What is a hybrid meeting—and how can we make them more effective?

Hybrid meetings have become a common, yet at times frustrating, part of the daily agenda for many of us. But what are they, and how can we make them better? We explain all, in this complete guide to holding effective and engaging hybrid meetings.

A remote worker participates in a hybrid meeting, using a laptop and microphone

There’s no denying it: recent global events have permanently changed the way we work and collaborate, particularly in roles traditionally suited to office environments.

We traded water coolers for webcams, embraced new remote workflows, and continued to carry out our responsibilities—and connect with each other—even when we couldn’t do it face-to-face.

As the world gradually opened back up, some chose to continue working remotely, others preferred to be in the office full-time, and many decided a hybrid of the two worked best. As a result, it has since become commonplace for meetings to feature a mixture of in-person attendees and remote joiners.

The challenge, as many have discovered, is making these so-called “hybrid meetings” accessible and productive for all in attendance. Do the in-person meeting room’s audio and video equipment suitably capture the input of everyone involved, for example, or has an etiquette been established to ensure remote joiners have an opportunity to engage in the discussion?

We’ll explore all in this comprehensive guide, equipping you with the tools, tech, and skills you need to run show-stopping hybrid meetings that deliver productive outcomes.

Sound good? Great, let’s start with the basics.

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What is a hybrid meeting?

A hybrid meeting is a combination of a traditional in-person, face-to-face meeting, and a remote meeting, held over a conference call platform.

Hybrid meetings generally occur when some attendees are present and available in a physical space, while others are not.

Here are some common scenarios why hybrid meetings might be necessary:

  • Companies with flexible remote working policies in which being present in the office is not compulsory
  • Multinational companies with employees spread over different geographies and time zones
  • External and client-facing meetings, where one team is in a meeting room together, holding a business meeting with another team or company based at their respective offices
A group of colleagues gather round a laptop to participate in a hybrid meeting

Hybrid meeting challenges—what makes them different?

It’s no secret that hybrid meetings, without proper planning or moderation, can quickly descend into chaos. Ask anyone that has to attend them regularly, and they will regale you with tales of inaudible off-camera conversations, disappearing webcams, and countless cases of attendees unknowingly interrupting one another.

The big difference between a hybrid and a traditional meeting—often leading to challenges—comes down to inclusion, proximity, and barriers to effective communication.

To illustrate this, let’s imagine a scenario—it’s the monthly team call, with some attendees in the room and some joining from home. Before things have even started, nobody at home can hear because the meeting room microphone hasn’t been selected. 

What’s more, there’s no camera in the room, so the in-person attendees are sharing a video feed from one of their laptops, which only captures a small portion of the room. Meanwhile, a stressed junior team member on the remote webcam feed can be seen frantically working on an urgent deliverable, and is ignoring the meeting entirely.

Let’s face it—hybrid meetings can be chaos. But they don’t need to be.

Benefits of hybrid meetings

Hybrid meetings can have a number of advantages when run effectively. For example, they:

  • Save on travel time, cost, and carbon footprint for those that wouldn’t have already been present at the location of the meeting
  • Allow introverted colleagues to feel more confident in their own space, meaning they can focus on contributing to the meeting, rather than how they come across in-person
  • Can make things easier for attendees with accessibility needs, for whom traveling to office spaces can sometimes be challenging
  • Enable participants that use specialist equipment in their role to be more effective if they have access to these tools during the meeting, by joining remotely
  • Can create a powerful environment for productive collaboration

So, if hybrid meetings can be a productive use of time, even an evolution of the traditional meeting format—how do you achieve this?

First things first—let’s get your tech sorted.

What technology do you need for hybrid meetings?

Technology plays a crucial role in running remote meetings, and a good hybrid meeting solution is only as good as its tech.

When it comes to hybrid meeting technology, there are two sides that need to be considered: The tech in the room, and the tech at home.

Technology in the meeting room

In order to properly facilitate hybrid meetings, a meeting room’s technology needs to be able to receive input from all areas of the room, and output to all points in the room.

In other words, everyone in the room needs to be seen and heard, and be able to see and hear everything that comes back.

