An unexpected outcome of a year of mandatory remote work is the increased shift in overall business culture to remote workers. A recent New York Times article reported on the accelerated trend and how companies plan to go forward, with many proposing what’s called a “hybrid workplace.”
One “hybrid” work practice that had already been well underway was a shift to hybrid video conferencing, also known as hybrid meetings. While not completely mainstream (yet), hybrid conferencing has gotten a big boost from faster networking and better online video and was particularly useful to organizations with a workforce distributed in different locations, cities, or countries. It’s frequently a day-to-day feature of technology and new media companies. In this article, we’ll lay out the fundamentals of hybrid conferencing to give you a sense of whether it’s right for your organization or business, and what type of setup can be of benefit.
- What are hybrid conferencing video meetings?
- How to set up and manage a hybrid meeting in a few easy steps
- The future of hybrid conferencing meetings in the workplace
- Kaltura’s hybrid conferencing video meeting solution
What Are Hybrid Conferencing Video Meetings?
The short answer is that hybrid conferencing is a meeting or conference where part of the participants joins from an office or designated workplace and the other participants join remotely.
This isn’t just another way to say “remote” or “virtual”. The core concept is that part of the participants must be together in a meeting room and part will be virtual. You may have already experienced something similar!
Hybrid conferencing refers to both “hybrid” in the sense of a meeting both face-to-face and virtual (like a hybrid workplace or hybrid classroom) and also hybrid in the sense of its’ technical infrastructure/architecture.
Hybrid conferencing can combine the best parts of both in-person and remote meetings: in-person, in-room communication as well as remote availability for those unable to be physically present, plus all of the benefits of virtual conferencing as far as being able to record, interact, and share information.
Under any overall conditions, hybrid conferencing is helpful when coordinating teams consisting of members in different places, time zones, and/or differing working schedules who find live meetings are impossible. And outside of lockdowns and travel restrictions, hybrid meetings are a low-cost way for team members to establish relationships, communicate, and collaborate. Previously, many employees also viewed working from home as a perk—WFH days save commuting time and money and often positively affect employees’ satisfaction and sense of work-life balance.
In technical terms, hybrid videoconferencing relies on multipoint control units (MCUs) also known as bridges, linking two or more audiovisual workstations or devices into one conference call. The MCU resides on the local network and gathers information from each video conferencing station, then arranges the hybrid conference to match the capabilities of the least powerful system or device. However, a hybrid approach can also use cloud platforms (they’ll handle the MCU and other infrastructure), which improves compatibility between different devices, doesn’t require physical server management on the user end, and frequently requires a smaller up-front investment.
Another distinction of hybrid conferencing is that it isn’t purely software-based. Software-based video conferencing has the limitation that the software has to be installed on every device joining the meeting. As different systems and devices are most likely being used, possibly including mobile, if software sets the meeting quality to the capabilities of the least powerful device it’s likely to be more noticeable to participants.
How to Set Up and Manage a Hybrid Meeting in a Few Easy Steps
So, you want to get started in the exciting new world of hybrid conferencing…
The first thing you’ll need is a group of people who need to meet but can’t or won’t be able to all be at the same place at the same time. All set with that? Great, let’s get to the nuts and bolts.
Choose your platform
This is the main concern, and the decision you make will greatly affect the rest of your hybrid meeting experience. Traditionally companies had video conferencing infrastructure on-site, and a bridge/MCU on the corporate network. This had some drawbacks like having to invest in and maintain network gear up to the task, and also made business-to-business conferencing much more difficult.
However, it’s now common to rely on a cloud-based solution or software-as-a-service as your tool of choice. Mainly, simpler operation and a clean user interface/intuitive user experience is almost always better. WebRTC has also made browser-based voice and video communication much simpler and widespread, so you can potentially avoid everyone having to download software.
Make sure you’ve tested your equipment in advance
Even if you’ve got the newest, hottest hybrid conferencing solution going, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’ve got a good provider, it should be relatively simple to use, but go ahead and check if the input devices, meeting endpoints, and software buttons work, just in case.
Get things started
It’s meeting time!
- Focus on content: We’ve all undoubtedly experienced dull meetings, but remember that engagement is especially important in video conferences. Make sure your virtual participants have a clear role to play aside from passively listening, at least some personal updates, or Q&A and moderated chat with the group. In some cases, your platform increases the “bells and whistles” factor and lets you include content such as videos and slideshows—and, as we note below, having clear goals for the meeting is key.
Keep it professional!
