Research reveals hybrid meetings encourage more participation, less counterproductive meeting behavior, and greater inclusivity than other meeting modes
Jan. 11, 2023 - The rise of the hybrid workplace, with its combination of in-person and remote employees, meant businesses worldwide had to rethink their unified communications strategies, especially videoconferencing. It's been cause for consternation for C-suite dwellers everywhere as they asked themselves: Do we have the right tech? Are we scheduling things properly? What should our protocols be? Do we have enough IT support? And perhaps most importantly: How will this impact the way our teams meet?
There's good news. Of all the "meeting modalities," the hybrid model is actually superior to its counterparts. Those modalities include:
(The old teleconferencing mode of meetings finished dead last in every category that the research addressed. The "speakerphone in the middle of the conference table" just isn't effective.)
Joseph R. Allen, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and current professor at the University of Utah, has been developing ways to measure the effectiveness of modern business meetings. Many of his uncovered findings can be found in the book Allen co-authored with Karin M. Reed (a communications expert and CEO of Speaker Dynamics), "Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting."
"All the measures used were scales on surveys developed over years of research on meetings," says Allen. "In fact, most of these stats are psychometrically validated measures that I developed with my students and colleagues over the last 15 years of research. They are designed to be answered by employees in most typical workplaces and provide insights into their experiences in meetings."
As the pandemic hit and waned, and WFH (work-from-home) morphed into RTO (return-to-office) before settling into the hybrid rhythms we're all becoming accustomed to, the data Allen began to see was wholly unexpected. "Nothing surprised me more than discovering that the early adopters of hybrid meetings were having better meetings than they had face-to-face," says Allen.
The Metrics That Bear Out the Benefits of Hybrid Meetings
Allen and Reed outline the numbers in their book. Hybrid meetings, like all modes of meeting, come with both pros and cons — but the benefits of the hybrid meeting style are very difficult to ignore. They include:
"I checked out the objective participation numbers for face-to-face and hybrid meetings from a sample of folks through my Center for Meeting Effectiveness," says Allen. Among those surveyed, hybrid beat face-to-face — more people offered more input in hybrid situations. Allen explains why: "We know that early adopters of hybrid were doing all the other things right. They started and ended on time. They encouraged remote participants to speak first. They assigned in-room allies (those who ensured remote attendees were included in discussions as a meeting progressed). They made sure folks could be both seen and heard. Basically, they followed more of the best practices for effective meetings that we've known for years than people in the other modalities."
Less Counterproductive Meeting Behavior
The blend of on-premise and virtual meeting attendees has an interesting effect on the group dynamic. When Allen surveyed meeting attendees in a variety of settings and meeting modalities, they all reported fewer instances of multitasking, monologues, and "complaining cycles" (the tendency to gripe about an aspect of the workplace — which encourages others to engage in airing their own grievances). In fact, the hybrid mode encouraged better "voice behavior" — attendees literally thought before they spoke more often in hybrid situations. "Furthermore, people in hybrid meetings feel like they can share their ideas without fear of retribution," says Allen. "They have a voice, they can share that voice, and they feel safe to do so."
Less Surface Acting
"The term 'surface acting' simply means faking it," says Allen. "It means putting on a happy face when you aren't necessarily feeling happy. It's the reality of professional life. It's the attempt to be positive about the latest idea that you inwardly might feel will fail but can't say out loud without offending others. In meetings, we do this whenever we fake enthusiasm when we don't really feel it." It's stressful, too, says Allen: "Surface acting drains our cognitive and emotional resources. It makes meetings suboptimal because we're so busy faking the appropriate emotional expression that we fail to share our thoughts or ideas that might lead to necessary innovations for organizational success." Hybrid meeting attendees reported they engaged less in this behavior than in any other meeting mode.
Less Meeting Recovery Time
"Meeting recovery refers to the time spent by an individual after group and team meetings re-energizing and transitioning to the next task," says Allen. "The essential elements of that recovery are the cognitive and physical well-being needs of humans. People need a few minutes to transition from one topic to the next. Additionally, humans have physical needs. We need to eat, drink, find the restroom, and so on. Meeting recovery enables humans to be, well, human." In their book, Allen and Reed note that the recovery time from a terrible meeting is about 17 minutes, while a great meeting only requires a five-minute reset. Meetings with more honest communication and less surface acting fit into the latter category.
"Hybrid meetings have the potential to be the most inclusive form of meeting since people are enabled to connect in whatever way they can," says Allen. This is unequivocally true for those with hearing or other physical challenges — captioning and the ability to see nonverbal cues via video can be extremely helpful. (Watch this space for more on that topic in the near future.) Beyond those benefits, however, the options for simply joining expand when a meeting is in hybrid mode. "Attendees can join in person, call in with audio only, or connect via a virtual meeting platform. These multiple methods for connecting mean that people have the flexibility to be where they are most productive. It means introverts can be in a comfortable environment. It means when someone has an appointment across town, they can call in and still make the staff meeting."