Make meetings work in hybrid environment

Vincent Chu
3 min readJul 29, 2021

One of the most influential books I read in my career was Andy Grove’s High Output Management. The book discussed all the wonderful different types of meetings and how to effectively conduct them to lead a high performing team. It was also written 38 years ago, where meetings were perhaps the most effective way to keep employees informed — after all, sending a memo to all staff would have required someone spending hours in the photocopying room back then.

Since then, a lot has changed. It is much easier for anyone to record a video of what they want to share and reach all their staff with it within a single day — such a feat was unimaginable four decades ago unless you worked at a TV station. It is also much easier for anyone now to have a discussion with hundreds or thousands of coworkers, often at the same time, in various channels in instant messaging apps. Are synchronous meetings, where everyone has to be present at the same time, still relevant?

A year ago businesses abruptly switched physical meetings to video conferences due to covid. We are now at another precipice as businesses are opening back up — office workers who have grown used to video conferences now have to work in a hybrid environment where some coworkers are co-located and some are not. The transition to video conferences was almost a skeuomorphism of physical meetings — I have yet to meet anyone who would say they’re excited every morning to talk at a flat screen for the next 8 hours. How to #MakeMeetingsWork is even more tricky if we want to solve this “problem” effectively in the hybrid world.

Moving forward, it’s unavoidable that the majority of the discussions and collaborations will take place “asynchronously” — through shared documents, “instant” messaging, recorded videos, emails, etc. Instead of eliminating meetings, I think leaders will aim to shorten meetings by having most of the detailed discussions done asynchronously and collaboratively ahead of time. The opinions, positions, research, data analysis and any other preparation work will be known and will have already taken place prior to a scheduled meeting. Meetings will be reserved for making decisions perhaps in a ceremonial way — it makes a difference that people can see each others’ faces (either on video or in-person) and can look people in the eyes when important decisions are made. It’s perhaps psychological and human nature, and cannot easily be replaced.

I’m privileged to have the opportunity to chair a number of meetings and I think about this topic quite a bit. Getting this right in the post-covid(?) hybrid environment can potentially make a huge difference in the productivity of an organization. What will work for engineering teams — what do you think?

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Vincent Chu

I'm an engineering leader in a SAS company with more than 15 years of software industry experience.