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At least in higher ed, the future is a new normal of combined physical/virtual meetings.

I’m not thinking of classes, courses or academic programs here—we might or might not be moving to a HyFlex instructional future. But we are rushing toward the equivalent of a HyFlex campus meeting culture.

In my experience, the quality of meetings in which some people are in person and some are virtual is mostly lousy.

The attendees who have the worst meeting experience are invariably the virtual participants.

Even with the best intentions and some degree of planning, it’s difficult to design a meeting that works equally well when some people are together in a room and others are zooming in.

Virtual meeting participants miss out on the nonverbal cues that govern so much of in-person meetings. When everyone is virtual, we can signal that we want to speak by unmuting our microphone. Distributing the conversation becomes more complicated when signals must transcend physical and virtual modalities.

In most cases of “normal” campus meetings—those meetings of academic or administrative units or regularly scheduled gatherings—the virtual attendees will have less influence on decisions than those who can attend in person.

The people on Zoom will speak less and be less likely to challenge an emerging group consensus. Productive argument is especially hard in mixed physical/virtual settings.

But not always.

There are some cases where physical/virtual meetings work well. I’ve been thinking about why this might be so, and all this cogitating has resulted in something I’d like to propose. Let’s call it Kim’s Law of Physical/Virtual Meetings.

Kim’s Law states that:

  • The quality of a physical/virtual meeting is directly proportional to the status of the virtual attendees.
  • 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.

The observation is that status trumps modality.

If a high-status person is zooming in, then the microculture of the meeting will privilege the high-status remote attendees.

That shift to emphasize the voice of the most powerful zoomed-in participant may also trickle down to help all remote attendees. All meeting participants will be more attentive to virtual participants.

A mixed remote/in-person meeting with big cheeses will also likely benefit from more considered planning and enjoy better in-meeting support.

The more valuable the perceived time of the attendees, the more effort will be made to create high-productivity meeting experiences.

What are the implications for Kim’s Law?

Should the highest-ranking person (whatever that means in academia) always be remote in a mixed meeting? Should everyone agree to pretend that the virtual folks at the meeting are “just like” the provost or a major donor? Should those of us who are in person during a meeting prioritize the experience of our virtual colleagues?

Are you participating in mixed-modality meetings?

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