Posted on 29/04/22

When the Covid pandemic created a shift towards working from home, online meetings using Zoom or Teams soon became the norm. Two years later, employees are filtering back into the workplace but, as our blog post Is hybrid working here to stay showed, many are now looking for a more hybrid way of working. This has led to a dilemma for some about whether to host hybrid meetings and, if so, how to run them effectively.

Hybrid meetings are where some participants attend together in a room and others join via a digital platform such as Zoom or Teams, making them remote participants. Experts often advise that if one person is remote, all should be remote to create a level playing field. But maybe there’s a middle ground, found by taking the best of remote and in-person meetings.

The problem with hybrid meetings

When a meeting is split between an in-room group and others joining remotely, the technology for the in-room meeting often consists of one laptop situated at the end of a meeting table.

Whilst the screen may be set up to show a video feed of the people joining remotely, the laptop still only has one webcam meaning that unless the in-room group squeeze together cosily, it’s not going to pick all of them up. This puts remote attendees at a disadvantage because they can’t see everyone in the room.

Then, when it comes to the audio, everyone relies on the laptop microphone and speakers, which can cause difficulties for both in-room and remote participants.

Technology can therefore have a huge influence on the success or otherwise of hybrid meetings.

Using the Meeting Owl for hybrid meetings

When the team at The Business Village began running hybrid meetings for participants on their Net Zero Accelerator,  it was decided to invest in technology which could enhance the experience for both in-room and remote participants.

Installed in one of our conference rooms, the Meeting Owl offers a 360 degree table-top camera which shifts focus to whoever is speaking. The device is motion and voice-activated meaning that it moves to the speaker but, at the same time, also offers a panoramic view of the room.

Having this full view is helpful for remote participants, giving them a better feel for what’s happening and the ability to see people’s expressions. Equally, remote participants are displayed on a large screen in the room, giving the in-room participants a way of seeing everyone attending without needing their own laptop connected to the video call.

Kevin Steel, Business Development Manager at The Business Village said “We’ve found lots of demand for the Meeting Owl since installing it in October 2021, showing there’s a clear interest in running hybrid meetings. The Owl is easy to set up and use, and we have accredited users onsite who act as experts if anyone is having problems.”

The Owl technology connects to any conferencing software so is suitable for both Zoom and Teams meetings. Plus, the camera, speaker and microphone are all inclusive, meaning the setup process is simplified.

How to run hybrid meetings effectively

Using technology like the Meeting Owl goes a long way towards improving the experience of a hybrid meeting, but there are also other considerations which can help things run more effectively.

  • Share presentations and documents before the meeting
  • Ensure participants know their expected contribution in advance
  • Have a clear purpose and agenda
  • Test the technology and know how to use it before the meeting starts
  • Consider having a second facilitator to keep an overview of the remote participants
  • Set clear guidelines for the meeting, such as:
    • Putting cameras on
    • Clicking microphones off, unless speaking
    • Agreeing whether to use the chat or raise a hand to speak
  • Facilitate introductions at the start of the meeting
  • Describe what’s happening in the room to remote participants
  • Encourage everyone in the room to speak towards the camera so that remote participants are involved

If the worst should happen and the hybrid technology or format isn’t working, it’s worth having a backup plan in place by asking in-person participants to bring a laptop and headphones to the meeting. That way, things can soon be taken fully online.

Another good idea is to share all relevant documents such as spreadsheets and presentations via Google docs. It naturally gives remote participants the ability to see the information but has an additional benefit for in-room participants who can then view the document on their laptop instead of a central screen which may be difficult to read.

Final thoughts

The way we work changed because of the Covid pandemic and many people now have an expectation that meetings can be attended virtually via remote video link. Additionally, with employees at least partially back in the workplace, hosting hybrid meetings allows colleagues based in different locations the opportunity to participate.

Given no alternative over the last couple of years, managing fully online video meetings almost became second nature. But the hybrid meeting which mixes in-room and remote participants is creating a whole new challenge.

However, adopting innovative technologies like the Meeting Owl can ease the process for meeting facilitators.

If you’d like to see the Meeting Owl in action at The Business Village or book it for your next meeting, get in touch with Kevin Steel

You can also check out the meeting rooms at The Business Village in detail on this link