Don’t. As people return to their offices after the pandemic, some will try blended remote/in-person meetings. They will fail. Those remote will feel like second-class citizens struggling to keep up with what’s going on. Instead, pick one and structure either 100% in-person or 100% remote meetings with pre-work, agenda items geared to learning, contribution and decision-making, and disciplined follow-up, skipping the blended meetings entirely.
My wife had a rule for our dinner parties when we lived in Cincinnati: People associated with Procter & Gamble had to make up either 50% or less of the attendees or all of the attendees. They could never outnumber the non-P&G people and make them feel left out.
It works both ways when it comes to remote or in-person.
When a meeting is predominantly in-person, those joining remotely inevitably miss some of the conversation in the room – especially when more than one person is speaking at the same time. (Which, of course, never happens in any of your meetings.) And they miss all the side conversations during the meeting and during breaks. It’s physically impossible for them to get as much out of meetings as do those in-person.
Conversely, if the meeting is predominantly remote, the remote people each have their own screen and camera, while the in-person people share them. Those attending in-person have to fight with the other people in the room for air time.
This suggests first prize is to have everyone in-person. Second prize is to have everyone remote. This means the people actually in the office should still each join as they would remotely. There is no third prize. Blended meetings are doomed to fail.
Note connecting two live meetings does work, as all are on equal footings.
In any case, structure meetings with pre-work, agenda items geared to learning, contribution and decision-making, and disciplined follow-up.
Note the level of structure required increases with the number of people in the meeting, complexity of agenda items, and time constraints.
At least, have an objective and agenda. At the most complex, follow the prescription from my earlier article on curating level three sense-making meetings.
Pre-work allows you to flip the classroom, minimize time presenting and absorbing, and maximize time learning, contributing and deciding. This is the first place where those remote can influence in-person meetings by going through the pre-work and providing their input before the actual meeting.
Note pre-work is essential for introverts. It doesn’t have to be long, in-depth, or complicated. It just has to be enough for them to collect their own thoughts in advance.
The agenda should make the overall objective for the meeting clear to attendees and whether they should be learning, contributing or deciding during each part of the meeting.
Remote meetings are more efficient, saving on travel time and cost. One of the advantages of this is that you can spread bigger, more complex remote meetings and their breakouts over several days, allowing people to get other things done between the meeting sections and reflect on the ideas over time – especially valuable for the introverts in the group. Keep remote breakouts to four people or less to give them a chance to engage in deeper conversations on particular items.
In person meetings are more effective for humans working together/interdependently. This is because people can use all five of their senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) triggering different responses and picking up on nuances. Additionally, they can engage in side conversations during breaks, going to different layers and adjacent subjects.
As you bring people together for the first post-pandemic live meeting:
- Allow ample time for people to reconnect before trying to accomplish anything else (a la one Procter & Gamble alumni reunion’s six hour opening reception)
- Have a bias to flexible agendas to explore and co-create vs converge and decide. This is one of the times where you care more about the interactions than the actual output.
Follow-up turns some meetings from theoretically elegant and practically useless to truly value-creating. Get the notes out quickly, partly so those remote and introverts can weigh in with their additional thoughts, and partly to kick-off and coordinate value-creating actions based on the decisions you made.