Virtual vs. Reality: Thoughts on a Post-Pandemic Workplace

For the third instalment of our series “Thoughts on a Post Pandemic Workplace,” Stratford Facilitator and Executive Coach Jennie West-Correia shares some key take-aways she gained from the Ottawa chapter of her International Association of Facilitators group on considerations for bridging the gap between virtual and IRL meetings. 

If you missed the other entries in our series, you can click here to read “Culture Shock,” our first discussion about post-pandemic hybrid work models and “Look to the Leaders,” discussing the changing leadership role. 


Remote work is here to stay. Spurred by the needs of the pandemic, many organizations were forced to embrace virtual meetings, yet even with an expected mass return to offices in 2022, according to a CNBC survey, just under half of all organizations expect to have a combination of office-based and remote employees. 

If hybrid meetings are the way of the future, what are some of the ways that companies can solve the challenge of striking a balance between office based and remote based employees? 

In a session inspired by Hal Gregersen’s book Questions are the Answer, Jennie recently shared information she received from her facilitator group that discusses ways to support the smooth facilitation of hybrid meetings.  

Asking the right questions can uncover potential roadblocks and best practices as they apply uniquely to your organization.  

Here are some questions to help you find the answer to how to make a hybrid set-up work for you… 

Remember the 5 Ps… 

We’ve distilled the conversation into the top questions that could benefit you if you are planning to utilize a hybrid meeting format, but you can tailor these by simply remembering the 5 Ps. Ensure you are asking questions that consider 1) planning, 2) participants, 3) preferences, 4) purpose, and 5) the pros and cons. 

“The difference between remote and non-remote employees is just communication. The way to be more inclusive of folks is [having] normal best practices like setting goals and having clear outputs, rather than relying on random interactions in an office. You need to be more intentional in the way that you communicate.”  

– Greg Caplan CEO, RemoteYear 

Text: Organizing a Team Meeting? Remember the 5 P's -with each of the P's represented in a hexagon. 1. Plan ahead with calendar 2. Participants with 2 hands raised 3. Preferences with thumbs up 4. Purpose with arrow in bullseye 5. Pros and Cons with finger hovering over x and a checkmark

Here are some questions to help you find the answer to how to make hybrid work for you… 

Plan Ahead – Technology 

One of the biggest barriers to successful virtual and hybrid meetings in reliable technology. You can mitigate technological failures and assemble the right meeting resources by asking these questions before the meeting starts. 

1 | What resources are available to support hybrid meetings? Consider both in the office and the resources of employees working remotely.  A good camera helps facilitate inclusion. Upgraded Zoom and strong mics go a long way in facilitating a successful meeting. Participants (especially those not in the room) need to have the ability to be seen and heard properly. Proper technology should be a priority when planning a hybrid meeting. 

2 | What is your participants level of comfort with technology? Is there someone available to troubleshoot if things go sideways? Don’t use the actual meeting as the test case for new software or platforms. One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with technology is to practice beforehand. Don’t skip a dry run.

3 | What conditions do you think will support a good hybrid meeting? Make sure you can facilitate these conditions. Do you want to do breakout groups? What do you need to make that happen? If you want to have integrated breakout rooms, do you have the space and the platform to make it happen? Get a 2nd set of eyes on the plan to ensure that you haven’t missed anything. 

Participants 

Next up to consider it your attendees. As a facilitator, ensure you are giving equal consideration to all participants, regardless of their location. You can do this by alternating 1 to 1 with contributions from the physical group and the virtual group.  Also be sure to split eye contact between in-person crew and virtual crew.  

1 | How are your participants distributed?

2 | What time zones are we dealing with? 

3 | How many participants will there be and what is the number of people in and out of the room? Consider the major differences in how each participant may experience the meeting. Streamline it by using virtual tools exclusively (no flip charts). 

Purpose 

Be mindful of time management and the fact that many people have been staring at a screen the entire time. Think about your reasons for calling the meeting. Is it a brainstorming session where you need the dynamic format or discussion, and can you facilitate that through a hybrid model? When planning a meeting ask yourself: 

1 | Why are you having this meeting? We’ve all seen that meme about meetings that could have been emails. 

2 | What are the objectives of the meeting?

3 |How sensitive are the topics to be discussed? Things to consider are your organization’s cyber security resources and where remote employees will be joining from (i.e. coffee shop). Does your company have policies on confidential topics, and can your hybrid model meet them? 

Preference 

1 | Does everyone want to work this way? For those that have expressed the desire for hybrid, what is driving that?  

2 | To what extent do your employees favour in-person over hybrid? Why is that? What are the main barriers that those who favour in-person? 

3 | How comfortable is the team with virtual meetings? Can the discomfort be solved by practice and planning ahead as discussed above? 

Pros & Cons 

Finally, it’s time to weigh the pros and the cons. A solid conversation is needed off the top to determine if hybrid makes the most sense. When applying the standard risk vs reward analysis consider these questions: 

1 | What do you see as the benefits to your organization’s effectiveness of hybrid meetings? 

2 | Who might be disadvantaged if you go hybrid? 

3 | How do you ensure there isn’t an ‘official room’ between physical and virtual teams? 

Embracing Hybrid 

As a facilitator, the experience of the meeting largely falls on your shoulders. Ensure you have a smooth experience and that all participants feel included by as you contemplate how to implement a hybrid meeting model.  

This is likely just the beginning of the trend and we have a lot more to learn about hybrid, but these questions are great starting points to figure out how to make the model work for you as a meeting facilitator and as an organization. 


About Jennie: A member of Stratford’s People & Culture team,  Jennie is a highly engaged, creative and passionate professional, connecting people and organizations to purpose and growth. She is a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) through the International Association of Facilitators, and a Certified Executive Coach through Royal Roads University. She is an experienced Human Resources professional, an engaging facilitator and instructor and a trusted advisor and coach.

If you’d like to connect with Jennie or any member of our People & Culture team, you can do so here.

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