With that in mind, here's the tech that needs to be in your hybrid meeting room:

  • A PC, laptop, or connection cable—you’ll need something to run the video conferencing software from, either a dedicated device or more commonly a connection cable such as an HDMI that users can connect their own device to
  • A camera—with the ability to capture everyone in the shot, some can even zoom on the person talking
  • A microphone—be sure to get a microphone with omnidirectional polarity, if you intend for it to sit in the middle of the room, and enough range to pick up everyone’s voices
  • A screen—you’ll want a screen to display the remote attendees’ camera feeds on, go for something big enough to be visible from the back of the room
  • Speakers—whether built-in to the screen or a separate speaker system, you’ll want to ensure they have enough range to make everybody’s voice heard
  • Optional alternative: Combined video conferencing system—you can also buy systems that combine the camera, microphone, and speakers into a single TV-compatible unit

Technology for remote participants

While a hybrid meeting room needs special equipment to capture the entire space, remote joiners simply need their tech to see them, hear what they are saying, and output the other attendees’ feeds to them.

Here’s a quick summary of the technology that everyone at home should have access to:

  • A PC or laptop—to run the video conferencing software and access the meeting
  • A camera—this could be a built-in webcam in their device or a USB-connected webcam
  • A microphone—again, this could be built-in, or a standalone USB plug-in device

What software do you need for hybrid meetings?

With the technology sorted, you’re going to need something to make use of it. Enter: video conferencing software.

Video conferencing software

Video conferencing software is the platform that runs the meeting itself, taking each participant’s audio and video feed, and sending them to all other participants in real-time.

This could be an online solution, or an installed desktop application, with most providers offering both web and desktop-based versions of their platform.

Ask anyone to name a video call or video conferencing platform, and it won’t be long before you hear the words “Zoom call” mentioned. In fact, for many, the words themselves have become synonymous with video meetings, regardless of platform.

As a leader in the video conferencing space, Zoom’s benefits are well-known to most people. But did you know that, as a Dropbox Strategic Partner, Zoom has advanced integrations with the wider Dropbox ecosystem?

Some of the built-in features you can enjoy when you connect Zoom to your Dropbox account include:

  • Real-time collaboration—it’s easy to add, join, and instantly start a Zoom meeting from directly within your Dropbox files
  • Stay up-to-date—with Zoom meeting recordings and transcripts automatically copied to your Dropbox file storage
  • Find files shared during meetings—see which Dropbox files were shared to Zoom and review Dropbox file activity to stay on top of progress while your team collaborates
  • Share your work—present documents, slides, and images from Dropbox while in a Zoom meeting, and make the most of your time together

Collaborative tools

While video conferencing platforms provide the facilities to hold a hybrid meeting, collaborative tools can bring it to life.

With cloud-based collaboration tools, like those built-into Dropbox, you can elevate a meeting from a great discussion to a productive working session, even if you aren’t all in the same room.

Whether you’re collaborating on documents in real-time via cloud storage, using Dropbox Paper to take notes, or linking a calendar meeting to a Paper document, the possibilities are endless.

Hybrid meeting etiquette

So, you’ve acquired all the necessary technology, installed the required software, and set up your collaborative workflow—surely you’re all set?

Well, while you may have everything you need to run the meeting from a technological perspective, the success of a meeting will still come down to its attendees. Every participant is responsible for creating a successful meeting environment and, by each doing their part, your attendees can help with this.

So with that in mind, here are some general etiquette rules you can share with your colleagues ahead of the session, to establish the expectations for all:

  • Cameras on
  • Microphones off when not talking
  • Make the use of “raised hand” features in video conferencing software
  • Try not to talk over or interrupt people
  • Ensure proper lighting
  • Choose the right background
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Dress appropriately
  • Don't be late or appear unprepared
  • Don't wait until the last minute to test your technology

While many of these may seem simple, they can help to ensure everyone is on the same page, with a clear understanding of what’s expected of them.

Of course, it isn’t just about etiquette. To truly realize the potential of hybrid meetings, we have compiled a series of best practices, exercises, and thought processes for you to consider.

A remote worker uses a laptop and headset to participate in a hybrid meeting from his home office environment

Best practices for running effective hybrid meetings

With your technology prepped, and your attendees briefed on the expectations and etiquette, it’s up to the organizer to run a session that makes the most of it all.

