someone is working remotely and doesn’t want to turn on their camera, there is probably a good reason why. No one should be pressured to be on camera.
Incidentally, Teams has a Front Row display feature that can be helpful in hybrid meetings. Some organizations enable this feature for remote attendees so that their camera feeds are conspicuously displayed on the room’s primary monitor, thereby reminding in-person attendees of the remote attendees.
2. Avoid a Single Camera Setup for Large Conference Rooms
When done right, the use of cameras will make hybrid meetings feel cohesive. When done wrong, it can further isolate remote participants. As such, one of the first things that you should consider is how you use cameras in a conference room.
Conference rooms often use a single camera that is set up to capture the entire space. While such camera setups have their place, they tend to be a poor choice for meetings in large conference areas. That’s because it may be challenging for remote attendees to see which in-person attendee is speaking at a given moment. And even if the remote attendees do know who is talking, a conference room camera that is too far away can make it difficult to read body language and facial expressions.
One way to avoid these problems is to ask in-person attendees to use their own cameras as opposed to relying on a conference room’s camera.
3. Move Side Discussions to Chat
Limit in-person side discussions to keep remote attendees engaged.
Side discussions in conference rooms are almost impossible for remote attendees to hear. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but if a side discussion adds any value to the topic of conversation, the side discussion should take place in an online chat rather than verbally.
4. Show Remote Participants They Matter
Finally, meeting organizers can do little things to show that they value the participation of remote attendees.
For example, at the start of the meeting, you can welcome and introduce those who are attending remotely. Likewise, you can periodically check in with remote attendees to make sure that the meeting’s audio and video is coming through well. These simple check-ins can also serve to remind in-person attendees of the remote participants.