The technical challenges can be overcome, but are the people who are attending the meetings virtually making the same sacrifices as those who are there in person?
An interesting situation occurred at Edmonton City Council a few weeks ago. Council was debating a hot issue and a few Councillors were attending the meeting online, while others were in Council Chambers to listen to pleas from residents in Chinatown to make the area safer.
On Twitter, complaints started coming in about the Councillors participating in the meeting virtually. The general consensus was, since this was such an important issue everyone should be in their seats in Council Chambers.
Interesting take. The belief was, attending a meeting virtually is “less than” being there in person.
There were so many complaints, Councillor Andrew Knack took to Twitter to explain why he wasn’t there in person.
Still the perception is there. Now that COVID is no longer in the news on an hourly basis, being at a meeting virtually seems to show a lack of commitment to the cause. The belief is, people participating virtually are not making the same commitment, making the same sacrifices, or giving it the same attention as those who are there.
I’m not saying that’s correct, but it seems that’s the perception these days.
Media Training Goes Hybrid
I encountered this a few weeks ago when I did what I was told would be an in-person media training workshop. When I got there, I discovered half of the people I would be training would be taking the workshop from their home or office.
No problem, I roll with the punches pretty well and whatever works best for the client is fine by me. However, I must admit doing a training session for some people in the room and others online is a challenge. Where do you look when you speak? Do you look at the people in the room, or into the camera to address those online? I kept it simple and talked to those in the room, but when I got a question from somebody online, I looked at the camera when I gave my response, so I was talking to the person who asked the question.
There’s no doubt that when I do media training, doing the sessions in-person gives everyone a better experience. There’s more energy in the room, more laughter and just a better overall experience.
COVID is still here and not everyone is comfortable being around others though. I get that and when I’m doing training I wear a mask when I get close to anyone and also when I interview them. After all, I'm an outsider and I don't work with these people on a daily basis.
A few weeks ago, a person who I trained in person in Calgary tested positive for COVID the following day. Wearing a mask when I interviewed him likely saved me from getting COVID.
The Hybrid Reality
The reality is we are left in this strange world now as people are going back to work. Some are at work, but others are still at home. Before the pandemic, when meetings were held, everyone was in the office and meetings were held there. During the pandemic, few people were in the office, so everything was done online. Now though, we have some at work and some still at home and we’re seeing examples of a handful of people in a boardroom, meeting with others who are at home.
Some people are starting to travel again. Before the pandemic, if somebody was away on business they simply couldn’t attend a meeting back in the office. Now they can, because of the power of online platforms. Another example of hybrid meetings means those traveling for business can still take part in meetings back in the office. That can be a good thing.
The problem is, doing hybrid meetings is awkward technically. Where do you park a laptop or external camera that can capture video of everyone in the meeting room for those online? If you put it too close, some people in the meeting room get cut off and if you back it off too much then the people at home have a hard time seeing who is speaking. What about audio? How do you capture good audio from people speaking from different ends of a large table?
A few months ago, I did a virtual media training workshop and a group and participants decided that since they were already together for other business that day, they would all log into Zoom from their laptops and sit in the same room. The audio problems that resulted were enormous.
Perhaps some company will come up with an answer to these challenges? Or maybe there’s already a cheap solution? Zoom existed long before the pandemic.
I’m not saying all hybrid meetings and events are bad. In some cases using the technology can really help bring people together. What I am saying is, I believe organizations need to pick which way they want to go. The more people are given an option to attend virtually, the more they will take it and the meeting or training won’t be as good.
It will be interesting to see if the perception about those attending virtually will change. Will they still be thought of as being less than? After all, there are many people who never want to return to an office with others. How will they connect?
As always, I would appreciate your thoughts in the Comments. What do you think?