Emma Stenmark works as an organisation developer at Brilliant, she has an MA in sociology and is a trained mentor and coach based on psychosynthesis. Emma meets and helps management teams every day in her work and is highly skilled at providing strategic advice.
The presentation was in full swing. The CEO, HR and a member of the management team were sitting round the table in the conference room. Brilliant was also present in the room, in accordance with the CEO’s wishes. Other members of the management team were participating in the meeting digitally, each one behind their own computer screen, each one in their own part of Sweden. Everyone participating from home was clearly visible in the picture, all with slightly different background images. It looked as if one was sitting on the beach in Miami and someone else seemed to be floating in space. Those who were participating from the shared conference room were visible as small dots around the oval conference table. The colleague from Brilliant was not visible at all to those who were participating digitally, she was standing beside the big shared screen in the conference room, facing towards the participants. The plans for the meeting had been changed at the last moment and there had been no time to talk through how it could be structured in order to be as beneficial as possible for everybody in the meeting.
Suddenly something happens in the conference room. A little joke goes round the oval table, followed by laughter and murmuring. Those of us who are sitting remotely realise that something funny is happening, but find it difficult to join in with the laughter. We don’t get it. We didn’t hear the joke and we don’t get what is funny.
These are new times now. Some people are starting to go into the office on a few days a week. Our digital meetings are slightly different than they were when everybody was at home. Some people are sitting together in a meeting room, the rest are alone, at home, behind their computer screens. We are going to be seeing more of these hybrid meetings in the future. Meetings where certain participants meet in person in the same room and others sit remotely.
A hybrid meeting places new requirements on how we structure and implement our meetings. An imbalance can easily arise between ”them” in the office and me, at home. How are we going to create equal conditions at our meetings? How are we going to create a feeling of inclusion at our meetings, for everybody taking part?
These are questions that researchers from MDH* and Anglia Ruskin University are investigating, using methods that include interviews at authorities and companies in Sweden and the UK. In an article about her research in the summer, Anna Uhlin, a researcher at MDH, highlighted precisely the risks of having some participants on site in a room and some remotely. She suggests that the ones who are situated remotely have no ”afterwards” when they convey their opinions. They have no ”afterwards” when they can discuss and talk things through etc. in the same way as those who are in the same room, who go to the coffee machine, meet in the corridor, follow up the meeting and come to an agreement. Instead, the participants who are situated remotely have to take an active decision when they want to say something, put up their hand digitally or interrupt in order to have their voices heard.
What is especially important at our hybrid meetings? This is something that can be discussed and decided on, and a strategy can be determined at organisational level. For those who arrange meetings, here are some questions to reflect on as help along the way:
- How is the meeting structured and what benefits and risks are there if some people participate remotely and some sit together in the same meeting room.
- How can everybody participate equally in the meeting? How do we create space for interaction and dialogue in smaller groups during the meeting? Should we use a whiteboard? How can technology help us, for example with breakout sessions?
- How do we want to be able to see each other during the meeting? Can everybody connect up their own computers and have their own camera on with the sound on silent?
- How do we allocate the speaking time at the meeting and how do we ensure that those participating remotely are also heard? What methods can we use?
- How can we ensure that the person leading the meeting/presenting is visible to all participants at the meeting? Can the presenter have his or her own video on so that his or her face is visible equally well to everybody? Can the presenter switch between looking into the camera and at those who are participating remotely and looking at the people in the room in order to maintain contact with everybody?
Good luck with your hybrid meetings!
*MDH= Mälardalen University