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5 Questions to Help People Get the Most Out of In-Person Meetings

Uncategorized Jul 25, 2022

No, you won't find ice-breaker questions here. (My colleague Lisa Nelson at See In Colors has excellent ideas for this essential tool - yes, essential!)

Rather, these are questions to consider in advance as you think about planning both in-person and remote meetings. It's easiest to make sure everyone has an equally good (or bad) experience when meetings are not hybrid. While hybrid meetings are hard to avoid, they are not the subject of this article.

1. What kinds of meetings should be in-person vs. remote?

The best in-person meetings are two very different types: celebrations, and meetings reserved for difficult conversations. In other words, no one wants to celebrate via Zoom - when a team exceeds its goals, for example, holding a party in-person is the best way to celebrate.  And, at the opposite end of the “I want to be there” spectrum, talking out issues like dealing with escalating performance issues ideally take place in-person. 

Some organizations will also reserve an annual retreat for a time when people can come together in-person and hopefully get a side effect of teambuilding and increased camaraderie; this may happen, but in-person or online should not be left to chance. These goals have to be built into the design of the meeting, no matter how the meeting takes place.

2. In what situations does in-person interaction have the most value?

In-person interaction has the most value when it helps people connect with each other. This is why meeting design must be an intentional act: There should be a meeting host whose job it is to welcome people; refreshments should be considered; timing of the meeting should be considered. Any high-value meeting will lose some of its impact and appeal when, for example, you’re requiring people to travel extra days or extra long hours and they may have to miss other commitments or miss other deadlines. 

3. How can managers design in-person meetings to feel valuable to employees who have grown accustomed to remote meetings?

Consider exactly what is valuable about remote meetings. Other than convenience, what do the people on your team like about them? If it’s the ability to multitask, then you are approaching remote meetings badly. Reconsidering when meetings, of any kind, are necessary is an important first step. 

You can make in-person meetings feel valuable when you make them:

  • Convenient - If this is a hybrid work environment that requires all employees to be in the office on, say, a Wednesday, then don’t hold a required in-person meeting on a Thursday. 
  • Valuable - Make sure everyone invited to the meeting actually has a role to play in the meeting. Too often, we hold meetings that would be better off as emails. Don’t do this. 


4. What are some of the ways managers and meeting organizers can facilitate in-person collaboration?

My number one tip is to give people time, literally. You ask a question, you need to wait for an answer. And even in situations where someone speaks up right away, you still want to ask “What other ideas are there?” or “Does anyone have a different opinion?” Too often, we rely on the loudest voices and assume that they speak for everyone - usually, they don’t. This is not an extrovert vs. introvert issue - it’s often about how we process information and also about who came in already prepared to answer the question.

My favorite tool to use in facilitating groups is “brainwriting.” It’s really simple: You ask the question and tell people to jot down or doodle their responses. Purposely wait in silence for at least two whole minutes - or, for as long as it takes till you can see people are no longer writing (easier to do in-person than online). Then ask for responses. 

Another tip is to make the physical space comfortable. Are chairs ergonomic? Are there couches and round tables in the workspace? Do people know where the bathrooms are? Many people started new jobs remotely in the past two years - don’t assume people know where to go for their bio break! 

5. What are some new best practices for successful meetings in the era of hybrid work? 

Ideally, teams should take a step back from their day-to-day work and have a facilitated meeting in which they map out which tasks they can do independently, which require task-tracking software, which require input or collaboration from others, whether collaboration necessarily needs to take place synchronously, and which tasks would be best suited to in-person gatherings. And, never rule out the creative potential and teambuilding importance of phone conversations.

When you do have to have a hybrid meeting, it's best to go back to basics with technology: Great audio is essential, even more important than video of participants. Make sure all visuals used in the meeting are accessible by both in-person and remote participants. Always prioritize online feedback before in-person feedback: You do NOT want the online participants to feel forgotten, and that's the biggest potential failure of any hybrid meeting.



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