How We Held a Hybrid Board Meeting During a Pandemic 

Holding a hybrid meeting–meaning some attendees are in-person and others are virtual–isn’t difficult. This option may be critical to associations in the coming year.

By Kim Kelly, CAE

OLC 3 Auditoriums All Joined

We are just about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ve learned so much. For associations, we’ve learned that our teams can work fully remote, and our meetings can be held virtual. All along, Association Forum has strived to be an open case study for this community. So, when our Board of Directors held a hybrid meeting in October of 2020, we knew we’d want to share how we did it. 

A hybrid meeting is any meeting that has a mix of both in-person and virtual attendees. Forum’s board has 13 members and in-person attendance was at the discretion of each individual. Seven board members chose to attend in person and another six joined virtually. Michelle Mason, CEO and President of Association Forum, joined in-person and some facilitators joined virtually.  

OLC education center

The OLC has gone to great lengths to adapt the facility’s space to meet health and safety regulations regarding COVID-19. One of the changes is the creation of a designated entrance that is only for visitors to the conference center.

“Meeting hybrid got us back to a small sense of normalcy,” says Geoffrey Brown, CAE, CEO of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and Chair of Forum’s board. “It felt less clinical because there were bodies in the room. In virtual meetings we would just check items off the agenda, but in the hybrid environment, we can stand aside and talk things out during a break,” he adds. 

Like everything in 2020, Brown notes that meeting this way was different. The group met at the OLC Education & Conference Center in Rosemont, Illinois. The room was very large to accommodate social distancing and all in-person attendees wore masks the entire time. “we knew that, at some point, associations would have to meet in person again,” says Mason, adding, “it takes some more facilitation to keep those who are remote engaged in the meeting.” Forum’s board has a particularly important agenda in front of them, so they decided to test the waters of hybrid meetings for themselves and to provide an example to other groups. 

Here are some key takeaways from the board’s hybrid meeting experience: 

Choose the right venue. “We couldn’t have done this at the Forum office or a hotel,” says Brown. Mason agrees and suggests any group looking for a hybrid meeting experience considers a facility such as the OLC. At just seven years old, the OLC offers state-of-the-art AV and technology setups, a variety of spaces, and hospital-quality ventilation. “The OLC is 2021 [Global Biorisk Advisory Council] STAR accredited,” says the facility’s CEO, Lise Puckorius. She adds that groups, Like Association Forum, have felt safe meeting at the OLC due to their strict protocols and an “HVAC system that uses 100% outside air and MERV 14 filtration.”  

Since all of the attendees and facilitators can’t be in the same room, it’s important to set clear expectations at the beginning of your meeting. Let virtual attendees know how they can chime into the discussion and remind in-person attendees to be mindful of the virtual guests.

Set expectations around the experience. Since all of the attendees and facilitators can’t be in the same room, it’s important to set clear expectations at the beginning of your meeting. Let virtual attendees know how they can chime into the discussion and remind in-person attendees to be mindful of the virtual guests. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but with some careful planning and vigilant facilitation, business can get done! 

Rethink your greetings, refreshments, and attire. “Be comfortable with a gigantic room for a small group of people,” Brown says with a laugh. Because you want proper social distancing and ventilation, the room will feel much too large for the group of in-person attendees. Mason noted that in the past board members might greet each other with a handshake or a hug, but during a hybrid meeting they had to remember to stay socially distanced. The OLC provided pre-packaged food for each in-person guest—no buffets or even plated meals right now. And, as mentioned earlier, all in-person guests wore masks throughout the meeting. Remember that these precautions are to keep fellow meeting attendees safe, but also to help ensure the safety of the facility staff. 

In all, the board was able to achieve its agenda and the meeting was a success. Mason notes that the OLC was a great partner and helped facilitate a seamless experience. Hybrid meetings are not cheap, especially given technology requirements. Both Mason and Brown agreed they’d be open to holding a hybrid meeting again, but they acknowledged that it may be cost-prohibitive for some groups. 

For organizations grappling with virtual meetings, this hybrid model may be a good option. Some meetings, such as medical trainings, have to take place in-person. Rethinking the way we meet will likely be an issue for the next 18 months or more. Facilities like the OLC are ahead of the curve in ensuring groups can get back to meeting in a safe and effective way. 

Are you interested in attending a hybrid meeting?

Association Forum’s SmartTech Conference will have both an in-person and virtual option. Click here to view pricing and register today!


About the Author

Kim Kelly is a marketing and communications consultant with more than 12 years experience in association management. She owns Kim Kelly Consulting.

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