How to avoid inefficient hybrid meetings: A conversation with Sander van Lier from PVH

Workplace expert Sander van Lier shares how he integrated efficient hybrid meetings into PVH's workplace strategy.

For most global companies, hybrid working has become the new normal. Now more than ever, we are witnessing a rise in the demand for spaces designed to facilitate a perfect hybrid workday. While many factors come into play in this process, conducting efficient hybrid meetings should always be a top priority.

Once merely an alternative means of communication, hybrid meetings have become a core method of connecting and collaborating with our workplace peers. However, virtual meetings are not the preferred option. When it comes to planning a meeting, 76% of professionals still prefer face-to-face communication as opposed to calls or video conferencing. 

To dive deeper into the obstacles surrounding hybrid meetings, we hosted a Mapiq Talks session on the subject. To help us uncover these solutions, we were joined by Sander Van Lier, Senior Manager Projects & Workplace Management at PVH. Together with our CEO Sander Schutte, they discussed current hybrid working trends, the role of hybrid meetings, and shared their experiences modifying the way we arrange meetings.

Work Smart at PVH

For ten years, Sander van Lier has led workplace developments at PVH, focused on creating spaces where employees can control their environments through strategic feedback loops and data-centric solutions. Having already introduced flexible working at PVH in 2012, Sander has paved the way for a more progressive hybrid office.

Before the pandemic, PVH hosted a five-day workweek from the office. After transitioning to hybrid working, employees gained the freedom to plan their in-office days according to their schedule and the needs of their team. Equipped with the autonomy to determine their hours, most PVH employees still visit the office 50% of the time. Throughout this transition, PVH has navigated the hurdles of providing employees with the autonomy to work where and how they want while creating the kind of workplace that attracts workers back to the office. 

During our Mapiq Talks session, Sander van Lier shared his experiences in overcoming common hybrid working struggles and instituting new hybrid meeting practices. We’ve compiled these insights along with our own understanding of workplace optimization for the benefit of other global organizations: helping you to have better hybrid meetings and a better day at work. 

PVH Campus in Amsterdam

Think in demand, not occupancy

The shift from traditional to hybrid working has altered how we optimize our offices. Offices once served as a focus space for a 9-5 worker, with corner offices, dated equipment, and countless cubicles. But while workplace modernization has been steadily taking place over the last decade, nothing has spurred its development more than the rise of working from home. 

“We stepped away from the idea of thinking in desks and instead began thinking in shifts,” said Sander van Lier when asked about instituting real estate changes in PVH offices. “Times are uncertain, and PVH is still in the calibration phase in order to understand what the organization needs. With offices opening and closing frequently, it’s easier to regulate by supply.”

As employees are given the independence to choose when to visit the office, it’s crucial to have systems that measure how workspaces are utilized. Whether through smart office technology or employee surveys, determining which spaces are required and preferred can be a crucial accelerator in returning people to the office. Sander van Lier noted the importance of measures designed to motivate employees back into the workplace: “In principle, we see our office as a place to foster and nurture culture. I think it’s important that associates still come back to the office in some way, shape, or form.”

Avoid scarcity

If you only apply one of these tips to your current workplace, it should be this one. Scarcity can bring out the worst habits and behaviors: the kind that prevents office efficiency and negates a positive workplace culture. In the context of hybrid working, scarcity refers to a lack of resources in the workplace that drives a range of claiming or avoidant behaviors. 

The negative results of scarcity can include claiming behavior, no-shows, and distrust in management. But the good news is that by meeting basic employee needs, you can alleviate all of these issues.

When it comes to hybrid meetings, what are those basic needs? There is a growing demand for tailored spaces that accommodate people calling into virtual meetings. Most meeting rooms at PVH and many other global offices were designed pre-pandemic to hold larger groups of four or more participants. Today, hybrid meetings have resulted in these spaces being overbooked and underutilized. The solution at PVH? Single-person focus pods.

“On our end, we needed to add meeting space capacity—not necessarily meeting rooms, but more focus rooms for virtual calls, which would take away some of the pressure we saw on the meeting rooms. We’re opening up meeting rooms for face-to-face meetings and will have [focus] pods for the hybrid conversations.”

By avoiding scarcity, you will have more of what your employees need to succeed. More eagerness to come to the office knowing there will be a free space to perform daily tasks. More focus time that otherwise would be spent finding meeting spaces. More quality time spent connecting with your colleagues in real life.

Level the playing field

In-person meetings are often punctuated with casual conversations taking place before or after an actual meeting. For that reason, in-person attendees usually get a much more detailed perspective on meeting topics thanks to the information shared outside of the formalized meeting time. However, for employees attending meetings remotely, this absence of information can leave them feeling isolated or left out. This can be incredibly impactful on an organization's culture because, as Sander van Lier put it, the office is a place to “foster and nurture culture.”

This situation, known as presence disparity, can result in virtual attendees lacking focus on the nuanced details of a conversation. As a result of presence disparity, meetings intended to be between all participants can quickly leave online participants feeling like bystanders in the discussion. 

Fortunately, there are a few ways to make these hybrid communications more balanced. For example, all participants could have their cameras on and look at their own screens, regardless if most of the attendees are joining in person from the same meeting room. By establishing housekeeping rules, you can refrain from discussing the meeting topic before or after the meeting, ensuring no information is kept from remote participants. Additionally, appointing a facilitator or a chairperson for each session can help everyone abide by these rules and maintain inclusivity in meetings.

Ensure a safe return for everyone

Employee well-being is currently one of the main drivers behind successful workplace policies. But face masks and meticulously placed hand sanitizers won’t cut it anymore. An adequate amount of space and time is key to making your employees feel safe in the office

By now, many companies have reopened their offices multiple times and have celebrated the possibility of reuniting with their teams. But instead of an office reopening day, consider having a reopening week. By catering to everyone’s schedule and spreading out visitation days, you ensure everyone feels safe upon returning while managing capacity and avoiding drastic peak days.

A crowded office can be offputting, which is especially important to consider when certain peak days are more popular than others. Consider creating different initiatives that encourage people to come in on less popular days—for example, try offering free parking or holding practical development courses on Mondays and Fridays.

Typically, the decision of when to come into the office will be decided by employees. As Sander van Lier said, “We must empower people to get the best possible result, and really for them to decide when or how they use the office space.” So be sure to communicate with workers regarding which days are the busiest so they can consciously plan their collaboration days with safety in mind.

Moving forward with hybrid working

PVH, like many companies, is still in the process of trying new solutions and approaches, hoping to find the right combination of tactics to optimize its hybrid working model. When your office attendance fails to rise to pre-pandemic levels, the process of drawing employees back into the workplace can feel insurmountable. The same is valid for hybrid meetings: which have plenty of benefits, along with plenty of pitfalls. It’s always a balancing act, and at times, it can seem like individual needs are more vocalized than organizational needs. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing hybrid meetings, a range of changes and optimizations can be made. By focusing on demand and avoiding scarcity, employee needs can be considered, and initiatives can follow. Try creating a more equitable hybrid meetings system that gives every participant the same valuable experience. Lastly, always keep safety in mind. By maintaining a safe environment for your employees, both your meetings and work will reap the benefits. 

Hybrid meetings aren’t going anywhere, and the demand for spaces that cater to hybrid working will continue to rise. Now is the perfect time to embrace this age of optimization and prioritize your hybrid meetings as a way to cater to the growing needs of your employees. 

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