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Meeting makeover: Hybrid meetings could become the new norm in offices

India-based Zoho, a suite of online productivity tools and SaaS applications, has been working on scaling up online meeting, webinar and remote-education tools to enable users to have secured virtual discussions in private.

Ever since the lockdown, virtual meetings have replaced physical ones. But as workspaces open up, the need to conduct safe meetings in offices will be a pre-requisite. What’s needed is a new format regarding seating plans, contactless dining and no-touch entry points. Another solution could be hybrid meetings. Such meetings—with a small in-person audience and a larger virtual audience—could, in fact, become the new norm.

Another important thing is to choose the right space for a meeting. Much like picking a home, setting up a perfect meeting space can do wonders to help you achieve your goals. Meeting space provider Convene, for one, has launched a virtual meeting product to support unlimited remote audience members. It also has virtual tools like breakout rooms, audience polling, post-event analytics and post-video production.

Clearly, companies must relook at their meetings spaces. “Most corporate houses have risen to the occasion and taken a paradigm shift towards working from home. This would be a trend for a long time… Rather than an all in-person meeting, it will be a combination of virtual and small audiences. Hence, it is advisable to not have enclosed meeting rooms, but have discussion or lounge areas where there is ventilation and no walls. A group of people in a conference room is not recommended, as the air quality can’t be controlled. Open them with breakout zones and lounges or convert open spaces such as an atrium or amphitheatre and use them as spaces for discussions,” says Meena Murthy Kakkar, design head and partner of interior and architecture firm Envisage.

India-based Zoho, a suite of online productivity tools and SaaS applications, has been working on scaling up online meeting, webinar and remote-education tools to enable users to have secured virtual discussions in private. Praval Singh, vice-president, Zoho Corp, feels the lockdown helped inculcate new habits. “There are times when people would fly down just for a meeting. This is something businesses might avoid going forward—as much as they can—once they’re used to running successful meetings remotely. I expect many distributed teams getting set up at remote locations outside major cities. While there certainly are advantages of running an in-person meeting, given the situation and the costs involved, it wouldn’t be surprising to make decisions via virtual meetings,” says Singh.

Mumbai-based Flipspaces, a global tech-enabled venture on design and delivery of commercial spaces, recently launched Reboot spaces to reinvent interiors crafted on pillars of sanitisation, social distancing and touchless automation. For instance, partitions, in both transparent and opaque materials, are coupled with AI-powered monitoring via CCTV cameras to ensure social distancing in meeting rooms. “The pandemic created an imprint on the work culture across industries. The work from home concept has forced us to convert our private spaces, like bedroom, dining or balcony with an incoherent mix of furniture, into offices. The bigger challenges are distractions and ergonomics required for long hours, affecting employees’ health and performance,” says Imran Khan, AVP and business head, Flipspaces.

Alternative spaces are important for conducting meetings to enhance live interactive videoconferencing. Most organisations are enhancing their setups by reducing points of contact and seating configurations, respecting the minimum distance between employees, keeping tables apart, putting floor markings to indicate social distancing, etc.

Those initially sceptical of embracing the hybrid model of meetings are suddenly following suit for reasons of safety and security, limitation in schedules, overall reach, etc. Akash Kalia, commercial director, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Bengaluru, says, “Small will be the new big. This means it is not limited to corporate events, but also extends to weddings, celebrations and other events. Hybrid meetings have gained adoption, acceptance and execution in the short term to combat the new normal. Those who engage in such events look at a high level of customisation, creativity, increased bandwidth and over the top setups.”

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