If you organize events or manage a group, you’re likely being asked to do a hybrid meeting. That might be so that people can join in-person or online for a small staff meeting, an important board meeting or a big conference. Combining online and offline elements makes sense—on the surface.
However, once you dig into it, trying to do hybrid (and do it well enough that people are happy), can feel overwhelming. It can be hard to say no to something that seems logical, feasible and popular today, but you don’t need to bow to the pressure. Saying no and only going with an online or in-person meeting may not just make your life easier, but may also be the best option for your group as well.
Why Hybrid Meetings Are Hard
The first thing to know about hybrid is it adds complexity. There are just more opportunities for things to go wrong. Adding complexity to a meeting inevitably means adding more time, more staff and more technology. If you’re organizing the meeting, this may all be old hat to you, but it’s important that others in your group understand that they’re asking for 2.5 meetings: one that’s online, one that’s in-person, and then an extra portion that comes from trying to mash them both together.
Thus, if they’re done well, hybrid meetings can be expensive. (Doing them poorly can obviously be done with much less effort and cost.) Yes, this will still be cheaper than flying your board to a single location, paying for lodging, renting meeting space, and the like. But hybrid is certainly more expensive than a regular online-only meeting as well as an in-person one where everyone is local and just commutes to the office.
In addition, you’ll likely need pricey equipment you don’t own and don’t yet have set up correctly. A primary challenge for hybrid meetings isn’t checking the box and saying that “we have people both online and in-person who can see and hear each other.” Instead, the challenge is connecting those disconnected people so that one group or the other isn’t ignored and simply along for the ride. This may mean new cameras, microphones screens, lighting, cabling, and a whole new room design.
The Extra Challenge of In-Person Meetings Today
If part of the argument for a hybrid event is that the in-person portion is something to which we’re all accustomed and familiar, then this must also be rethought, at least today. After all, in-person gatherings are more difficult and less predictable during a pandemic. One must keep track of safety requirements and plan for those while also being mindful of the changing winds of regulation. If, for example, there is no mask mandate but then they’re required, it’s less appealing to have a few people in a room whose faces are covered up and they’re hard to hear through muffling masks. Your camera angle might be able to fit a group that’s bunched together, but adding extra distance between people may swell the size of the room and complicate the audio-video set-up too.
A Path To Hybrid Events
If you have a lot of staff, a lot of technical know-how, a lot of time and a lot of money, then hybrid is more feasible and less daunting. If you have a big, well funded conference, hybrid might make sense. And if you’re going to build out the capacity to regularly do hybrid meetings—for weekly staff meetings or monthly board meetings—rather than a single one-off session, it makes sense.
Still, lots of well-funded organizations with savvy IT departments have tried to do hybrid with disappointing results. At some point, doing a good hybrid event will surely be as easy and natural as video-chatting with a friend today. But we’re quite simply not there yet.
This is not to say that hybrid is a pipedream. It can be done—and done well. But it’s not easy. And if you don’t have the luxury of time, staff and money, then be content in only doing an in-person or online event rather than a combined hybrid one. You’ll likely be a happier, saner person and your colleagues will thank you for it as well