There’s a lot of talk about “hybrid” working these days, but probably not a lot of clarity about what it actually might mean.

For me there’s one key question: how do you allow groups of people to effectively interact when some of them are sharing the same physical space and others are “dialling in”. Traditionally this kind of hybrid meeting has been somewhere between not very good and truly dysfunctional. The inequality of access to the non-verbal cues of being in the same room the killer blow to those online.

But short of telling everyone to either log in or commute, it feels like we need to try to find ways to make a better experience, particularly for workshop activities which have traditionally been seen by many as having to be run “in person”.

This morning we started to experiment.

Actually, the planning started on Friday, when one of my colleagues and I spent some time preparing the room where this morning’s session would take place. The workshop would consist of two major exercises, both centred around whiteboards for people in the room. The first used a technique called Sailboat, a visual metaphor session taken from the rather nifty workshoptactics.com. The second a more traditional activity mapping exercise based around a calendar and timeline.

We drew these up on whiteboards in the room, and then I photographed them so that they could be reproduced online in Miro.

I also created a session plan in STOPR format…

The room itself has a projector projecting onto one wall, and an Owl conferencing camera/speaker/mic.

The intention for the sessions was that rather than run parts of the session trying to get equal engagement across the whole group of participants, instead we would treat the online group (Microsoft Teams) as a breakout group of five (and then ran 2 groups in the room itself where there were about a dozen people). There were two facilitators in the room and one online. We’d use plenary sessions on Teams to bring the whole group together (and the facilitators had messaging as a backchannel between us when needed to update on time keeping, any potential unforeseen issues arising and so on.

So how did it go?

OK, I think. I don’t think it was any better or worse than if everyone had all been in the same room.

Some further observations…

There was more preparation than would be the case if you were all just in one mode, and more need for active facilitation (and facilitators).

You need to have confidence in the technology; Teams and Miro are now well-trodden paths for us. The Owl is new, and in a workshop setting is just about functional. People mostly were a little too far away, or too close. It’s definitely optimised for people sitting down around a conference table, but it was pretty good.

It was a group with whom I was familiar with most people, and they with each other. If this had been a session where there were lots of unfamiliar faces it would have been much harder – I mostly had to rely on people’s voices for identifying them during the session.

Facilitation online is harder work than in person. You simply don’t get the same energy back from participants when they aren’t there with you.

3 thoughts on “Bridging the divide

  1. It sounds like you had to do a lot of preparation.

    Would you say that more prep was involve than a comparably good “traditional” meeting?

    Has the “traditional” model eroded so much that meetings are seen as cheap and not requiring preparation to get good value from them? …because if that’s the case, perhaps meetings that require a bit of preparation are better for the bottom line overall and are now an exploitable competitive advantage?

    1. I very much think the latter point. The number of times I’ve been in a workshop where the host has basically simply rocked up and announced “let’s brainstorm!”

      Some ideas are bad ideas. Like not prepping properly for a workshop!

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