We probably don’t have to tell you this after a year or so of mandatory remote work, but it bears repeating just in case: remember this is a work call, not a video hangout! Even if you’re attending remotely, make sure to look professional… at least from the waist up. Treat your colleagues at the meeting with professional courtesy. Stay engaged: If you’re attending in person, remember your virtual attendees aren’t just a screensaver and need to be brought into the conversation as much as possible. If you’re attending virtually, don’t check out or multitask.
- Have a clear agenda—and stick to it: This ties back to the previous bullet. Remember to be respectful of people’s time and make sure your meeting accomplishes what it sets out to. Even if you and your colleagues are the best of friends, nobody likes taking a meeting that doesn’t have a clear goal or action items.
Save your progress!
A high-quality meeting solution or platform will give you the capability to record and save the meeting for review and/or keep shared chats, whiteboards, and notes in a persistent virtual meeting space so they’re available for the team later.
The Future of Hybrid Conferencing Meetings in the Workplace
If it wasn’t clear enough from the first two sections: hybrid conferencing IS the future of the workplace.
It’s been estimated that 1 in 4 work meetings (pre-2020) had already gone hybrid. Remote work, and the need for flexibly remote conferencing, is only going to increase in the near future. Investing in hybrid conferencing is investing in focus, productivity, and collaboration in your workplace and workforce. The goal for the short-term future should be working toward making hybrid meetings as intuitive and straightforward as in-person meetings; many people who’ve previously had limited interest in or exposure to technology have become familiar with online meetings. Also, many predict that even the reopening of live events (such as trade shows, seminars, workshops, meet-ups, etc.) at the end of stay-at-home orders will nonetheless see a wide implementation of hybrid meetings continue.
But in addition to that, hybrid work within organizations can create a culture that allows employees to work flexibly while still enabling seamless collaboration and content sharing via a quality platform. The hybrid model may result in better productivity than a workforce required to be present in person, as well as empower geographically dispersed teams to communicate smoothly and work collaboratively. Depending on the amount of energy and resources you want to invest in a hybrid conferencing solution, it can even bring additional benefits:
Less space needed for higher event attendance
Even if a meeting’s participants all work in the same building, sometimes it’s challenging to find a meeting space that accommodates the entire group. Large group meetings can go hybrid and require smaller meeting spaces.
For example: maybe your team needs to hold a 15-person meeting but it’s only necessary for some of the team members to meet in person (maybe they have hand-drawn art assets to hand off … don’t overthink the practical, this is a thought experiment). This smaller group within the team could set up in a smaller, 6-person conference room and remote the rest of the participants in. Conference space bookings are that much easier! This can also benefit organizations on a larger scale: even if you plan to hold a large, in-person event, using hybrid conferencing technology, your audience is no longer limited to the number of people who can fit into the venue.
As we suggested above hybrid meetings can cut down on business travel expenses (such as cars, flights, lodging) by creating a viable way to connect and interact without being physically present. The “penny saved” adds up over time. Additionally, if you opt to go with a cloud-based solution, there’s less need to invest in gear, software, hardware and inevitably upgrades to be maintained at your location. Not only that but if your entire workforce isn’t always present physically (and your platform is strong enough), some overhead might be reduced by needing less office space overall.
Platforms can archive content
Cloud storage can easily archive recorded video of your meetings, back up shared whiteboards and notes, and generally help ensure full documentation of meetings and projects available to all.
Kaltura’s Hybrid Conferencing Video Meeting Solution
It would be an oversight if we didn’t mention Kaltura Meetings, our recommended solution to hybrid conferencing. Kaltura Meetings’ ease of use lets your team join virtual collaboration spaces with one click, and participants can interact face to face from anywhere on any device, with no installations or downloads necessary.
Combining in-person meetings with remote participants is easy with our browser-based video conferencing. Features include:
- Active speaker focus during meetings
- Screen sharing and HD video playback capabilities
- Moderated chat for meeting participants built-in
- Shared collaboration tools such as virtual whiteboards and shared notetaking
Additionally, Kaltura Meetings can be integrated easily into platforms you may already be using, such as Microsoft Teams. In addition, Kaltura Meetings is built to house persistent collaboration spaces—your team can pick up right where they’ve left off from last time. Collaboration tools can help keep the team focused and engaged, whether members attend in-person or remotely. Other features include cloud recording to Kaltura Video Portal so there’s a long-term record of projects and collaboration that everyone can keep up to date on. With Kaltura Video Portal there are also options for automatic transcription, video editing, and analytics to take your hybrid meetings to the next level.
Ready to start hybrid video conferencing? Kaltura can help.