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  • Fatima Koning

Collective Intelligence: 5 ways to reinvent face-to-face meetings

As a fervent advocate of hybrid working, I help companies all over the world to put in place policies that allow their employees to divide their time between different locations: a head office, local coworking centres, and their homes.

Local coworking centres offer the best of both worlds for most workers: quiet, well-equipped, and professional environments, free from domestic distractions, but located a short distance from home, school, or childcare. Leading global companies such as Standard Chartered Bank and NTT have partnered with IWG, offering their employees access to over 3,500 locations worldwide.

Bringing your employees together 'in person' is essential for generating ideas, encouraging team cohesion, and creating a strong corporate culture. But simply demanding that your employees spend a certain amount of time in the office - or meet an arbitrary monthly attendance target - won't cut it in this new world of work. Microsoft's 2022 Work Trends Index points out that "leaders must establish the why, when, and how of the office".

As someone who manages teams in over 120 countries around the world, organising physical events is a real challenge. But I make sure that when people come together, it really counts.

5 tips for getting the most out of your face-to-face meetings

1. Think about your "why"

First of all, ask yourself: Is this meeting really necessary? What are the objectives? If you're not clear on this, your participants won't be either. Meetings are not just about distributing information. They must involve real participation and achieve something in person that is qualitatively different from what you could achieve without bringing people together.

2. "Collaboration" and "Participation" must be the watchwords

Share the objectives of the meeting with the group and involve all participants in deciding the expected outcomes. No one should remain a spectator. If your employees have travelled to be physically with you, they must all take part in the joint discussion. Encouraging introverted employees to participate can be more complex.

After all, not everyone finds it easy to be heard amongst more confident colleagues! The key to restoring this balance lies in preparation. For example, you could ask participants to prepare a piece of work in advance that they all have to share.

3. Leave room for spontaneity ... and have a good time!

Instead of running the meeting vertically, let your colleagues steer the session as they wish. Guide the group towards the objectives you set together at the start of the meeting, but be flexible about the route you take to get there! Ask questions that stimulate debate and discussion throughout the session. Manage conflicts or disagreements if they arise. In a hybrid world, getting together should be a positive experience. It should strengthen inter-personal relationships and encourage the sharing of good practice. There's no reason why a meeting shouldn't have some fun and convivial moments, while still achieving its objectives.

4. Ensure effective follow-up

Finally, make sure you conclude your meeting by collectively assessing whether or not the objectives have been achieved, and by planning the next steps. Was the result in line with your expectations or what you needed? It's also important to be clear about what happens next. Who will take on which task to work on? Who needs more information, and who else in the team can provide it?

5. "Test and learn"

Like any company's hybrid working policy, organised meetings require regular review and evaluation. Getting the best out of your staff, as well as time spent together in the office, requires a "test and learn" approach that offers the opportunity for continuous improvement. Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are obviously everyday tools in our working lives, but nothing beats a well-planned and well-executed session where people can collaborate face-to-face. Far from encouraging isolation or creating divisions within teams, the hybrid model offers a new, more productive, and meaningful form of collaboration while allowing people the flexibility and autonomy they desire.

Fatima Koning, Chief Commercial Officer, has been with IWG for seven years. Based in Amsterdam and fluent in English, Dutch, French, and Arabic, Fatima has built a diverse team spanning over 120 countries. Fatima oversaw IWG's largest-ever transaction with NTT, Nippon Telegraph, and Telephone Corporation, giving their 300,000 employees across all their companies access to IWG workspaces worldwide. The deal follows IWG's partnership with financial services organisation Standard Chartered, 95,000 employees worldwide, as well as agreements with a number of major corporations. Prior to joining IWG, Fatima founded her own strategic consulting business.

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