Lance King/Contributor/Getty Images
November 16, 2021 8:43 PM EST

Yes, the brain-numbing exhaustion that sets in after too many hours on video calls is a unique form of terrible. But there’s a caveat that doesn’t get mentioned enough: Zoom fatigue is also a bit of a convenient scapegoat. As more organizations begin to navigate the unfamiliar world of remote work, it’s entirely possible—and maybe even likely—that meetings that are terrible on Zoom are also terrible for the people in the room.

As organizational psychologist Steven Rogelberg put it in an interview with Charter last year: “The main reason that people are fatigued is that they’re sitting in a lot of bad meetings…If you’re not engaged, if you can’t be inclusive, that’s what’s fatiguing.” A shift to hybrid work can simply mean a change of venue for the meeting burnout people have long been feeling, as they move from conference room to Zoom room—or it can be a new opportunity to engage a fatigued audience.

In a recent conversation with Charter, Sarah Stein Greenberg, co-director of Stanford d.school, suggested a strategy for doing just that: Reconsider the meeting not as an endeavor with a single leader, but as a team sport. With two facilitators—one who joins remotely and is responsible for the online space, and one who joins in person and facilitates live—hybrid meetings can combine the best of both worlds into sessions that allow for greater collaboration. All it takes is some thoughtful planning.

For more on the future of work, sign up for the free Charter newsletter.

Before and during the meeting

Start by planning meetings with intention. What is the purpose of this time? What deliverables should you have by the end of the meeting? Who needs to be there to accomplish those tasks? Who’s best suited to facilitate, and who will handle what? Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, suggests rotating the meeting host role: Craft your agenda so that the remote facilitator opens the meeting and leads the first section, to set a precedent that makes it harder for in-person attendees to dominate the conversation.

Also: What technology can we use to make sure remote attendees feel connected to what’s happening in person? Zoom meetings bring us opportunities to useTools like the Zoom chat function, polls, live Google docs, and virtual whiteboards can not only help those attendees follow along, but enrich the experience of in-person attendees as well.

During the meeting itself, a key responsibility of the remote facilitator is to ensure the conversation flows evenly between the two spaces. If time allows, kick things off with a check-in question: When everybody speaks within the first few minutes, everyone is more inclined to contribute later on.

From there, throughout the meeting, the two hosts can trade off the responsibility for sparking discussion, while each paying special attention to their respective realms. With activity taking place across physical and virtual spaces, it’s challenging for one person “to be good at and focused on projecting, sharing, and facilitating while also monitoring this new input,” Stein Greenberg says. Having eyes on each space allows for more focused attention to the non-verbal cues that signify how a meeting is going.

While the in-person host, for example, may clock attendees leaning in, furrowing their brow, or checking their phone, the digital facilitator is active in the chat and staying attuned to digital body language: Who is typing? Are people on camera? When folks unmute to speak, are they given the space to contribute?

After the meeting

As with pretty much everything about hybrid work, team meeting leading is going to take some practice and refinement to get right. After each meeting, co-leaders can measure success by fielding an engagement survey. Make sure to break out answers by remote and in-person attendees, so you can identify any gaps between their respective experiences.

Overall, leading a good hybrid meeting across digital and physical spaces comes back to the same principles that make meetings successful in either space alone: creating an inclusive environment where all participants have equal opportunity to engage. An ideal meeting facilitator is one who “can empathize and identify with attendees,” Stein Greenberg said. Segmenting that role into two ensures that everyone in the room, whether on screen or in person, feels heard.

Read more from Charter
EDIT POST