To help with this, here are 6 game-changing hybrid meeting best practices for your to incorporate into your next calendar session.

1. Plan ahead of time (and schedule with remote time in mind)

Think about what the meeting needs—what are you trying to achieve, who needs to be there, and what can you bring to make it effective as a hybrid meeting?

Think about your participants, where and when are they based? Will a 9am hybrid meeting at the New York offices be practical for a team member who’s 3 hours behind in California?

2. Set an agenda that facilitates collaboration

Plan time to engage with all parties, offer opportunities for remote joiners to speak, and ideally have them be prepared to speak or present something during the meeting, if appropriate.

Another area to consider is whether collaborative tools can factor into the agenda. Can people work on a shared document while in the meeting, and will it be beneficial to the meeting’s purpose?

3. Make sure everyone has the necessary tech, and that they use it

It goes without saying that you should check your teammates have everything they need ahead of the meeting. This will generally be a one-time check, for which an update is only required if a teammate has an issue with their setup.

For external attendees, make the expectations clear—that they join via webcam and will have microphones set up. In most cases, this will be implicit, though in certain instances (like a job interview) it might be necessary to mention it ahead of time.

4. Setup your room and video tech to create a sense of presence

Think about how your room is set up—where is the camera, where is the screen, where will people sit? A well-planned room layout can create an ideal environment for your attendees to engage, even if some are joining remotely.

For each seating position in the meeting, imagine an attendee sitting there and ask yourself the following:

  • Can the microphone hear them?
  • Can the camera see them?
  • Can they see the remote joiners?
  • Can everyone engage with each other, without repeatedly rotating their body back and forth?

If you can answer yes to all of the above, for each seating position, then your hybrid meeting room environment is ready.

5. Assign a moderator to keep both sides equally engaged

The moderator—that is, the person leading the meeting—is your secret weapon to hybrid meeting success.

Like a conductor to a philharmonic orchestra, a good moderator can take charge of meetings and bring the best out of all participants. In many cases, it will be the person who organized the meeting, but not always.

Your moderator should be able to read the room and engage remote joiners when it feels like the in-person participants are starting to dominate. They should also keep the group firmly focused on the desired meeting outcome, and the agenda.

The impact of an effective, well-briefed moderator on a meeting’s overall success cannot be understated.

6. Ask yourself—is this meeting necessary?

Let’s be honest—we’ve all been in meetings that feel like a waste of everyone’s time.

As the depth of this guide has shown, a successful meeting requires careful planning.

Preparing all of this might sound like a lot, and it can be, so it’s important to make sure the meeting needs to happen in the first place.

In some cases, you may find it more productive to use feedback, chat, and comment systems within documents—allowing people to discuss things at their own pace.

This frees up everybody’s time to focus on being productive, and helps you to ensure that you make the most of the time you spend together.

Hybrid meeting checklist

We’ve covered a lot in this guide, so here’s a quick recap of the key things to ask yourself ahead of your hybrid meeting:

  • Does the meeting have a clear purpose, with a measurable and definitive outcome?
  • Does this need to be a meeting? Will an email, chat message, or document comment/annotation suffice?
  • Have you set the meeting at a time that works for all attendees?
  • Does the agenda make sense for a hybrid meeting, including any systems or collaboration tools you may use?
  • Does everyone have the technology and software they need?
  • Is your meeting room set up in a way that facilitates remote and in-person engagement?
  • Do you have a moderator, are they well-equipped to run the meeting and engage all parties?

If you can answer yes to the above, then you are all set. All that’s left now is to allow these techniques to become second nature when planning any hybrid, remote, or in-person meetings.

Run hybrid meetings the right way, with Dropbox

You’ve been on enough ineffective meetings to know that you, and your team, deserve better.

It’s time to embrace the hybrid future of workspaces, meetings, and collaboration.

Whether you need to start meetings from within files, easily access recordings and transcripts in your cloud storage, or collaborate on working documents in real-time—with Dropbox and Zoom, you can do it all.

Further apart, but more connected than ever.

Try Dropbox with Zoom today