Last week I joined a meeting with four of my coworkers who were gathered in a conference room at the office. I was the only one joining remotely, and I was piped in through a web meeting running on my boss’ laptop. The experience was…less than ideal. I could only see two of my four coworkers and could barely hear the woman farthest away from the laptop. Although it wasn’t intentional, I felt like the fifth wheel—left out and not easily able to participate.

As we head toward the fall, more and more companies are asking employees to come to the office at least one to two days a week. The result? Many of our meetings will become hybrid, with some people gathering in a room together and others joining from their laptops at home.

When we were all stuck at home, we were on a level playing field. Everyone joined from a laptop with his or her own screen, camera, microphone and headphones. This made the audio-visual experience seamless and consistent for everyone.

Now that experience is becoming jumbled as we fumble through frustrating experiences:

  • The dreaded feedback loop that happens when two employees join the same web call in the same room using different audio systems.
  • The people joining remotely who can’t see or hear those in the room (like me!).
  • Or the opposite: The folks in the room who can’t see or hear those joining virtually.
  • The confusion of trying to run participation exercises like polling and breakout groups.

As you plan your next team meeting, I urge you to carefully consider how the audio-visual experience will play out for all participants, whether in person or virtual.

Here are two effective solutions for creating a consistent experience when you have participants joining both in the office and at home.

1. Create a web meeting conference room
The first solution is the most comprehensive and elegant, but also the most complex and expensive. The goal is to equip a conference room so you can stream your web meeting through a large-screen monitor.

How it works:

  • Partner with your IT department to source the equipment, hook up the WiFi and set up the web conferencing system. 
  • Once the conference room is equipped, you invite the room to your web meeting.
  • The room equipment allows you to join the meeting using an in-room computer, monitor and mounted camera.
  • Participants in the room can see and hear the web meeting on a large screen, so your remote participants are visible.
  • Participants joining remotely can see and hear a live feed of the room.
  • Now that everyone can see and hear each other, you can get creative with participation. Run a poll via raised hands or a mobile app that broadcasts results in the web meeting. For breakouts, have the in-person joiners gather around a table while those joining virtually chat online.

2. Have all participants join on their laptops
The second solution can be implemented immediately with no investment or setup, but is much less sophisticated. Simply even out the experience by asking all participants, whether in person or at home, to join via their laptops.

How it works:

  • Those in the office may still gather in one room, but each bring his/her own laptop.
  • The key here is for the in-person team to only have ONE audio source so you don’t trigger the dreaded feedback loop! Here’s how:
    • Either call into the meeting using the room teleconference phone or designate one person to join the web meeting with audio turned on.
    • All other participants should turn off their web meeting audio. Check your web meeting platform for how to achieve this. In Zoom it is done by clicking the caret next to the microphone icon and selecting “Leave computer audio.” In MS Teams you can turn your audio on or off on the set-up screen before you join the meeting.
  • Once everyone is in the meeting and the audio is working right, proceed as you would when you were all working from home.
  • But be sure that those in person speak loudly if they’re sitting far away from the audio source (teleconference phone or laptop).

Follow these tips to create a consistent and effective experience for all meeting participants, whether in the office or remote.

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