Hybrid Meetings and Google Calendar

13 October 2021
By Wiebke Kuhn

You may have noticed that Google Calendar has released some new functionalities that will make it easier for us to create meetings and indicate in meetings how we will participate. The forced shift to online and hybrid meetings has made it clear to folks that indicating in meetings if they can attend in person or remotely is essential in organizing a good meeting experience.

We either design hybrid meetings, or hybrid meetings are thrust upon us because one of our colleagues has an emergency and cannot participate in the in-person meeting. 

Please find a few tips and tricks in this blog post about how to make your hybrid meetings more successful using Google Calendar — and other ways to ensure that everyone feels included in your meetings.

Setting up the meeting

I have found myself a couple of times in the situation where I thought a meeting was online but then it was not — or vice versa. To avoid this confusion for folks I want to meet with, I have taken to indicating in the title of my meeting invitation whether the meeting is in person, hybrid or by Zoom or Google Meet.

Google calendar options for accepting a meeting invitation
Figure 1: Response to attend a meeting in person or virtually

For a hybrid meeting, knowing who will come in person and who will be remote can be important. Especially for larger groups, you may find that it is feasible to shift room location if the number of participants online significantly outnumbers the number of folks joining in person.  To do this, please guide invitees in your event description to indicate not only if they are attending but also how they are attending.  Invitees have two places to indicate their preference.  They can either indicate this in the actual Google calendar entry  by choosing the pulldown next to the Yes option – Yes, in a meeting room or Yes, joining virtually (see Figure 1).

Calendar invitation options in Gmail
Figure 2: Event invitation in email

The second option is in the email meeting invitation.  We are used to clicking on the big Yes button; for more nuanced input, we can find additional choices towards the end of the email invitation — selecting the small Yes (pointed to by the green arrow in Figure 2) will send invitees to the Google calendar event where they can indicate their location (see Figure 2).

For you, the host, the little icons will signal to you how people are planning to attend, giving you a headcount that will help determine what kind of space you need to reserve.

In addition, remember to add the link for either Zoom or Google Meet in your invitation. 

Tips on adding a Zoom meeting to your Google Calendar invitation

By default, Google Meet is easily added to any Google invitation. You can also add a Zoom meeting to your invitation with one of these two paths:

  1. go to carleton.zoom.us, log in with your Carleton userid and password and Schedule a Meeting — this gives you many additional options. In particular, for repeating or high-stakes meetings, it can be useful to add an Alternate Host to the meeting to ensure that you are not the only one who can start the meeting. Find more tips on how to secure your zoom meeting and other useful information on the PEPS site. Note that from within Zoom you can also add your Zoom meeting to your Google calendar so that you can then share the meeting with all the necessary Zoom info with others.
  2. or choose to add Zoom to your Google calendar as an extension. This gives you fewer options but can speed up the process of getting the meeting on people’s calendars.

Setting up the space

Now that you have a better sense of how many people are attending your meeting in what format, you can plan more effectively for the meeting.  Best Practices for Inclusive Meetings in Zoom or Google Meet gives you valuable suggestions for organizing and conducting such meetings and also strategies for participants in local and remote locations to interact effectively during the meeting. In particular, for repeating hybrid meetings, these guidelines may be worth reviewing and sharing with the team to set expectations.  

But first, the space.

Carleton has some classrooms and other spaces that are better designed to host hybrid meetings than others. For a small meeting, having a room with a monitor or projector that you can connect your laptop to may be sufficient to capture video — but audio can be a real challenge for the remote participants. If you see hybrid meetings in the foreseeable future of your department, consider investing in a wired/wireless USB  mic/speaker to improve what remote folks can hear. PEPS and many departments have had success with the Jabra line of devices (Figure 3); please note that the least expensive option will be fine for any small conference room.   For a short-term solution, please reach out to ITS PEPS to see what is available; we have a small supply of microphones that we support on a first come, first served basis.

Microphone offerings from Jabra
Figure 3: Jabra microphone options

For a larger meeting, finding a room with Vaddio cameras will be your best option but will also limit the times you can have your meetings.  Currently, these rooms are in Anderson, Leighton, LDC, CMC, and Weitz, but we will be increasing the number and distribution of rooms over the next year. Our Classroom Technology page has more details and videos.

Ahead of the meeting, please consider running a test of the equipment to ensure it behaves the way you hope. PEPS can also help with this kind of check.

Guidelines for the actual meeting

Especially for repeating meetings, setting expectations on how in person and remote attendees interact with each other is important. For example, if the room has only one camera, remote viewers may only see one perspective of  people in the room — and it may be very small. If folks in the room are also on Zoom on their own computers, everyone can see everyone – but only one microphone can be hot to avoid (technical) feedback. So, mute your Zoom and your computer if you are in the room.

Check in with remote attendees how the sound is — and encourage them to speak up if they cannot hear what is happening in the room. This can be tough for both sides, so as a host, it is important to create an environment of trust that invites this kind of (human) feedback.

Remind folks in the room to speak up and that background/secondary conversations can be very distracting and confusing to remote attendees.

Use shared Google content to make collaboration easier.  Use the Zoom or Google Meet chat strategically.

But what if someone cannot make it — how can I wing a hybrid meeting?

If one of your participants cannot make it and you do not have the space or equipment readily available, the easiest way of ensuring everyone is heard equitably may be to move the entire meeting completely online.  If this is not an option, here are a couple of strategies to deal with the likely problematic audio:

  1. Use an available laptop with webcam and microphone to connect to the remote person(s).  If you have a larger monitor, connect your laptop to it for better visual for the people in the room.  The remote person will only see what is available through the laptop camera.
  2. Do a quick audio/video check when everyone is in the meeting to ensure that the laptop is in the best possible location so that the remote person can see and hear.
  3. Remind everyone in the room to include the remote participant(s) by calling on them, by projecting towards the microphone in the room and by limiting side conversations.
  4. Remind the remote participant to speak up when the audio gets fuzzy.
  5. Repeat key points if it becomes clear that people further from the microphone cannot be heard at the remote side of the meeting.

There is of course more to creating a successful hybrid working environment besides meetings, but getting meetings set up with little to no technical issues and making everyone comfortable and feel heard goes a long way. If you are curious about additional ideas to improve the hybrid work setting, check out this Harvard Business Review article about Designing the Hybrid Office.