Ask a Consultant:
Making Hybrid Meetings Work for You
By Maria Fibiger, Three Dog Consulting
Nonprofit consultant Maria Fibiger has more than 15 years of experience in the field. Recently, she has seen many organizations struggle to make the leap from in-person to hybrid – especially in the board room. In this guest article, Maria explores the silver linings that come with hybrid board meetings and offers tips on how to grow engagement and set the stage for more impactful governance.
Published November 14th, 2022
Developing and maintaining a strong level of board engagement is a serious and ongoing challenge for any nonprofit organization. Over the past few years that challenge became even harder, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to abandon or limit in-person meetings and adapt to a virtual format. All too often, these sessions were disorganized or rife with audio and video issues. Valuable time was spent trying to quell barking dogs or manage remote school learning for their children instead of being genuinely engaged in the board meeting.
Maria Fibiger is a Syracuse based nonprofit consultant.
By now, we have fully settled into the age of hybrid board meetings and like it or not – they are here to stay. But there are some silver linings:
- Hybrid meetings provide a much more accessible option for people with mobility challenges. This includes people without consistent access to a vehicle, people with disabilities that prevent them from traveling independently, and those who have to be home to care for a child or other dependent.
- To function effectively, hybrid meetings require a deeper level of preparation. This can lead to more thorough planning around agenda structure as well as deeper levels of communication in regard to board member expectations.
Hybrid board meetings work best when steps have been taken to actively engage both in-person and virtual members. Not doing so is likely to create board meetings where some members become so distracted that it becomes reminiscent of the famous classroom scene from the Charlie Brown animated series where the students just hear the teacher saying, “WAH WAH WAH”.
If you feel like your organization has lost some of its boardroom energy and enthusiasm since moving to a hybrid format, here are some tips to get everyone reengaged:
- Start on time and set an end time for everyone at the meeting. NO “After Zoom/Skype Ends” meetings allowed for those that attended in person. Those who attended in person should not be given extra access or influence compared to those who tuned in virtually.
- Ensure that there is a clear agenda structure which becomes familiar to all board members.
- Organize critical topics or issues for board discussion early in the agenda. Think of it like seeing a good movie trailer: it gets your attention and you want to stick around to see more.
- Permit virtual voting during a hybrid meeting. This might require an amendment to your bylaws, but it is well worth it.
- Ensure that in-person board members can see board members who are attending remotely and turn on the screen chat feature for all to see questions and comments. This way virtual attendees continue to have a voice in discussions and are less likely to talk over one another.
- Consider accessibility as a necessity in the digital age because it promotes a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. Everyone — including people with hearing, sight and speech disabilities — can benefit from using software with additional accessibility features, such as a screen reader and dyslexia-friendly font. This technology can also help board members who use smaller screens, such as mobile devices or tablets.
- Invest in a high-quality microphone and camera for your board room: board members attending remotely will be more engaged if they can see and hear clearly what is being said by those attending in person.
- Implement a consistent follow-up message to all board members after each meeting. Thank them for their work, highlight any decisions made, note any next action steps, and always state the next board meeting date and time.
There is one last silver lining to engaging board members with well-planned hybrid board meetings: in late January when that Lake Ontario snow machine goes full throttle, your organization won’t need to cancel its board meeting. You will be well prepared for a terrific, productive session with everyone at home – warm and safe.