The pandemic may have been the kick to get everyone on board for work-from-home but, two years in, workers have made it clear that flexible work is no longer optional. According to a Gartner study, a company\u2019s work-from-anywhere policy has become a factor in employee decisions to take or stay in a job, as 39% of US adults would consider leaving a job if remote work were no longer permitted, a number that\u2019s higher (49%) among millennials and Gen Z.\n\nIn short, flexible work is here to stay, at least if you want to hire and keep staff. So, if some of your team is migrating, at least partly, back to the office, you are likely looking at hybrid meetings \u2014 with some people gathering in a conference room while others call in \u2014 for the foreseeable future.\n\nThis meeting model is different from all-video calls or all in-person meetings. It raises technical challenges, requires new skills, and demands that someone \u2014 perhaps many people \u2014 develop mad facilitator chops.\n\nTo help with that, I spoke to leaders who have mastered the art. They told me what works, what doesn\u2019t, what you need to buy to make hybrid seamless, and how to transform meetings into a productive part of your day.\n\nTweak your tech\n\n\u201cIf you\u2019re trying to make sure that engagement is equal across virtual and in-person participants,\u201d says Ray Kimble, founder and CEO of Kuma, \u201cthat starts with technology.\u201d\n\nIn the past, setting a speaker phone on a conference table and dialing in the remote team was the extent of most companies\u2019 investment in hybrid meeting technology. \u201cHybrid was common before the pandemic,\u201d says Jim Kalbach, chief evangelist at MURAL. \u201cWe just sucked at it.\u201d\n\nFew people who experienced these meetings would disagree. The remote team \u2014 dialed in through a speaker phone \u2014 was often ignored, unable to hear or be heard, or forgotten entirely. No one in the conference room knew who was on the call. People got talked over. Some people never had a voice. There was shouting. It was often bad. \u201cThe renewed conversation around hybrid is not that it\u2019s new; it\u2019s that we have to get it right this time,\u201d Kalbach says.\n\nAdding video \u2014 in the form of an in-room video camera as well as wall-mounted videoconferencing screens \u2014 goes a long way toward equalizing the engagement of the people in the room and those calling in, which is why many companies have been reworking conference rooms to include these technologies.\n\n\u201cOne of the key pieces is making sure you have the right setup and that whoever is coordinating the meeting knows who is where,\u201d says Molly Brown, vice president of engineering at Qumulo.\n\nLike many companies, Qumulo has built out its conference rooms to create a better hybrid meeting experience. \u201cWe have some rooms that have Zoom Room screens,\u201d says Brown. \u201cThese are large touchscreens that Zoom produces. Those work well for midsize and small rooms and are easy to set up.\u201d Other rooms have Owl conference cameras or other video systems.\n\nAdd some collaboration tools, too\n\nIf you add online collaboration tools to your conferencing rig, you can up the engagement even more. These move the focus of the meeting away from the talking heads and toward the task at hand, which, if you hope for collaboration, is the direction you want attention to go.\n\n\u201cWe like a tool called Miro,\u201d says Brown. \u201cIt\u2019s useful for retrospectives, ideation, and brainstorming exercises.\u201d Sometimes, though, holding a piece of paper up to the camera works for her team, too, she says. \u201cWhen we are talking about core designs, some people just like to have a piece of paper and a pen handy so they can draw a design or show a visual to everyone.\u201d\n\nPut everyone on the screen\n\nA good hybrid meeting also requires people to be good at moderating, facilitating, and participating in them. For that, you need skills, habits, and meeting hygiene.\n\nFor Mark Schlesinger, senior technology fellow at Broadridge, the all-video calls that became the default meeting method during the pandemic brought a heightened level of collaboration that his team didn\u2019t want to lose in hybrid meetings.\n\n\u201cSuddenly everyone had a voice,\u201d he says of the Zoom calls. \u201cIt wasn\u2019t always the conference room taking over the conversation.\u201d As the company moved to a hybrid model, \u201cwe needed a solid solution to retain this collaborative nature.\u201d\n\nSchlesinger discovered the solution \u2014 a mashup of video calls and in-person meetings \u2014 when discussing the problem with his in-college daughter. She told him that the rule for classes at her school was, \u201ceven if you\u2019re on-site, everyone has to flip their device up and enable video so everyone can see everyone, including the instructor and remote students, on their screen.