It is the role of a moderator to keep conversations on topic and on track, and to make sure everyone gets a chance to chime in. With hybrid work the norm, more companies are assigning these facilitators to business meetings to ensure employees in the office and those working remotely are on a level playing field.
Doing so could be one solution to the Great Disconnection, with more than half of the U.S. workforce and 3 in 5 workers in the U.K. feeling disengaged, according to the global recruitment firm Robert Walters Group. Gallup estimated that disengaged employees are costing businesses worldwide $7.8 trillion because of lost productivity, absenteeism and workflow disruption.
Lee Gimpel, founder and principal of Washington, D.C.-based Better Meetings, which facilitates meetings and teaches meeting skills for clients, said there could be any number of roles for a moderator — from one who designs and runs meetings to a tech host whose role includes putting attendees in breakout rooms, tending to collaborative whiteboards and monitoring chats. “Certainly, when it comes to online meetings or hybrid meetings, it seems that there is a recognition that there are a lot of things to juggle beyond what we would expect in a meeting where everyone is sitting there in person,” said Gimpel. “So as a result, there seem to be more people pressed into a helping role with these meetings today.”
A glaring problem is that in many if not most cases, those who are tasked to be facilitators get no or very little training, Gimpel pointed out. And while equitable participation is a goal of moderators, most meeting spaces are not set up for success, he argued. “Most conference rooms today are really set up for individual, one-to-many PowerPoint presentations rather than true, equitable collaboration,” he said. Similarly, the technology used can also work against inclusion, especially on the part of remote attendees, he added.
Meeting moderators are more important than ever with the explosion in hybrid work, said Dragos Badea, CEO of the New York-based hybrid work software marketer Yarooms, which works with organizations like Cushman & Wakefield and Columbia University. In fact, Badea proposed, meetings could stand to have not one but two facilitators — one for those in the office, the other for remote participants. “A meeting that has both online and in-person attendees will always be a bit skewed towards whichever side has the moderator,” he explained. “Running a hybrid meeting means being able to marry both sides and enable collaboration.”
A company that has found meeting facilitators especially beneficial is the San Francisco-based HR tech firm Checkr, which counts Netflix and Doordash among its clients. As it employs a hybrid setup, its meetings take place both in the office and remotely, depending on team members’ availability — meaning the company must take extra steps to ensure meetings are equitable for all, regardless of location, explained chief people and operations officer Linda Shaffer.
“Our moderators help us achieve this by ensuring that all participants have an opportunity to speak and share their ideas, while also providing support and guidance to remote workers,” she said. “In addition, they work to keep meetings on track and ensure that everyone is heard and included.”
The University of Colorado has developed best practices for facilitating hybrid meetings. Among its recommendations:
Test the technology
Test the technology in advance of the meeting. Check the audio-visual setup for both remote and in-room attendees.
Assign a facilitator to encourage engagement with remote attendees, checking to see that they can be heard and watching for questions in chat or hands raised.
Share presentations or documents in advance, if possible, and have one person sharing their screen so virtual attendees can see the information.
Having the right tech
Consider how remote participants will engage in each activity or exercise. Consider what tools or technology can increase their interaction with those who are in-person, such as using Microsoft Whiteboard for brainstorming.
Acknowledge all participants and set expectations at the start of the meeting for engagement. After leading your first hybrid meeting, ask for feedback.
At the end of the day, a facilitator may determine that hybrid is not the best approach depending on the size and purpose of a meeting, according to the university. That is why, for example, some teams follow a “one remote, all remote” principle — meaning that if one person is attending remotely, then those in the office must also connect using their respective devices.
Doing so, as UC put it, “allows everyone to have the same experience and to participate equally.”