Propose Kim’s law on physical/virtual meetings

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

I’m not thinking of classes, courses, or academic programs here. We may or may not be heading towards a hyflex educational future.

But we are rushing towards the equivalent of a hyflex campus meeting culture.

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

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

Even with the best of intentions and some degree of planning, designing a meeting that works just as well when some people are in a room together and others are zooming in.

Participants in virtual meetings are missing out on the nonverbal cues that govern so many in-person meetings. When everyone is virtual, we can signal that we want to speak by muting our microphone. Conversational distribution 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 regular gatherings – virtual attendees will have less influence on decisions than those who can attend in person.

People on Zoom will talk less and be less likely to challenge emerging group consensus. Productive argumentation is particularly difficult in mixed physical/virtual environments.

But not always.

There are instances where physical/virtual meetings work well. I’ve been thinking about why this might be so, and all of that thinking has come up with something I’d like to come up with. 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 participants.

If there is one or more high-ranking people attending a mixed in-person and Zoom-on-Zoom meeting, then the meeting will be great. Or at least excellent for Zoom people.

The observation is that the status prevails over the modality.

If a high-status person zooms in, the meeting micro-culture will favor remote high-status attendees.

This change to emphasize the loudest zoomed participant’s voice can also “ripple” to help all remote participants. 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 thoughtful planning and better support at the meeting.

The more valuable participants’ perceived time, the more effort will be put into creating high-productivity meeting experiences.

What are the implications for Kim’s Law?

Should the most senior person (whatever that means in academia) always be distant in a mixed meeting?

Should everyone agree to pretend that the virtual people present at the meeting are “exactly like” the provost or a major donor?

Should those of us who are in person at a meeting prioritize the experience of our virtual colleagues?

Do you participate in mixed modality meetings?

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