In mid-2021, we surveyed dozens of city officials about their communities’ use of virtual and hybrid meetings. Responses made it overwhelmingly clear that residents are comfortable with the virtual meeting option. In fact, survey respondents indicated that resident attendance, diversity, and engagement all increased when city meetings were offered online. Not surprisingly, most of our survey respondents also said they want to maintain their virtual meeting offerings even as pandemic restrictions ease, with plans to implement a new hybrid approach that enables residents and city officials to participate either face to face or online.
Accommodating this hybrid approach means local governments will need to consider how to adjust their processes and technology systems in order to ensure the most successful outcomes. To get you started, we’ve outlined four best practices for hybrid meetings based on responses to our survey:
#1 Plan ahead based on your agenda
When asked what they are looking for from a virtual meeting vendor, 25.4% of our survey respondents mentioned the importance of implementing a hybrid meeting solution that integrates well with their agenda management system.
Your meeting agenda can be a valuable tool in your planning processes for hybrid meetings. That’s because the topics up for discussion not only play a central role in who attends a meeting, but they also impact how speakers and participants will need to interact in order to communicate effectively from their respective locations. If what you’re discussing will involve a lot of visual presentations, for example, you need to plan exactly how you’ll share these with an audience spread across multiple locations. Similarly, if you know you’ll have a number of online speakers, you’ll want to make sure your in-person audience is positioned so that they can see and hear well.
As soon as you set an agenda, share it with all potential participants so they can plan to attend in the manner that best suits their needs—particularly if that topic is something of specific importance to them. Know which topics tend to have larger turnouts and more public comments, so you’re ready to transition smoothly between live and online speakers. Note that your technology will play a critical role here, as some basic video streaming solutions don’t easily facilitate hybrid discussions and most were not made with the needs of local governments in mind.
Pro tip: An agenda automation solution is especially useful for hybrid meetings, as it can help you ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what’s being discussed, while creating a seamless way to track items to completion.
#2 be clear about your format for both in-person and virtual attendees
Most survey responses showed city officials are concerned about some aspect of hybrid meeting logistics—things like participants speaking over one another, or gathering and recording votes from people in different locations.
Planning for your agenda is just one part of your hybrid meeting prep. You also need to communicate your planned format and protocols to all attendees. For instance, when and how will speakers on both sides be able to comment or respond? What will your voting procedure entail? Not only will your advance communication ensure no one is surprised or attempts to talk out of turn, but it also keeps your meeting running more efficiently because everyone knows what to expect and can play by the rules.
Once again, pay attention to the technology you’re using—and the requirements or limitations your technology might enforce upon your online attendees. Look for a hybrid meeting system that lets participants at home interact with ease, while integrating well with the government-tailored features your city officials and board members might need in order to do their jobs effectively.
Pro tip: Make sure your technology doesn’t place awkward demands on online participants. Leverage integrations with familiar applications, and try to avoid requiring bandwidth-intensive downloads or installations. The more straightforward your systems, the more productive your engagement will be.
#3 Don't take sides
Mixed messaging was one of the top potential challenges of hybrid meetings that survey respondents want to avoid.
It might go without saying, but it’s important to remember that a hybrid meeting by nature merges two audiences in different locations. Pay equal attention to both sides—before, during, and after the meeting. When you communicate key messages and timelines, make sure everyone gets the same story. Watch where you are focusing when you’re speaking. Don’t ignore virtually submitted comments and feedback. Plan ahead to share documents and meeting minutes digitally. Try to have a single system in place for presenters to connect to, so everyone—regardless of where they are attending from—can fully view what’s going on.
As our survey showed, resident participation and diversity can dramatically increase on a virtual platform, so take advantage of this ability to better engage the population. Embrace your virtual attendees, but also help them connect with those present in person, so meetings continue to have a community feel.
#4 check your tech
Some survey responses indicated concerns about the available technology components in city meeting rooms. In fact, 69.5% of respondents listed technology implementation as the most challenging aspect of hybrid meetings.
The technology involved in enabling hybrid meetings goes far beyond your actual hybrid meeting system. Many technical components are necessary, and you have to inspect and test each of them regularly to avoid the kind of issues that can ultimately derail your meeting and drive participants away.
These components include everything from cameras and camera angles to microphones, Internet connections, lighting, speakers, laptop connections, outlets, power strips, and so on. Create a checklist to review prior to every meeting—and consider creating one for online participants as well, so they know how to best prepare for maximum productivity.
Over 70% of our survey respondents indicated they either have a hybrid meeting solution in place or are in the process of implementing one—so if you haven’t yet determined how to proceed, it’s time to do your research. To lend a hand, we’ve compiled our survey results, along with valuable insights about the future of hybrid meetings, in a free eBook now available for download. If you have any further questions, please let us know.