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Blog · 14 Jun 2022

We can’t keep meeting like this

Hybrid working is turning traditional meetings on their head. Successful meetings now involve new mindsets, equipment and changing the role of the office.

Nicola Milard
Principal innovation partner

Hybrid working is sweeping into organisations around the globe, shaking up how people communicate and collaborate once again.

As we investigate what works best, one thing is already clear – we can’t just lift and shift our old office habits to the hybrid world.

The new era demands a comprehensive rethink, starting with four key aspects of how we approach meetings and meeting spaces.

1. Rethink your approach to meetings

Hybrid working means you can never take it for granted that everyone in a meeting will be co-located. The ideal meeting set up is ‘all room or all Zoom’ (or Microsoft Teams or Webex…), which is a significant shift in mindset and practice, although the reality today often involves a mix of remote and in-person participants. When some people are joining virtually, the digital platform becomes the common ground, and a digital-first approach is the easiest way to ensure an equal experience for all. Otherwise, there’s a risk that proximity bias will kick in and virtual participants will be left out of the ‘real’ meeting happening in the room. Meeting owners need high-level skills to be able to moderate between the two spaces effectively, especially if they’re leading the meeting from the office. 

2. Rethink your meeting culture 

Getting hybrid working right involves reconciling two very different meeting experiences that can easily create a two-speed organisation. Remote meetings are completely frictionless, with employees able to meeting hop in seconds and this can lead to a packed day of back-to-back appointments. In comparison, meetings in the office generate friction. It takes time to move from room to room and people need a few minutes to settle or leave or to stop off for a coffee.

If you’re hybrid working, you end up mixing and matching between the two speeds and your diary can become incredibly complicated. A smooth hybrid experience involves rethinking the meetings culture and some radical scheduling to take more control of your diary to stop other people deciding your priorities for you. If you don’t schedule in travelling and time for off-line work (often the main purpose of your role) you’ll find everything that isn’t a meeting getting squeezed into the gaps before or after work. Productivity and work-life balance will plummet, and it’s not good for wellbeing.

3. Rethink the role of the office

In the hybrid world, it’s critical that coming into the office doesn’t become a token visit that’s just a way for employees to show they still work there. There needs to be a good reason to come in that benefits the business and enhances the working experience – why come into the office just to sit on your laptop and interact virtually?

There’s a growing role for the office to become both a hub and a club, facilitating networking and building social bonds, linking back to the original Latin meaning of the word ‘company’ as ‘one who eats bread with you’. The reimagined office is less a space scattered with technology in the hope of encouraging creativity and more a collection of settings designed to facilitate different aspects of collaboration. Distraction-free areas for concentrating. Huddle spaces for shared thinking. Board rooms to impress. Creative spaces to open minds to inspiration. Lounge spaces to create trust amongst teams. Food spaces for social dining. Amusement spaces for letting off steam – and so much more.

The effective hybrid office is about getting people together when real-time conversation matters, where decisions need to be made and where relationships need to be built. But this, too, involves a cultural shift, recognising the value of chat over coffee or lunch and the informal sharing of ideas in early forms.

Making the most of this takes coordination, to get as many of your team in together as possible in the office, but it’s worth it. We also have to explore ways to carry these benefits over to the virtual world and it may take a mixture of including time in meetings for informal chat at the beginning and end of the official meeting. Chat functions are increasingly picking up the slack, whether that’s as a sub thread that runs alongside the formal meeting or as a more relaxed and spontaneous way to share and build ideas throughout the day.

4. Rethink your office space

The central goal of rethinking your office space is to put every team member on an equal footing by neutralising the in-person bias that can emerge when some people are joining remotely. Ideally, your technology will make it possible for those dialling in to be experienced in the room as if they were physically present, perhaps via life-size on-screen images and perfect audio. This involves preparation at both ends of the call. Your remote workers will need excellent lighting, high-quality camera and audio equipment, as well as an appropriate environment. And your office space, too, will need appropriate lighting, well-placed cameras and microphones and technology to enhance the collaboration experience such as acoustic fencing to block noise from the wider workspace. Every aspect of your space will support collaboration, including the ability to jump on a Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Webex call immediately. There’s no knowing when or where a meeting will spontaneously erupt, so your office needs to be ready – from designated set ups to adding plug and play collaboration capability in smaller, informal corners.

By transforming the purpose of your office space to a level collaboration field you’re making it possible for your leadership team to monitor and manage the pace and culture of the organisation. The space is about operating openly, reserving ‘keyboard days’ in home offices as times for private work.

Creating the meeting experience of the future

The hybrid world is relatively new and, to some extent, still evolving. Creating the ideal hybrid meeting experience will take time to get right, but a willingness to explore and experiment is the first step.

Check out our website to spark some ideas about how you approach meeting spaces and, to talk through the possibilities, ask your account manager to put you in touch with one of our workspace experts.

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