Researcher: How to get the most out of your hybrid meetings

Hybrid meetings are here to stay, and that is not without consequences, says researcher Theresa Schilhab, who gives her best advice for making the most of them.

Can you see us now? Do you have audio?

The meeting world has been split into two — an online reality where we meet on a computer screen and a physical reality where we are gathered around a table. But more often than not, technology and patience bring the two realities together in what we have come to know as hybrid meetings.

And that is not always without challenges, explains Theresa Schilhab, Associate Professor at the Danish Institute for Education, in this edition of IDA's new podcast Workflow, on the future of work (In Danish).

"Many of the cues, signals and stimuli that take place in physical space take on a slightly different meaning in virtual space. We don't get as many cues from the object — the person — in an online interaction. And that can cause more misunderstandings, especially in the current moment, when the majority of our daily lives is associated with being in a physical space," she explains.

Present in the body

Theresa Schilhab is concerned with what goes on in our brains when we are together and communicating with others in a physical space. And lately, she has been particularly interested in how virtual spaces are different.

She does not necessarily believe that virtual spaces are a hindrance for our ability to relate to what is being said in a meeting.

"Because that's one of the things we've got used to. That we have to ignore the context. We have to listen to what people say, instead of letting ourselves be guided by the context," she tells Workflow.

"There is a greater demand for investment from the individual. And by "investment", I mean paying attention to what is going on when it is going on virtually as opposed to when it is going on physically. Because the moment you're physically sitting with other people, there's so much stimulation that you're made to be constantly aware of your bodily presence in the room."

A double consciousness

Fortunately for hybrid meetings, some of the good things about a physical meeting can rub off on those who participate online, says Theresa Schilhab.

"To some extent, those present at a distance may feel that hybrid meetings are more dynamic than a fully online meeting where everyone is sitting in different places," she says.

The hybrid meeting also places great demands on the meeting host, because different things work online and physically. That's why Theresa Schilhab has some important advice:

"Don't fall into the natural inclination to be more anchored in the physical space just because that's where all the signals draw you. You need to have a good double consciousness and some practical tools that enable you to address in a more direct manner those online, and to do so in a more inclusive way compared to how you interact with those who are physically present."

4 tips for hybrid meetings

Researcher and co-host of Workflow, Nana Wesley, lists a few more tips for meeting hosts:

  • Let one of the online-only people be the meeting host, so the focus is naturally on the screen
  • If you need a "what happened since we last met"-round, start with those who are online.
  • Encourage everyone to participate via the video service — even those who are physically present.
  • It is particularly important to make clear how the meeting will proceed and to emphasise when decisions are taken and tasks are allocated.

You can listen to this entire edition of Workflow at IDAs Danish website or in your favourite podcatcher.

Here you can also hear the second guest of the episode, postdoc Jens Emil Grønbæk from Aarhus University, talk about his prototype of a different video meeting tool, Mirrorblender, which can make it easier for participants to arrange hybrid meetings.