\u201d\n\nThis is, essentially what they are doing at Broadridge, though they use the in-room audio of yore for better fidelity. This setup retains everyone\u2019s voice, gives a visual \u2014 and a name and title \u2014 to everyone in the meeting, and \u201cit\u2019s less likely that the conference room talk will overshadow the remote participants,\u201d says Schlesinger.\n\nGet help with moderation\n\nA good facilitator is essential to a hybrid meeting. And everyone I spoke to agreed that improving your own facilitation skills and developing those skills on your team is essential to the future of a hybrid meeting universe. But sometimes, even the best facilitator needs help.\n\n\u201cI try to have somebody moderate the chat,\u201d says Brown. Because watching the chat channel while speaking to a group requires more sensory inputs and grey matter than most humans come equipped with. Tasking another team member with watching that channel helps remote people ask questions, and get them answered, so that the in-room participants don\u2019t overshadow.\n\nDean Guida, founder of Slingshot and CEO and founder of Infragistics, believes in assigning a scribe to take notes at meetings. \u201cThe scribe captures the essence of the discussion and the action items,\u201d he explains. \u201cI always leave five minutes at the end of the meeting to review the action items and make sure everyone understands the who, what, and when, and can note if anything got missed.\u201d\n\nGuida also believes in passing around the job of scribe and facilitator so the tasks don\u2019t always fall to the same person. Because if you are facilitator or scribe, it alters the way you participate in the meeting.\n\nKeeping people engaged\n\nMany people I spoke to suggest issuing a meeting-etiquette policy so that expectations around participation and matters once dictated by the workplace will be spelled out for meetings that happen, in part, in living rooms, basements, and spare bedrooms.\n\n\u201cYou can set these meeting expectations at any time,\u201d says Trish Bishop, an IT project manager turned leadership coach, \u201cYou can say, I\u2019m feeling like the team is not getting full engagement in this hybrid environment. Let\u2019s set shared expectations.\u201d\n\nShe suggests getting the team to come up with the rules themselves, rather than issuing them from on high because it\u2019s easier to get buy-in and the expectations will more likely reflect the reality of people\u2019s home lives. The rules can cover everything from whether the video camera should be on, what an acceptable background is \u2014 at least for externally facing meetings \u2014 or if a presentable wardrobe is required.\n\nBut no policy directive, however egalitarian, will overcome a poorly planned or managed meeting.\n\n\u201cKeeping people engaged is a habit that starts with the agenda,\u201d says Kuma\u2019s Kimble. \u201cIf you\u2019re not sticking to a set agenda and not respectful of people\u2019s time, they will check out.\u201d\n\nAnd losing people in meetings is a problem that extends beyond the conference room.\n\n\u201cNothing kills a culture and destroys motivation like having too many meetings or meetings where nothing gets done,\u201d says Guida. \u201cIt affects performance and whether people quit or stay.\u201d\n\nCreate equality through purpose\n\nKalbach says good hybrid meetings need more than an agenda. \u201cYou need a purpose and a way to get there,\u201d he says.\n\nEven with an agenda, he says, the usual dynamics unfold. Dominant voices talk while quieter ones fade back and maybe \u2014 if their camera is off \u2014 cook pasta or do laundry. You will be looking for ways to bring everyone\u2019s attention back.\n\n\u201cIf you bring an activity, though, then say, \u2018Let\u2019s do a two-by-two matrix and we\u2019re going to decide together by voting\u2019 \u2014 that way, you ensure participation,\u201d Kalbach says.\n\nAnother trick for keeping a meeting focused, he says, is to create a system for turn-taking.\n\n\u201cA popular one is popcorning, where the last person to speak picks the next person,\u201d he says.\n\nNot only do these tricks overcome verbal traffic problems, \u201cyou can start thinking about meetings as places where you get stuff done,\u201d he adds.\n\nOnce you start looking for a purpose instead of an agenda, you\u2019ll find it. If someone says, \u201cWe need to get this document together,\u201d and your meeting needs a purpose, you might bring the document and get the work done in the meeting.\n\n\u201cThat way, you come out of the meeting with no action items because you already did the work,\u201d Kalbach says.