Updated: Jul 31, 2022
In this article, we look at hybrid working and hybrid meetings, based on a review of recent research and articles and our experience at Konektis working with a range of organisations. We focus particularly on hybrid meetings, which are a product of flexible or hybrid working.
The more organisations gravitate towards hybrid and flexible working, the more likely it is that meetings will comprise a group of people who are together in an office/meeting room with others joining by video link, often from multiple locations.
This type of meeting is difficult and can be made more complex by the issues which can arise with hybrid working.
Hybrid working and hybrid meetings defined
ACAS defines hybrid working as a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between the workplace and working remotely (1).
Just as hybrid working is a blend of being in the office and at home, the hybrid meeting is a hybrid between the in-room meeting and the virtual meeting, so that attendees can participate either in-person or virtually.
Why are organisations concerned about hybrid working?
A recent HBR article summarised the issues as follows:
‘As leaders grapple with the return to hybrid working, what they think is a single discussion is in fact three different discussions in disguise, each with different objectives. The three conversations are about productivity, staffing, and culture, and each has its own objectives, arguments, and proponents… It’s a bit like trying to declare a winner among three teams that are each playing a different sport.’ (2)
We have identified five main issues which organisations face in relation to hybrid working:
Managing a workforce that is adjusting to work-from-anywhere lifestyles has created new responsibilities and challenges for supervisors and managers who are trying to create the same working culture for those inside the office and at home. However what often results is a “we’re here, they’re there” culture (3).
The shift to hybrid working makes it more difficult to collaborate as effectively as if you are all in the same room. Collaboration is frequently one of the top challenges cited with remote working, and a lack of collaboration is seen as a major contributor to workplace failures (4).
Employees need reskilling to use new technology and software which enables hybrid working and new equipment may be needed. For home workers, this can be chairs, desks, laptops and new collaborative software. For offices, this can mean a major investment in new screens and video conferencing facilities.
There doesn’t seem to be any consensus amongst employees or organisations as to what the “ideal” hybrid set-up looks like. It may well be different for each organisation and their employees, depending on the type of work and culture (5).
There are legal restrictions imposed on an employer’s use of monitoring, making it more difficult to monitor productivity. The employer must be able to trust their homeworking staff (6).
Why are employees concerned about hybrid working?
Many employees are worried about hybrid working for a variety of reasons:
Isolation, disconnection and decreased motivation as well as missed camaraderie with peers - according to an article posted in ‘Work Simply, Remotely’ (7). This survey with nearly ten thousand respondents concluded that we, as humans, are social animals that need more than a formal, transactional structure to their conversations.
The social anxiety of returning to the office - which can have an impact on employee mental health. Many would prefer to stay at home because, according to a People Management survey, just a third of their almost 700 respondents said their employer had offered them support with their mental health (8).
A fear of falling behind by not being present - staff are concerned about being overlooked for promotions or development opportunities.
Making hybrid working effective
Press and journal articles are full of tips for making hybrid working effective. Our summary of some of the best advice is set out below:
Come up with a solution that is right for everybody. Discuss with your staff their needs and align them with the organisation's capabilities, being transparent whilst involving them in the discussion. A hybrid workplace requires an intentional balance between social and transactional team member interactions. (7)
Define hybrid working with regard to the specific organisational context. This might include several different forms of hybrid working even within one organisation, depending on role requirements. (9)
Invest in technology to enable genuine flexibility. Joe O’Halloran of Computer Weekly states, ”The key for organisations to get this right is to enable genuine flexibility. This means investing in technologies to make the switch between locations seamless. And tech has to be free of niggles” (10)
Build in regular social and human connection opportunities which can support employee engagement and team building. (9)
Be aware of 'hybrid burnout'. Hybrid burnout can be exacerbated by the lack of a supportive community. Brendan Street, head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health suggests a process which includes being clear about working hours, self-care, and cultivating a culture where employees are supported and encouraged to speak freely, and early, about feeling burned out. Managers should be trained to notice the early signs of hybrid burnout. (11)
Why are hybrid meetings difficult and what can you do?
In our view the key issue is achieving some kind of parity between the office staff in a meeting and those dialling in. The group sitting face to face often dominates. Those joining by video link don’t really feel they are properly ‘in’ the meeting but feel more like observers. This is not always the case, but is a dynamic that often occurs, especially if the meeting leader/facilitator doesn’t manage the meeting process to ensure inclusivity. (12)
Senior leadership is usually part of the ‘at the office’ group. This can create an “unintended hierarchy” with on-site workers at the top and their remote colleagues at the bottom. (3).
The CIPD even goes so far as to advocate that meetings should be held online by default to help to ensure that each attendee has a consistent experience of the meeting. (9)
Creating a successful hybrid meeting requires a lot more thought, preparation and effort to ensure engagement is equal and productivity is high.
Our summary tips for success are:
Other more futuristic ideas
SPATIAL, a US Tech company is focused on transforming work through mixed reality. Using VR headsets, you can enter a number of meeting spaces, interact with the avatars of colleagues, pull up giant web browsers, view videos, search and pin images, play with miscellaneous objects, take voice notes, and message. (13)
A Japanese company has full-size video screens around the table, so those who are sitting in the physical meeting can see their online peers.
One top tech company is developing an array of sensors and movable walls to allow for ongoing and real-time adjustments based on employee needs and patterns of work. (14)
Links to useful articles and research by the CIPD
Article, Plannning for Hybrid Working' : Planning for hybrid working
Flexible working toolkit for HR professionals that provides a range of useful information on introducing and implementing flexible working.
Resources on developing effective virtual teams, including an evidence review.
Joint report between the CIPD and Microsoft ‘Work Smarter to Live Better’