Tips for hybrid staff meetings

August 9, 2021

The Hub’s Sarah Silverman talks about how to have productive team meetings if some of you are remote, and some are in the office.

Of all the ways the pandemic may shape the future, its impact on the workplace may be the most immediate. Policy experts are already starting to think about whether the “remote work revolution” could even disrupt downtown revitalization efforts — or, conversely, breathe new life into suburbs. Our campus community will feel some impacts too, as many UM-Dearborn units begin a fall semester with a mix of folks working remotely and in-office. That new hybrid team format presents some potential challenges for meetings, particularly with regard to what technology and facilitation skills will be most useful. So to help you sort through the options, we called up Sarah Silverman, a Hub instructional designer with experience in the hybrid meeting format. 

Hub instructional designer Sarah Silverman
Hub instructional designer Sarah Silverman
Instructional Designer Sarah Silverman

Zoom is still a solid option

So let’s say you have three or four people in the office at the same time, and three or four folks working remotely. Your best option is to put all the in-person folks in your conference room and have everyone else call-in on Zoom, right? Silverman says not necessarily. While that format can totally work (more on how to pull that off below), it’s perfectly OK to still conduct staff meetings entirely on Zoom. When you’re deciding on a meeting format, Silverman says the question you should start with isn’t how to have a great hybrid meeting; it’s, what are you trying to accomplish? “Are you trying to prioritize the face-to-face connection of people in the room, or are you trying to prioritize the overall functioning of your team?” she says. “If you’re about half remote and half in-person, the best approach may be simply to continue meeting on Zoom, especially if that was working well for you before.” One advantage of this approach is that it sidesteps many of the common challenges of hybrid meetings, like figuring out additional technology or ensuring the remote staff feel like they’re on an equal footing. Having in-office staff Zoom in from their individual offices might initially seem weird, but probably only as strange as Zoom itself felt at first. Plus, Silverman says you can easily build in a little social time for the in-office members of your team before or after the meeting — if they’re not finding ways to get that already.

Tech options, from no-budget solutions to plug-and-play videoconferencing

If you’d like to try a hybrid format, you’re probably wondering if you need to invest in additional technology. For small- or medium-sized teams, Silverman says Zoom is still a great foundation to build your hybrid meeting on, and you don’t necessarily have to add any hardware to try it out. An easy base setup: Try positioning a laptop at the front of the room where your in-person folks are meeting, using it both for audio and to display everyone who is calling in remotely. If your laptop speakers aren’t loud enough, try adding an external speaker. Another good-to-know: Laptop cameras typically just capture what’s right in front of them. So to avoid very intimately huddling all around the laptop, you can add a wide-angle USB camera for about $100 if you want your remote folks to be able to see everyone who’s in the room. With that simple setup, everyone has the ability to see and hear each other, which Silverman says are the absolute base requirements for a hybrid meeting.

If you’re looking for a more dedicated in-room setup, Silverman says take a look at technologies like the Neatbar. This is basically an intelligent soundbar with a wide-angle camera that automatically tracks with the person who’s speaking, much like Zoom puts the spotlight on the person who has the floor. Plus, it integrates with Zoom and large video displays you may already have in your conference room, so it’s about as close to a plug-and-play professional setup as you’re going to find. At around $3,000, it’s probably a better fit for dedicated meeting room spaces that get lots of traffic. Of course, if you plan on purchasing technology, or have any questions, it's always a great idea to reach out to ITS.

Don’t forget the skills (and manners) you used for remote meetings

One of the first things you probably noticed about Zoom meetings is that they can get very messy if several people start talking at the same time. Hybrid meetings offer the same potential for a chaotic audio experience, so Silverman says people, particularly the ones meeting together in-person, will still have to use their Zoom manners. That includes things like making sure only one person is talking at a time, maintaining a constant volume, not assuming people can hear your side banter, and being prepared to mute when necessary. 

The in-office folks meeting together also might find it useful to bring their laptops and login to Zoom with their audio and video turned off. This “in-room virtual meeting” format means everyone can still take advantage of features like the chat or live transcript. Similarly, Silverman says you might stick with a Google doc that everyone has access to for brainstorming and notetaking, rather than trying to train a camera on a physical whiteboard in the conference room.

Whichever options you choose, Silverman says it’s best to patiently give it a go, and know that there will likely be some wrinkles to iron out in your first few attempts. And if you find some version of a hybrid meeting is just not working for your team, Silverman says there’s no shame in falling back on Zoom.

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Sarah Silverman is an instructional designer with The Hub for Teaching and Learning Resources. If you’re a member of the media and would like to interview Silverman about this topic, give us a shout at UMDearborn-News@umich.edu and we’ll put you in touch.

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