At one point, very early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the assumption of many was that traditional work life would essentially return to normal once the pandemic had subsided. In other words, there would essentially be a blip in the persistent normal way of doing things: a pre-COVID “normal”; a temporary COVID-era remote period; and a post-COVID return to normal.
Instead, it’s increasingly obvious that what the world will see is more like three distinct phases of work life with respect to the COVID pandemic: the pre-pandemic normal; the COVID-era remote period; and a post-COVID new normal.
The Post-COVID “Return to Normal”
A key element of this new normal is the hybrid workplace, in which employees can either come into the office or work remotely. Given this greater flexibility, it’s unlikely that companies embracing the hybrid workplace will ever actually have all of their workforce in the office at the same time, save for special events. The reason is that employees will almost certainly and understandably use their newfound flexibility to meet their own scheduling needs and preferences: childcare, doctor appointments, etc.
But just because a workforce might not be in the office at the same time together doesn’t mean the members of that workforce won’t need to collaborate in real time. Hence, the hybrid meeting. And some observers feel this will turn out to be even more difficult than the COVID-era fully remote meetings.
Overcoming Hybrid Meeting Challenges
“Think all-remote meetings are difficult? Running an effective and productive meeting is going to be even harder in a hybrid office…at least at first,” writes Kathryn Vasel in an article for CNN Business. “When everyone is in person in the same room or when they are squished into the same small virtual boxes, the playing field is even for everyone participating in the meeting. But that dynamic changes with a hybrid workforce, in which some meeting participants are in the office and others are remote.”
The expected challenge is that those in the room will have a greater voice than those dialing in remotely; however, that’s not necessarily the case. For one, hybrid meetings may now be more common, but they certainly aren’t new. And anyone who has been in a hybrid meeting pre-pandemic likely knows the clout those dialing in remotely have. For one, there’s a reason the rest of the people in the office went through the trouble to bring in that remote person virtually: that remote person’s input and presence are highly valued. More lightheartedly, there’s something authoritative about someone showing up on a TV screen.
The key to ensuring an equal playing field for participation likely lies in having the right technologies, both in office and at the workspace of the remote team member. Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic may assist in solving the problem it created itself, by spurring a tremendous increase in telecommunications technology.