Hybrid meetings are becoming increasingly common. As NHS audit committees move forward from completely remote working, Emily Mayne explains how to bring people together virtually and face to face. 

One striking revelation of lockdown was the effectiveness of virtual meetings. Bringing people together via online platforms ensured that businesses could maintain their decision-making processes and leadership while upholding sound governance. Roll forward 18 months and virtual meetings have developed a new rhythm and level of comfort.

The NHS is keen to return to face to face meetings when they can be safely managed, but it would be short-sighted to not retain some of the advantages from virtual meetings. That's why you should consider hybrid meetings.

If the technology can support it, hybrid meetings allow people from further afield to join face to face meetings without travelling long distances. It's also more convenient for people nearer to the venue, or even in the office, who only need to discuss one item on the agenda.

If you don't have the luxury of large meeting rooms, hybrid meetings also enable social distancing to be maintained while we all become comfortable with close proximity again.

Hybrid meetings will become more commonplace as we move forward, so it's important to understand how to run them effectively so that everyone feels included. Ensuring that participants joining remotely and online can contribute equally requires a skilled chair and unanimous understanding of the most effective procedures and etiquette.

Before you set up a hybrid meeting you need to think about how to prepare and how you will run it, as well as follow up afterwards.

Preparing your hybrid meeting

  • Set the agenda and ensure that it's suitable for a hybrid meeting
  • Ensure papers are circulated prior to the meeting with sufficient time for review and preparation
  • Be really clear about the objective of every agenda item: for example, for approval, for decisions etc. That way, participants have a chance to prepare their views and comments to support a flow in the meeting
  • Circulate the invitation, ensuring that everyone can access the virtual platform. Try to ensure that the platform is compatible with attendees' firewalls
  • Encourage everyone who is dialling in to use their cameras and ‘be present’ in the meeting
  • Ask the chair to join remotely. This drives the right behaviours from all participants, reducing the risk of remote joiners feeling isolated

During your hybrid meeting

  • Establish participation etiquette. Good practice includes using the ‘raise hand’ feature, as well as posting letters in the chat function to indicate what you want to say:
    • Q = question
    • C = comment
    • Y = agree
    • N = oppose
  • This simplicity encourages everyone to participate in the meeting
  • Encourage everyone to have their cameras on, but their microphones on mute so that there is space for everyone to hear and follow the business of the meeting
  • If you don’t have video conferencing software to project onto a large screen, nominate one participant in the meeting room to connect their laptop to an in-room speaker and unmute themselves, so that all participants can be heard through a single audio source. This will provide clarity for everyone, and avoid echoes
  • If external attendees are present, consider mandating a corporate background to indicate who belongs to the NHS
  • Use a headset if you have background noise which may be picked up by your computer’s microphones
  • Remember to make eye contact with the camera, particularly if you are using a second screen. This will help engage others in the meeting when you are speaking
  • Record the meeting, but be cautious about confidential items or named individuals

After your hybrid meeting

  • The chair should reflect on the key outcomes and whether anything requires escalation either to another meeting or individual. This should be clearly summarised for all attendees
  • Everyone should have an opportunity to reflect on what worked well for them and whether there is any learning from the experience to improve hybrid meetings in future
  • Circulate minutes and the action log within 10 working days of the meeting. This gives everyone a clear understanding of the outcomes and what is expected before the next one This is particularly important if you've had apologies from anyone

Is your team ready for hybrid meetings?

Even if you decide that a hybrid meeting is right for you it's vital to think carefully about whether you have the facilities and procedures in place to run it effectively. You need to ask yourself:

  • Does your organisation have the technology to support hybrid meetings?
  • Have you had sufficient preparation to facilitate a smooth online meeting?
  • Has your organisation created its own etiquette for hybrid meetings, which sets a precedent for appropriate behaviours?

Hybrid meetings seem to be the perfect solution for retaining some of the advantages of remote working while moving back to face to face communication. You do need to invest time to prepare and then set the right tone at the start of each meeting, but the ability for remote, busy people to dial in for their agenda item, or anyone self-isolating or otherwise working remotely to contribute is an opportunity that cannot be ignored.

Bringing key people together in a more efficient way will strengthen governance and allow the NHS to embrace 21st century technology.

For more insight and guidance on how NHS audit committees can run effective hybrid meetings get in touch with Emily Mayne.

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