André Mascarenhas moderated from Berlin 2-days brainstorming event in Cracow. This interview gives you a glimpse of what it takes to control 30 people remotely and the lesson learned.

1) Was this your first hybrid meeting in a role of a moderator?

This was my second hybrid meeting as moderator, although I was moderating on-site in the first one (for another project). In the case of the HES-GEO 2nd brainstorming event, I was participating remotely.

2) What in your opinion are the biggest challenges and advantages of hybrid meeting compared to normal one?

A big challenge is to pay attention to all participants (online and on-site) so that everyone gets a fair chance to intervene. When those on-site are all together in a room, it can be challenging to see if someone would like to intervene. Also, another complication is not being able to “read” properly the hints given by people’s body language. However, during this event, I had the help of Agnieszka Wypych in moderating the on-site plenaries.

The main advantage we might tend to forget is that we currently have the tools to do such a workshop despite being in the middle of a pandemic. Without such tools, we would probably simply not have the chance to meet, which could significantly affect the project’s development.

To answer your question more directly, since I got a cold just days before the event, for me as a moderator, this gave me the chance to still be able to moderate the event.

Another rather obvious advantage significant for all of us working on sustainability issues is avoiding the travel that would be otherwise needed to participate on-site, with all the environmental benefits it has. This has another related advantage that is actually independent of the current pandemic situation: the possibility to join remotely allows people to participate who would otherwise not be able to, for example, due to conflicting schedules. Needless to say, it is much easier to “hop” from one videoconference, for example, in Krakow, to another one, say in London, than it is to actually travel from one place to the other.

From a sustainability point of view, online conference tools allow us to avoid travel and participate in meetings we would probably not have a chance to attend.

Of course, the negative consequence of this, which we all know very well after so much time in this pandemic situation, is this feeling of “death by Zoom” where one is exhausted after a day with several teleconferences. So, we need to consider and take care of one’s well-being and health.

3) Knowing now this, what would you do differently in your next hybrid meeting in the role of a moderator?

Despite the circumstances, the event went quite well, so luckily, it was not one of those cases where you learn a lot because so many things went wrong. Nevertheless, one aspect I would highlight is trying to account better for the timing needed for transitions.

Let me make this a bit more concrete with an example: in the HES-GEO 2nd brainstorming event, the Research Teams were in some slots working in break-out groups and in other slots, they were all together in a plenary. I had anticipated that participants would work directly on the prepared Google Slides templates we had uploaded beforehand. However, several participants had downloaded the templates and worked on a local copy when they were in the break-out groups. As a result, this demanded some extra time for participants to copy their presentations to the plenary computer or open them from an external storage device.

Although this does not take much time per person, overall, it sums up. This is just an example, but the more general lesson is planning time for eventual similar technical issues because it can take up precious time for discussions.

4) In your opinion, what are the most critical changes that both sides of the meeting (online and offline) must make to organize future hybrid meetings more efficient?

Relating to my example in the previous question, maybe planning and agreeing in detail on specific workflows to structure the meeting. But I cannot think of changes that I would call critical since, as mentioned in the previous question, the event was relatively efficient in its hybrid form.

In the times of online meetings we need to take care of one’s well-being and health to prevent “death by Zoom” where one is exhausted after a day with several teleconferences

Dr André Mascarenhas is a sustainability scientist interested in Human-Nature Interactions and Spatial Planning. He does his research at the Department of Geography, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany.