Good meetings: When Is an Online Meeting Better than In-person or Hybrid?

meetings online meetings Sep 12, 2021

Recently, I was part of a hybrid meeting where conversation incorporated looking back at covid challenges and looking forward to ways we might work in the future. Those of us who chose to be online mostly did so in order to avoid being in a crowded room. 

To some of us, it feels like “the end of covid” is nowhere in sight. 

One of the most interesting parts of the conversation, to me, was about adaptability and collaboration. Humans crave connection, and we seek ways to build it into our lives when it’s absent. 

Sometimes, my online work feels easier and more successful than work I used to do in the room with clients, and other times it feels like I’m comparing apples and oranges - our interactions and how I design them can be that different. One specific way in which my online facilitations are better is that it has become much easier for me to incorporate visuals into our work, using icons and images found online or within a given whiteboard software rather than having to draw on the fly. (We wrote a lot about tools we like before.)

While many people want to rush back into in-person meetings, it occurred to me that there are some times when an online meeting is a better choice. 

  • You need to talk to someone right away, and want to see their face, but they’re in a different location. 
  • You want to incorporate physical movement, but you want to be respectful of people’s bodies, abilities, and comfort with seeing others move and being seen moving. 
  • Participants live all around the world (or any group with more than 1 time zone).
  • Some participants might be able to come together in-person, but not all. 

 

  • Most Importantly: Whenever someone’s health is at risk. 

 

The health risks question used to look so different, right? If someone was sick, they came in to work armed with tissues and cold medicine and drank hot tea all day long. Maybe people sat a seat away from them in meetings - and maybe others labeled those who sat a seat away as “germophobes.” 

Today there’s a virus where some people may appear to have a simple cold, and yet others may have the same virus and die. Even as I write that, I still wish it were an exaggeration. 

It’s important to respect people’s boundaries. Physical health varies widely from person to person, and in many professional situations it’s illegal to ask questions about physical health. So if someone says they need to work from home, do the meeting online (or, if they're actually sick, you could offer them time off).

When one person has to be online, having everyone join remotely equalizes the experience. No one is left out of side conversations, for example. For more on the “One virtual, All virtual,” idea, read this.  

Don’t assume in-person or hybrid meetings are always better, sometimes the best meetings are online. If you want a handy guide to making this decision, my colleague Lauren at Dancing with Markers has a quiz you should check out. 

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