In today’s remote-first — or at least remote-friendly — work environment, ensuring parity in your team’s hybrid meetings has become more important than ever. In a recent roundtable discussion, ILTA council members tackled this topic. The conversation included Litify’s own VP of Legal Strategy Dov Slansky, Attorney Robert Ambrogi of Publisher LawSites Blog, and Chief Information Officer of the 18th Judicial Circuit Courts of Florida Josh Lazar. We then polled Team Litify for their own insights into running remote and hybrid meetings!
Read on for tips and best practices to understand how you can help everyone shine in your meetings, regardless of whether they are participating remotely or in the office.
1. Ensure all meeting attendees — remote or in-person — feel seen and heard
Bob Ambrogi: One of the challenges of hybrid meetings comes down to ensuring that everyone feels equally engaged and is given equal opportunities to be heard and acknowledged. As a solution, ensure you design your meetings in a way that maximizes this participation from remote attendees. That can mean having a meeting facilitator who’s going to run the meeting, keep all participants involved, and ensure these equal chances to speak.
Dov Slansky: Ensure virtual participants get equal time during introductions, presentations or updates. Host virtual folks on a large screen that can be seen by everyone in the meeting and that allows them to see everybody who’s in person — even during a screen share. And pause the conversation during topic changes to give all attendees time to jump in and participate.
Josh Lazar: Consider the technical elements for this too. In order for virtual attendees to truly be seen and heard, your meeting spaces need to be prepared with the right technology to facilitate that. That means the right cameras, microphone, presentation screens, and audio-visual equipment so that folks in the room can see and hear remote participants and that those who are virtual can see and hear those in the room.
2. Actively listen and engage
Bob Ambrogi: Maintain eye contact with whomever is speaking. For remote participants, this means to focus on your camera and avoid multitasking. For in-room participants, this means to pay attention to the projection screen and not stare down at your phone or laptop. It ultimately comes down to actively listening and actively engaging throughout the meeting, whether you’re a moderator or a participant.
Litify: I’d also recommend to those leading remote or hybrid sessions to give of yourself first — be the first to engage and listen. It can be intimidating to share yourself with people remotely, especially if you’re new to a team. By opening yourself up first and offering your perspective, you create space for other participants to do the same. This sometimes means asking the first question during an information session, at other times it can take the form of providing positive affirmation or feedback as someone else is sharing their screen and can no longer see faces of other meeting participants.
3. Approach a hybrid meeting with the same expectations as in-person
Josh Lazar: When it comes to distractions or even where folks may be dialing in virtually from, a hybrid meeting should come with the same expectations as a fully in-person meeting. In the beginning of the pandemic when the world started doing remote or hybrid meetings in a courtroom setting, I saw attorneys calling in while at a pool or while driving on YouTube — just situations that weren’t decorum or would be possible, let alone appropriate, for an in-person court appearance.
And while it’s not happening to that extent in every meeting, distractions like that are more common during a lot of hybrid meetings. People might be scrolling on their phones, checking their emails, texting a friend, but we really need to help attendees refocus and get everyone back into the same head space, even if it’s not the same physical space, for hybrid meetings.
Dov Slansky: An important consideration here too is timeliness. If you were going into someone’s office to meet in person, you’d likely show up between five to fifteen minutes early. And now in these remote or hybrid settings, there’s nothing more frustrating than people constantly rolling in five or even ten minutes late. So again, it’s important to come prepared and come on time even in a hybrid environment.
4. Encourage all participants to be on camera — but don’t equate being off camera with a lack of interest
Josh Lazar: When everyone is joining the meeting with cameras on, it’s easier for remote attendees to feel seen and be seen by in-person participants. But to take this a step further, make sure the moderator of the conversation is checking in with virtual participants to involve them in the conversation as breaking into a good conversation is harder when you’re virtual.
Litify: I also encourage cameras to be on for all team meetings and 1:1's. It's never because I don't trust that people are working or at their desk because I really don't care but so much of communication is from non-verbal queues. Having cameras on enables us to see someone's reaction, share a laugh, or understand that something is difficult for someone. Reactions are as important as the words that are being spoken.
At the same time, don’t equate being off camera with a lack of interest. Having to stare at a screen with multiple people and maintain eye contact as speakers change could require more mental energy than an in-person conversation, and anyone with issues surrounding nonverbal cues could have difficulty both interpreting others’ facial expressions or controlling their own. It can be a lot to juggle in addition to the work, so I prefer letting participants choose how they want to engage.
Ultimately, I try to remember that although remote work may be new to many of us, remote communication is not. Anyone who grew up with instant messaging or online gaming knows how to communicate remotely with another person. Everything else is intention. Little things that take relatively little effort go a long way toward cultivating a feeling of safety in meetings — all in all, it’s really invaluable as work progresses and challenges arise.
