Q&A: How to engage employees in hybrid meetings

Industry expert Rob Bellmar discusses hybrid meetings.

1.       What are the major differences between a hybrid meeting and an in-person meeting?

In-person meetings are exactly as they sound - meetings where everyone involved is present at the location where the meeting is being held. Hybrid meetings on the other hand are a mix of everything - some participants meet in one location while other participants call in remotely. By adding this layer, you can lose many of the beneficial aspects of an in-person meeting and communication can become more difficult, meaning the tools you use to communicate become front and centre.

In-person meetings are exactly as they sound - meetings where everyone involved is present at the location where the meeting is being held. Hybrid meetings on the other hand are a mix of everything - some participants meet in one location while other participants call in remotely. By adding this layer, you can lose many of the beneficial aspects of an in-person meeting and communication can become more difficult, meaning the tools you use to communicate become front and centre.

2.       Why are hybrid meetings more difficult to manage?

In hybrid meetings, participants lack the ability to read facial expressions, body language, and tone, which are vital to effective communication. And in the worst cases, those employees calling in from different locations may even feel uncomfortable contributing to conversations. In fact, West’s Unified Communication Services Meeting Fatigue Study found that 57 percent of remote workers feel like they’re forgotten about when dealing in remotely. Of this group, 32 percent say they become passive listeners while 23 percent feel they have to interrupt the conversation in order to participate. These numbers reflect the importance of clear communication channels when it comes to hybrid meetings. 

3. What are a few ways to engage remote employees while on a conference call?

There are a few tactics that can help encourage engagement between in-office and remote employees on a conference call:


  • Always use an agenda. Having an agenda that labels who will be discussing each topic and the time allotted for the meeting will help keep everyone on track.
  • Provide quality conferencing and collaboration tools. Using professional-grade conferencing tools will alleviate any confusion or inefficiencies due to poor sound quality and in turn, encourage participation.
  • Make your meetings exclusive. Avoid the blanket invite and instead only invite those necessary to the meeting topic.

4.       How can you encourage interaction between remote and in-office employees?

Start by enabling real-time communication with collaboration tools like Cisco Spark. These tools help include remote employees in more formal and casual conversations as well as the decision-making process. Whenever possible try to get remote and in-office employees together, whether it’s an office holiday party or a quarterly in-person meeting. Putting a face with a name will help build a sense of community and camaraderie among co-workers. Using video conferencing tools imitates the feeling of face-to-face meetings when in-person meetings are not possible. Lastly, set a cultural standard of inclusion. If the leadership of a company makes a clear effort to include remote workers in a broad range of activities and decisions, the rest of the company will follow suit.

5.       Are there any collaboration tools that can assist with a hybrid meeting?

 Wainhouse Research found 82 percent of organisations have experienced poor audio issues like background noise, lack of audio clarity and an inability to understand the conversation when more than one person speaks. Checking your connection and using professional-grade conferencing tools like Dolby Voice will improve productivity and make it easier for remote employees to jump into the conversation.

On top of that, consider using video conferencing as another way to make hybrid meetings more inclusive. Our research found video calls have higher levels of engagement than traditional audio calls. Body language and contextual clues are also less likely to get lost on a video call than an audio call.

6.       How can you help remote and non-remote employees feel more comfortable with conferencing tools like video?

The key to increasing employee comfort with video calls is to provide more education and training. Companies that offer regular, mandatory etiquette training, especially for specialist-level employees, will make employees feel more comfortable and less apprehensive about using video conferencing tools. Training will also help video calls become more efficient. Additionally, offering a single employer-sanctioned video conferencing tool will standardise employees’ experiences and provide more reliable functionality. 

7.       How will the remote workforce impact the future of communication and team-based collaboration in the workplace? 

As the remote workforce continues to grow, we’ll see a greater demand for more communication tools that better support mobility and increased flexibility. In particular, the remote workforce is a major factor behind the push for persistent collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Cisco Spark. These apps allow organisations to interact more frequently and work together on projects in real-time. While these platforms are popular now, it remains to be seen whether they will truly replace traditional UC tools in 2017 or remain boutique solutions.

8.       With the remote workforce growing, how can employers select and successfully deploy the tools their employees want?

To prevent feelings of disconnect and fragmented communication, organisations should aim to create a consistent user experience among all employees – regardless of where they work. In addition, offering a single, streamlined unified communications platform that supports calling, group messaging, video collaboration and other voice functions eliminates the need for employees to switch between applications and improves productivity. 

When it comes to distributing specific tools to meet employee needs, IT departments should leverage personas - identifying which tools employees need based on job responsibility. Deploying tools based on need will increase productivity while achieving ROI on your investments. IT leaders should also make the process of putting in a request for a new tool as simple as possible. This will allow IT leaders to better manage their IT environment and prevent shadow IT concerns.

Rob Bellmar, Executive VP of Business Operations, West's Unified Communications Services
Image source: Shutterstock/Pressmaster