As product people and consultants, we’re often asked to solve problems not only for our clients but also with our clients. We gather and frequently communicate to ensure we are approaching new opportunities in lockstep so that we can create digital products and experiences that move the needle. We strategize, ideate, learn and build solutions together, which means meeting them where they are. 

And right now, “where we are” when any group gets together is typically a mix of in-office and work-from-home locations.

Many employees who’ve returned to the office are still dividing their time and days between onsite and remote work. A recent Gallup poll uncovered that 59% of employees with jobs that can be done remotely said that a hybrid schedule was their preferred way of working, while 32% said they prefer to work fully remote. 

Gathering in the workplace took on a new form in the early days of pandemic lockdowns. For the most part, we quickly adjusted to fully remote online meetings via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. The rules of engagement were pretty straightforward and standardized across participants. 

As time has passed, some of us have returned to work – but others have not. New conditions for gathering have formed, leaving us all in a bit of an awkward space as we try to navigate how we best work together in a hybrid workplace.

After a year or so of running these hybrid meetings and workshops (and a lot of trial and error), we’ve developed a set of best practices and lessons learned. See what you can put to work in your organization. 

Tips for Productive, Engaging Hybrid Meetings & Workshops

Whether your need is for a routine meeting, collaborative workshop among innovators, or training session, these tips can help guide successful planning and hosting.

1. Remote, hybrid or in-person? Choose the right structure for your engagement.

Think hard about these key factors in early planning:

  • Can we technologically support a hybrid meeting? 
  • Will the hybrid format will enhance or detract from the reason for the meeting and the goals we are trying to accomplish?
  • Can we provide all participants an equitable experience with similar opportunities to participate and be heard?

Can you provide the connectivity and sound and video quality to facilitate a productive meeting? This is table stakes. Next, plan for a fully remote meeting if you answer that a hybrid format will detract from the experience. You can always try for a full in-person meeting, but given current world circumstances, the likelihood of a participant unexpectedly needing to be virtual remains high. 

On the third point, we can take an example from our friends in sports here. Sports broadcasting has long been a hybrid engagement, where those in the arena or stadium have a far more immersive, interactive experience than those watching the broadcast at home. Broadcasters and teams are using social media and smartphone technology to make the at-home-watching experience more interactive, but it’s still not the same as being in the stands.

Even so, fans broadly know what to expect from these experiences. Disappointment lies in the gaps between expectation and reality. If you are hosting a hybrid event, it’s important that one participant type is not prioritized over another and that each participant understands how to best use the format.

2. Consider your invite list carefully. 

There is a very real cost to holding a meeting. Think ten colleagues x their hourly rate x hours in the meeting + hours spent planning the meeting x your hourly rate. The total is likely to sting a bit. 

We’ve found the sweet spot for maximum hybrid meeting engagement is between 3 to 10 participants. 

You can have more than ten people, of course, but you will need to very carefully consider how you plan to keep participants active and engaged. If you are having trouble cutting down your list, ask yourself:

  • Does everyone who has been invited have an active role in the meeting or can I catch them up after? 
  • If this person was not there, would we still be able to reach the desired outcomes of the meeting?

3. Set the meeting host up for success.

We’ll assume you’ve already harnessed the superpower of planning and running an effective meeting. These principles of clear agendas, defined roles, and desired outcomes should be carried forward into the world of hybrid meetings.

Create a clear public agenda with desired outcomes. If you are leading the meeting, plan thoughtfully for your time together and own your role as a facilitator. Participants will look to you for guidance throughout the meeting. 

It’s also helpful to plan to have a technical co-facilitator or appoint one person to help participants troubleshoot any tech issues they may be having and monitor the chat. This will free you up to focus on leading the group through the meeting content.

Build in regular breaks; people need them, particularly when being asked to listen for long periods.

4. Remember: Prep work makes the tech work.

Let’s say you pull a group of colleagues (in person) and clients (remote) together, only to discover that your clients are having difficulty hearing your colleagues in the room. Worse, the screen for sharing visuals online that participants in the room can see isn’t working… UGH. 

How can you prevent these mishaps? Invest in audio. Studies have shown that people are willing to put up with poor video quality but not poor quality audio.

Do a dry run or rehearsal of both technology and transitions. Hybrid breakout sessions are possible and can be highly effective, but only if you are prepared to facilitate the transitions with clear instructions and technical know-how.

Planning to use an online collaboration tool like Miro? Great! Just make sure all your participants have successfully logged on before the meeting and can perform the basic tasks they will be asked to do in the meeting (e.g., create a sticky note, text box, etc.). 

Also, consider how you accommodate the last-minute guest or forwarded invite you weren’t expecting.

Make sure you have enough plugs in the room. If people are asked to participate using an online tool, they may need to charge their computers at some point.

Finally, plan for your plan not to work. Is there a plan B to fall back on if something isn’t working the day of your meeting?

5. Build engagement into your hybrid meeting format.

Set clear rules of engagement and expectations. Here is an example of a quick set of guidelines you could share with participants:

  • Join the Zoom meeting. 
  • Cameras on.
  • Be present; no side work or conversations. 
  • Remember to create space for others’ voices.
  • Use the Teams chat instead of the Zoom chat so we can easily refer back to the discussion later.

Make sure people know why they were selected as participants in the meeting and what role they are expected to play. If participants know why their participation is important to achieving desired outcomes, they will be more likely to attend, participate and prepare for the meeting themselves.

Consider the structure of your meeting. Ensure you have an adequate blend of hands-on activities vs. presentation time that requires long periods of listening. 

Think of creative ways that your participants can create a tangible takeaway or ‘show what they know.’

For those in the room, think of adding fidget tools to stop people from multitasking. Throw a shirt on a chair to represent remote participants.

We’ll leave you with this TL;DR summary of our top lessons learned from hosting hybrid meetings and workshops:

  • Overweight the privilege of the remote team members. You are trying to level the meeting field for them. 
  • Prioritize and invest in good audio.
  • Set rules of engagement.
  • Use one set of tools for all meeting participants. 
  • Do a dry run and have a backup plan.
  • Lean into your role as a facilitator and appoint a co-facilitator to help with technology.
  • Remain flexible and be ready to fall into plan B if needed.

Recommended reading: