Hybrid working remains the new de facto way knowledge workers operate, splitting their time between home, the office or the local cafe. Such autonomy has given workers the ability to create a schedule that suits their work and personal life, whether that be balancing parental duties or getting in an extra workout, all while being more productive.

But while there are few who would argue that hybrid work has been positive, there is an aspect of work that has suffered: meetings. Whether or not every meeting is productive, or indeed necessary, is another topic, but what is certain is that meeting inclusivity has unintentionally fallen by the wayside for many businesses. In fact, The state of meetings in hybrid work report found that Gen Z and Millennials were 2-3x as likely as Gen X and Boomers to say they often felt left out in online meetings.

There’s a clear disparity between how people are included and feel empowered to contribute to meetings which, in turn, has flow-on effects for how engaged and productive hybrid workers can be. With this in mind, here are three things businesses can do to have more effective and inclusive meetings in a hybrid work world:

Define what is meeting-worthy

Hybrid work involves more thought in the meeting planning process. After all, it’s not possible to just grab someone who is sitting next to you in a physical space. The meeting could involve people from different time zones, work schedules and priorities, so the first question that should be asked is, ‘Is this meeting necessary?’ 

A good litmus test is to define the outcome of the meeting before it is scheduled. To be clear, this does not mean that every meeting needs to result in a robust quarterly plan. The meeting could have a more interpersonal-based outcome, like building rapport with teams across different functions, or simply finding some time to connect. What’s important is that there is an outcome in mind and that it is more than just an avenue to share information that could equally be communicated via written means.

With a clear objective in mind, the meeting host should be sure to communicate the outcome to the attendees along with an agenda and any pre-work that’s needed for everyone to contribute meaningfully. Be mindful to schedule the meeting at a time that is considerate of everyone’s schedules, avoiding common pitfalls like lunchtime and school pickup times.

Create an inclusive meeting culture

Once a clear purpose and the logistics of a meeting are accounted for, the important aspect of inclusivity comes into play. Building an environment of trust and psychological safety is crucial, especially, as highlighted above, when there are groups of employees that frequently feel unheard. This is where the meeting host plays an important role in not only facilitating dialogue, but challenging it. 

For example, it can feel daunting to provide a contradictory viewpoint if the environment feels like it won’t be welcomed. The meeting host can help to counteract this by offering such a thought first, creating the expectation that independent thinking is encouraged.

The host should also be sure to direct open questions to participants who are not getting as much airtime as more vocal and confident participants. Reframe questions or ask how certain actions would impact their role or team to draw out new perspectives.

Technology can help to level the playing field

“Say that again?” “I missed that last bit, can you repeat?” “I’ll just use my phone.” Such phrases are all too common in many workplaces and highlight a clear technological gap that exists in many meeting rooms and hybrid work setups. 

For example, the aforementioned report found that almost two in three employees say that being able to see and hear their colleagues makes it easier to trust them, yet 30% are hesitant to take meetings from a meeting room because they’re less comfortable with the technology compared to just using their own laptop. 

This is where organisations can take cues from ‘high collaborators’ who use technology to enhance meeting experiences. This group is roughly twice as likely to use an external webcam for their meetings versus low collaborators – those spending 25% or less of their time in meetings – who are five times more likely to turn their video off in online meetings. 

By arming everyone with high-quality online meeting accessories, like external webcams and professional headsets, it evens the playing field allowing everyone to see and be heard clearly. Lastly, ensure employees are equipped with training and guides, to ensure such technology is used to its fullest.

Hybrid work is here to stay and so too should aspects of work aligned to more conventional workplace styles. There are clear disparities between how engaged employees are in hybrid meetings, so taking steps to improve engagement is key. By clearly defining the meeting outcome, having a host who can create an inclusive environment and using technology to level the playing field, businesses can improve employee trust and collaboration.

David Piggott is managing director of Australia and New Zealand at Jabra.