Design for hybrid meetings

Hybrid meetings are here to stay. But how do you create an inclusive meeting culture with some participants attending in person and some attending remotely? We spoke to two experts on the subject: Mia Holmlund from Kinnarps and Nina Rapp from Microsoft.

The pandemic changed many things – our meeting culture in particular. Almost overnight, it became completely normal to participate in remote meetings. Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and a number of other digital tools suddenly became standard. Would we always work like this? Remotely? No more commuting, complaining about the coffee or yawning your way through a morning meeting?

That hasn’t happened. When the pandemic ended, we discovered that the rumoured death of the office was greatly exaggerated. We need to meet each other in real life sometimes. Just not as often as before? Some days it’s better to work from home.

Suddenly the ‘hybrid meeting’ concept was born. In other words, meetings where some people are in the room, while others connect via Teams or some other solution. But hybrid meetings bring their own set of challenges. How do you include remote participants? How do you maintain a creative and constructive discussion?

“You need to ensure that even remote attendees can also make eye contact.”

Mia Holmlund, Kinnarps

Mia Holmlund is in charge of the office segment at Kinnarps. She underlines that the most important aspect is to make sure that all the attendees can see each other.

“You need to ensure that even remote attendees can also make eye contact. We don't just communicate with our voices but also with our body language, which is why it’s really important that everyone attending can see each other,” she explains.

Here’s a situation that everyone who’s attended a hybrid meeting is sure to recognise. Someone places a laptop at the short end of the table. While people attending remotely appear as giant heads on a large screen, they can only see a tiny swarm of heads along a long table. It’s hard to make out exactly who’s saying what. Discussions mostly involve those present in the room – the remote participants have difficulty getting into the conversation.

A U-shaped or V-shaped tabletop is the best option. This means the people closest to the camera are sitting at the far ends, and everyone in the room is clearly visible.

The importance of the right technology

But there are a few simple tricks. Nina Rapp is Business Area Manager for “Modern Work” at Microsoft in Sweden. This means that she’s responsible for Microsoft’s workplace solutions, including Teams. She agrees that the inclusion of remote participants is a major problem.

“A lot needs to be done to improve the hybrid meeting experience. We know that 43 per cent of all participants in hybrid meetings do not feel included,” she notes.

According to Nina Rapp, the one essential thing that employers need in order to make sure that hybrid meetings work is technology! While it may sound simple and basic, it’s overlooked by far too many employers – a staggering 90 per cent of meeting rooms in the Western world are not equipped for modern collaboration. 

“If you can't be seen or heard, it’s very difficult to be included. We talk a lot about the ‘front row’ concept. This places the remote participants in the front row, so that they’re at the same level as everyone in the room and are at eye level with those on the other side of the screen. So you actually feel as if you’re sitting round a table together – to avoid a ‘them and us’ feel.” 

“If you can't be seen or heard, it’s very difficult to be included. We talk a lot about the ‘front row’ concept.”

Nina Rapp, Microsoft

With a front panel, you hide cables and get a neat and tidy look. A front panel also gives the opportunity to display the company's logo.

Interior design that contributes to better hybrid meetings

What happens next? As long as the technology works, is it all plain sailing?  No. The interior design in the meeting room is just as important for creating a good hybrid meeting. Mia Holmlund reports that something as simple as the shape of the table matters a lot.

“A U-shaped or V-shaped tabletop is the best option. This means the people closest to the camera are sitting at the far ends. This makes it easier for remote participants to have eye contact with those sitting in the meeting room,” says Mia Holmlund.

And what’s the next step for ensuring the interior design is as good as possible for hybrid meetings?

“There are lots of aspects to consider. The light, for instance – what shadows it casts on the participants at the table. If the light is coming from behind, you'll hardly be visible. And think about what kind of ceiling lights you have. Recessed lights in the ceiling are good, they usually provide sufficient general lighting.”

She continues:

“And what kind of chairs do you have? It’s important to be able to move around the table silently to minimise distractions during the meeting. Chairs should preferably have castors. Good acoustics in the meeting room are important for the meeting. You can achieve this with the help of wall absorbers and upholstered furniture. Also look at the walls. They should be as neutral as possible – walls that are too ‘busy’ will steal focus.”

Nina Rapp from Microsoft agrees that furniture and interior design play a major role in successful hybrid meetings – furniture with the right shape and functionality, combined with the right technology, goes a long way towards ensuring a good meeting for both in-person and remote participants.

“But then there’s another challenge. Even if you have good technology and well-thought-out interior design, you also need to apply inclusive working methods and ways of using the tools at hand. If you have good interior design and fully functional technology, then you’ve set the bar higher from the start. It’s then time to discuss how the meeting is conducted and which meeting culture is inclusive.  We mustn’t forget the human being.”

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