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Josh Kim proposed “Kim’s Law” of hybrid meetings recently. It was a response to the observation that hybrid Zoom/in-person meetings are generally terrible. They’re much worse than either fully in-person or fully remote meetings.

I have to agree with the observation. I’ve been in a couple hybrid meetings, and they were disastrous. It was nearly impossible to hit an even balance between the modalities, so at any given point one group or the other was silenced. (More often than not, it was the remote group.) Fully remote meetings have developed an etiquette, and fully in-person meetings have been around forever. But they go together like tuna fish and hot fudge.

“Kim’s Law” offers an out, though. As he put it, “If there is a high-status person or persons attending a mixed in-person and Zoom meeting on Zoom, then the meeting will be excellent. Or at least excellent for the Zoom people.”

Uh, yes and no. The key distinction is between the meeting itself and the larger culture.

The meeting itself may go reasonably well. Certainly if the college president zooms in to a meeting and wants to speak, folks will listen. But outside of a really compelling reason, the message it would send would be about distance and arrogance. It would almost certainly breed resentment, especially if it became frequent.

I’ve heard stories of one of my predecessors who used to use handicapped parking spaces whenever she was in a hurry. She had no disability. I don’t know how often she did it, but the fact that I heard about it years later is telling. People noticed that she did it, and they inferred a certain attitude from it, rightly or wrongly. It’s the kind of thing from which people draw conclusions.

(The opposite can also be true. A few years ago someone came up to me in the parking lot, looking to bust my chops. He opened with “I want to see what kind of car you higher-ups drive!” I pointed to it and said, “Ooh! A Ford!” We both laughed.)

I could see Kim’s Law playing out similarly over time. “Oh, so we have to show up, but you don’t?”

Again, on a very short-term basis for a clear reason, it might be okay. I’m thinking here of someone calling in while they’re sick. But as a regular practice, I’d advise strongly against it. The long-term cultural damage wouldn’t be worth it.

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Is there a way to make hybrid meetings less terrible?

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