5. Circulate agenda before the meeting
Dov Slansky: Circulating an actual agenda before a meeting seems to have fallen by the wayside during the pandemic when we’ve also become more prone to just jumping onto random calls to replace that experience of previously just walking over to someone’s desk or office for a quick discussion. But if you’re planning and scheduling a formal hybrid meeting, get clear on the agenda and the purpose and share it out with everyone ahead of time.
Josh Lazar: Meetings in general are quite interesting because in no other aspect of the law firm or any organization could you just take a group of lawyers with billable hours ranging from $250 to $1,000 an hour, and book an hour of their time without any real thought or plan. Being mindful of the ROI on your meetings is important to ensure everyone’s time is being used wisely, whether that’s remote or in-person.
Litify: It also helps to then reiterate the point of the meeting at the very beginning, such as “we’re hoping to accomplish x,y,z today”. At the end of the meeting, then circle back to see if you all did in fact accomplish those items, or if additional meetings or conversations are needed.
I’d also recommend referencing meeting agenda or goals in the title or description of the calendar invite. Sometimes the meeting title is used as a place to be fun or quirky, but that doesn’t tell your attendees what the meeting is about!
6. Be mindful of time zones and new team members
Litify: During my time at Litify, I’ve exclusively worked with remote teams in Belarus, Poland, and Georgia. From that I’ve learned to always be mindful of the timezone of your meeting attendees — acknowledge where they are in the day and that any action items you need from them may be started the next day.
For remote teams, especially those in other countries, I’ve also seen ice breakers for new team members work really well. Simple questions help to open new team members up and help re-create the usual in-person camaraderie in the remote-friendly environment.
7. Take advantage of a virtual white board or shared space
Litify: Some meetings, especially technical ones, may require visual aids. If I know a meeting I’m running needs support ahead of time, I’ll make a rough sketch or create a blank document or slide deck so we can speak through it. The shared space enables everyone to get involved and construct a solution together as a group. That file is then shared to the group after the meeting and anyone else on the team who may not have been able to attend.
8. Establish ground rules and tools for live collaboration — and sidebars
Dov Slansky: Part of circulating the agenda before the meeting should also include ground rules and suggested tools for live collaboration and conversation during the meeting. When you’re in-person, it’s easy to make a quick comment on the side to the person next to you, but anyone who’s attending virtually is going to miss that. So have everyone agree to use a public space for additional communication, whether it’s in the meeting chat or in a separate Teams or Slack group. Will it stop sidebars completely? Probably not, but it will cut down on them by directing all attendees toward a specific mode of communication.
9. Be timely with follow ups after the meeting
Litify: Share out any documents created or referenced during the meeting within the same day so everyone can easily review. If there are any action items, I also share what they are and who is responsible for executing them. This is also important for anyone who wasn't able to attend the meeting, so that they can still feel included and knowledgeable on the latest updates.
10. Recreate “watercooler” conversations with your remote and hybrid teams
Litify: For me it's about connection and encouraging informal meetings as much or more than formal ones. Every other week our team gets together for 30 minutes to emulate the lunch or "water cooler" conversations. We just catch up, spend time with each other, and I can't speak for everyone, but it means a lot to me to work hard together while also having those light, easy moments too.
11. Codify general best practices for communication across the organization
Josh Lazar: The reality is that in this environment it’s likely not just your meetings that are lacking, but many areas of your communication. If you don’t already have best practices codified for your meetings, emails, instant messaging, and just general rules of engagement across the firm, it’s time to codify them. It doesn’t need to be a formal policy, just some direction that helps outline when just sending an email is fine versus when a formal meeting is needed; how to formalize your asynchronous communication; what to include in your agendas; and especially what this article is all about, best practices for including virtual attendees.
Dov Slansky: And back to the technology, part of these best practices are keeping up with new technology that will help you better facilitate all of this too. We use Slack internally and they’ve actually introduced a new feature that enables you to quickly huddle with someone or a group of people with just audio. This has really improved our meeting culture. Previously, all our Zoom meetings carried an inherent sense of formality to them. With this new huddle feature, we now just click a button and we’re instantly connected and then disconnected after the discussion is over. This has better re-created the experience of catching someone at their desk or office — we can now grab someone virtually, talk for two minutes, and then hang up.
Looking ahead: Where is hybrid meeting technology heading?
This is only the beginning for the technologies currently powering our industry’s hybrid meetings. As hybrid becomes and remains a mainstay of organizational meetings everywhere, new tech will emerge and companies will continue to improve and adapt their offerings to bring even better remote and in-person collaboration.
In fact, collaboration and meetings software like Zoom, Teams, and Slack have already evolved quite a bit over the last two years with new white-boarding functionality, audio features, and more to help bridge that gap. And we’ll continue to see even our more basic hardware — microphones, cameras, and other A/V equipment — become more powerful and advanced as hybrid becomes more and more commonplace. In the near future, high-end AV systems will become the normal even among firms and offices as small as 25-50 total employees.