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Communicating in a hybrid environment

Early last year I ran a training with a large professional services firm. Some of the team were in-person in Auckland and the other half joined virtually from Wellington. The Wellington crew were all in a meeting room and joining from one video conference unit.
While it was easy for the group in Auckland to take up the energy of the training, I couldn’t get the same engagement from their colleagues in the windy city. It was tough to manage engagement in the hybrid space.
I've found that optimal learning comes when we balance inclusion and experience. In my sessions I love to be able to coach and engage 'in the moment' and what I've found is that happens best when the session is either all in-person or all virtual - where participants join from their individual 'virtual bubbles'. 
Since then, the decision for me has been ‘all or nothing’. I’ll do specially designed sessions where everyone is virtual, or I stick to teams that can all come together in-person. And that’s working for me. But I understand that such a definitive line isn’t always possible.
Hybrid is here to stay
My experience with the Wellington and Auckland-based teams is now typical for many organisations. After weeks, months – or in some cases, a couple of years – at home, rocking trackpants down the bottom and dress code up top, we’re back in the office. Well… some of us, some of the time.
We’re left with a hybrid environment – a combination of people spread between home and the office on any given day. And while it’s lovely to be able to rifle through the pantry at leisure, hybrid work makes meetings and presentations more difficult. While we can’t avoid hybrid models, we can make decisions about how we communicate within them.
Should we all be going ‘all in’?
Some communication works just fine in 'hybrid mode'. Structured sessions can work, especially with a strong facilitator who focuses on including everyone. So can a WIP meeting or general team catch up – these meetings typically have agendas that require everyone to contribute and stay engaged.
Other scenarios are more challenging. Brainstorming or creativity-eliciting benefits from the energy in the room. Similarly, encounters that involve a lot of interaction aren’t easy to navigate. Learning-type sessions can really suffer as the energy and dynamic always favours those who are in-person.
In these cases, your communication may benefit from my ‘all or nothing’ ruling, where a decision is made that if even one person is virtual, the meeting’s designed around everyone dialling in. This may seem like a backwards step, but check out this article for why it works.
Zoom-fatigue aside, some scenarios can work better virtually. I’ve seen my storytelling sessions excel online. Some find these exchanges easier with the distance that technology creates.
How to deal when you have to do hybrid

  1. Make sure your technology is set up well – and that it’s good quality. You need a virtual meeting space and good microphone. While we can manage video that’s playing up (or freezing on our most unflattering faces), it’s challenging to manage with audio that’s not working. Make plans for a back-up platform in case yours fails mid-meeting, and allow a window of time for people to reconnect in the case of dropped calls.  
  2. Consider camera framing, your background, lighting and the overall visual you’re presenting. Get your camera at eye level and make sure you’re lit from the front so people can see your facial expressions and connect with you.
  3. Use the chat feature or virtual polls for greater engagement – especially if you’ve got a large group meeting online. These can be great for specific exercises, or as a way to gather responses when you ask a question.
  4. Ensure the facilitator is focused on including everybody. Breakout rooms can be a great way to get more intimate discussions around ideas and to change up the energy.

Hybrid can be hard if you’re the one presenting, but being a great audience member can help too. If you’re on the listening side, what can you do?

  • Pay the same respect to the person communicating with you as you would if you were in the room with them.
  • Keep your camera on, so that you can connect and convey your interest via eye contact (with the camera) and your body language; this is encouraging to those you are listening to.
  • Remember, it’s your responsibility if you’re joining a session virtually to be proactive. Try not to be a virtual wall-flower and ensure that your voice is heard.

At The Pickering Group we can help your teams with all of their communication engagement modes - hybrid or otherwise. Get in touch if you need help.

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