Hybrid Meetings: Being a Productive Participant

In our first post on hybrid meetings, we talked about best practices for managing focus when leading meetings with some people in the room and others participating remotely. But even if you’re not in the leadership role, you contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the hybrid meetings you attend. If you don’t make these contributions, two things can happen:

  • Participants who are in the room neglect the least senior or powerful people—wherever they may be. That is, if the most influential person is physically in the room, other attendees are likely to neglect those on screen. If the most influential person is joining remotely, then attention is drawn to the screen, and other teammates in the room—who may have important things to add—feel neglected.
  • When less senior or powerful people join remotely, and their voices aren’t heard because of poor meeting leadership, it may be read by others as a lack of interest on the remote employees’ part rather than a failure to include them on the part of the meeting leader. The career implications of this for remote workers may be long-lasting and damaging.

So what can you do as a participant to ensure that meetings are effective and fully collaborative? Here are a few guidelines.

When you’re in the meeting room

If you are physically present in the room during a hybrid meeting, you have to work a little harder.

  • Stay engaged and invested. The energy you project will help keep others alert, which enhances the involvement of the whole group—in-person and remote. This means,
    • Stay away from distractions like your phone, emails, or IMs.
    • Mentally commit to spending the meeting time only on the meeting, both in terms of your actual attention and the appearance of attention. Sit up straight, maintain focus on the person speaking, and actively take important notes, but don’t doodle or get lost in your computer screen.
  • Commit to including every meeting participant when listening and interacting. One easy way to remind yourself to do this is to write the names of all the participants at the top of your notes. Scan it throughout the meeting to see who hasn’t been heard from in a while—especially if they’ve joined remotely.
    • If you feel comfortable, check in with that person (“Daniel, did you want to get in on this conversation?”) or simply remind the group that they are invested in a particular topic or decision. For example, “Tasha, you and I were emailing about the marketing plan last week. I want to make sure you had a chance to add to what we’re talking about.”
    • Even just focusing on those on-screen now and then will be noticed by others in the room who may have more influence to actively direct attention.
  • Do a self-debrief after meetings to actively analyze your team’s hybrid meeting habits, and think about how you can best work against the negative or inefficient ones. Should you meet with your remote colleague in advance to strategize about how their contributions can be heard? Do you have the authority to enforce a no-phones rule? Can you suggest a productive activity—like a round-robin of ideas, for example—to make sure that every participant’s voice is heard at least a few times?
  • Be sure all meeting participants are included in the meeting wrap-up and next steps. Nothing feels lonelier than logging off Zoom after everyone said good-bye except to you.

When you’re participating remotely

Ensuring a productive hybrid meeting as a remote participant when you have no leadership authority or seniority is tricky, and it can feel pretty scary. Basically, you have to advocate for yourself and your own importance to the meeting. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Think through how you would participate if you were present in person. Would you be an active participant? Mostly an observer? A key deliverer of information and insight? Having a clear grasp of your role in a meeting will help you decide which of these other tactics to use.
  • It’s not enough to be attentive; you also have to look attentive and engaged. Stay focused on your camera or screen, nod when good points are made or when you understand an explanation, and smile when appropriate. If it fits your team or company’s culture, you can use response emojis (clapping hands, thumbs up, etc.) to indicate your engagement. Just be careful not to overdo it.
  • Work with the relationships you have among other meeting participants.
    • If you are comfortable talking with the meeting leader or the key decision-maker, contact them in advance and let them know what you think you’ll have to contribute. In other words, make yourself an agenda item. The flipside of this is that you may need to prepare a bit more formally to present your material since your participation will be planned and not a spontaneous part of the meeting flow.
    • Ask a colleague to advocate for you in the meeting. That is, they make sure to focus on your on-screen image, and you may plan ahead which topics you want to contribute to. They can then direct attention to you when the time comes, e.g., “Jordan and I were talking yesterday, and he has an interesting idea about how to do this.”
  • Speak up! This may be the hardest approach, but advocating for your own ideas makes you look confident and engaged and contributes to meeting outcomes. Breaking into a conversation from a distance is not easy, but, just as you would face-to-face, take advantage of lulls in the conversation to advance your ideas. Or you can send a chat message to the meeting leader or your ally in the room letting them know you’d like to say something before the group moves on to the next topic. (This can be much harder if you are a minority presence in the meeting. We’re going to talk about that in a later blog post.)

The key idea to remember is simply that you have a role in the success of hybrid meetings, even when you’re a relatively minor participant. Being mindful of and committed to that role is part of your contribution to your team’s effectiveness. If the hybrid workplace is our future, then eventually, we will all get used to this way of meeting and working, and we will (one hopes) develop habits that facilitate the success of all employees—remote and on-site.

Check out all of our articles about virtual and hybrid meetings.

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About the Author: Greg Owen-Boger

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches and holds a Bates ExPI™ (Executive Presence Index) coaching certification. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined,” “The Virtual Orderly Conversation,” and Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning,” all written with Turpin’s founder, Dale Ludwig.

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