Amplifying Diverse Voices via Hybrid Meetings

Dr Katy Goldstraw

We have only just learnt how to do online meetings, yet as intermittent Wi-Fi, wild offspring and performing pets morph into a return to ‘the office’ – new challenges are arising. Many of us are working ‘hybrid’ with some days at home and others in the office. Many Universities have returned to face to face teaching, others haven’t. Many businesses are still home based, and others aren’t. Community groups, who delivered much of the backbone of the Covid-19 response, are making tentative returns to the vibrant community action of ‘before.’

The world of online meetings has challenges, discussed in other ISR blogs; but its does allow the gathering of participants from across the globe, those that cannot travel can be involved, and the meeting can, if facilitated well, be an inclusive space.

So how do we make sure our meeting are inclusive, diverse and involving when some of us are in the room, and others are online?

First we need good quality tech. A decent meeting room with good audio, a large screen and good lighting are essential – as is someone who knows how to work it!

An ‘in person’ meeting facilitator and another ‘online’ meeting facilitator ensures that voices have equal opportunity to be heard.

Keeping an eye on online chat and ensuring that in person body language is responded to is an essential part of any good quality hybrid meeting.

Balancing the numbers of online and face to face helps, as does managing expectations in advance in terms of how the meeting will work.

So often the networking and informal conversations that take place in a tea break or the connections made in a shared anecdote are lost in a hybrid meeting, so making time to create informal hybrid interaction can help overcome this.

An informal fifteen minutes online while the face to face meeting members get refreshments can help create networking opportunities, as can ‘posting out’ participation packs to online meeting members so that they can share refreshments and any participatory activities within the face to face meeting.

Thinking about the room layout is important too – so often the online participants are beamed in on a big screen and the meeting faces and communicates with the big screen. If the Zoom participants are set up so they have a virtual place at the table, are facilitated by a dedicated online facilitator they can be an equal, not an overbearing part of the conversation. Ensuring that those attending have the correct digital access and data is essential as the digital divide is a continuing issue for many community groups.

When hybrid meetings work they hold the opportunity to include a greater diversity of voices. The opportunity to involve global voices without the climate or economic costs of travel is exciting. The opportunity to include those that cannot travel because of caring responsibilities or disability, is an imperative to ensure equality of voice within our conversations.  We have an opportunity here to build collaboration, if we do it well, hybrid meetings can be the future!

Dr Katy Goldstraw is Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University and Chair of the ISR External Advisory Group (EAG).

Please click this link to access the graphic commissioned by the ISR EAG to act as an aide memoir for hybrid meetings.

Image by visual facilitator, Jon Dorsett

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