There’s lots to love about hybrid work, but it’s not without its challenges.
Hybrid meetings and workshops can be especially tricky, requiring meticulous planning, a solid setup, and first-class facilitation skills.
So how do you bridge the gap between remote and in-person attendees?
We’ll show you how. You can consider this your complete and ultimate guide to hybrid workshop success, covering all the steps, tools, and tips you need.
Do you want to run engaging and productive hybrid workshops that your participants will love—regardless of how they’re attending? Then read on…
1. What is a hybrid meeting or workshop?
A hybrid meeting or workshop is one that involves both in-person and remote attendees. You’ll have some people in the room with you, and others dialing in virtually.
The rise of the hybrid working model
It’s estimated that 9 out of 10 organizations will be embracing a hybrid working model as lockdown restrictions ease in many parts of the world. This is great for flexibility, employee happiness, and for keeping people safe and comfortable in the evolving-but-still-ongoing pandemic.
Of course, there are also some challenges associated with the hybrid model.
Perhaps one of the biggest question marks is around employee engagement and team culture.
How do you make sure that all employees feel engaged and included, regardless of whether they choose to work from the office or from home?
This is especially pertinent when it comes to hybrid meetings and workshops. Let’s explore some of the specific challenges associated with hybrid workshops now.
2. What are the biggest challenges of running a hybrid meeting or workshop?
There are 3 major challenges to be aware of when running a hybrid meeting or workshop:
Challenge #1: Creating an even playing field
In a hybrid meeting, it can be difficult to ensure that both remote and in-person attendees feel equally valued.
Without the right setup, remote participants may end up feeling like outsiders or mere observers—or like their contribution is less important. This is something you’ll need to be conscious of when planning your workshop.
Challenge #2: Technology issues
Technology issues aren’t unique to hybrid meetings, but they can be especially detrimental when you have a mixture of in-person and remote attendees. This ties in with the challenge of creating an even playing field; if your technological setup is sub-optimal, remote participants may have a hard time keeping up with what’s going on.
Likewise, if remote attendees are dialing in with a weak internet connection or shaky video quality, it might be tricky for in-person participants to enjoy and value their presence.
Challenge #3: Keeping all attendees engaged
The most engaging meetings and workshops are those that are interactive, maximizing attendee participation while keeping “listening” time to a minimum. This becomes especially complex when you have some people in the room, able to physically take part in activities, and others relying purely on technology.
It’s essential to plan activities and discussions that all members can get involved in, otherwise you’ll see participant engagement plummet.
We’ll show you how to overcome these challenges in the next section.
Get an introduction to facilitation and workshops
3. How to run a successful hybrid meeting or workshop
With the right setup, a well thought-out agenda, and first-class facilitation, you can run hybrid workshops that are engaging, productive, and enjoyable for all.
Here’s how to ensure your hybrid meeting runs smoothly.
1. Consider your digital setup: What software and tools will you use?
Running a hybrid workshop is all about bridging the gap between the people in the room and those dialing in remotely. The first step is to plan your digital setup—i.e. the platforms, tools, or software you’ll use to connect everybody in the meeting.
- How will remote participants dial in? E.g. Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or other
- If you’re ideating/brainstorming, where and how will this be done? E.g. via a virtual whiteboarding tool
- If your workshop requires additional materials, how will these be made available to both remote and in-person participants? For example, you might create a PDF that can either be printed out or accessed via computer
Start by making a list of every possible tool or digital capability you might need. From there, do your research and narrow it down to specific tools. We’ll introduce some of the best digital tools for hybrid meetings in section 4.
2. Consider your physical setup: How will you optimize your meeting space for both in-person and remote participants?
Now you’re going to plan the physical logistics of your hybrid meeting.
You want to design the space in a way that allows remote attendees to see as much as possible. How can you make sure they feel like they’re in the room?
Ideally, those dialing in from elsewhere will have a clear view of the meeting space, and be able to see all in-person attendees. Likewise, remote participants should be as visible and present as possible (more on that in step 3).
Some ideas for a good hybrid setup include:
- Having your main presentation on a big screen in the middle that everyone can see (either via camera or directly)
- Placing webcams on tripods strategically around the room to give remote participants a 360 view
- Giving remote attendees a seat at the table, with a designated screen for each person dialing in
Getting the physical configuration right may take some trial and error, so it’s worth trying out a few different setups beforehand to make sure everything runs smoothly on the day.
3. Make remote participants as physically present as possible
You might be tempted to just bring in an extra laptop and have all remote participants visible on one screen. But, by making your remote attendees physically smaller and less visible, you’re diluting their presence in the workshop.
If the space allows, give each remote participant their own screen and designated “seat”. So, if you have five people dialing in from home, you’ll need five extra screens “sitting” around the table. If that’s not possible, consider two or three larger screens.
The more visibility and physical presence you afford your remote attendees, the more cohesive your hybrid meeting will feel.
4. Optimize your technology and hardware for seamless communication
No matter how simple or advanced your technological setup is, it needs to be optimized for the hybrid environment.
Most importantly, you want to ensure a stable internet connection, good quality video, and clear audio. If you’ve got in-person participants sharing one video and microphone (i.e. through one laptop), make sure that everyone can still be heard and seen.
Depending on the size of the group and the space, it might be worth bringing in a portable conference call speaker.
And, if you’ve got the budget and resources, consider upgrading your setup as follows:
- Bring in extra screens (big ones)
- Have a WiFi booster on hand if internet connection is likely to pose problems
- Equip your meeting space with high-quality speakers and microphones
- Invest in high-res webcams (you might even consider AI webcams which can track and zoom in on whoever is speaking)
Poor audio and shaky video belong in the early-2020 era of remote working. Spend the extra time and money upgrading your tech setup—your workshop participants will be eternally grateful!
5. Plan a hybrid workshop agenda
It might sound obvious, but every last detail of your workshop agenda needs to be adapted to the hybrid environment.
For every exercise you plan, think about:
- How remote participants will take part
- How in-person attendees will take part
- Where and how the outcomes or deliverables will be collated and presented
For example, if you’re asking people to ideate in pairs or groups of three, how will they share their ideas? Will you add everybody’s ideas to a virtual whiteboard, or will you use actual Post-it notes? How will these outcomes be made available after the workshop?
When we run hybrid workshops here at AJ&Smart, we have everybody working together in the same Miro board, regardless of whether they’re in the room or remote. That’s just one way of doing it; some facilitators prefer a mostly laptop-free approach for in-person participants, in which case you’ll need to adapt and meet in the middle.
For any activities that require a physical action (for example, writing on a Post-it note and sticking it on a board), you’ll need a designated in-person scribe who can work on behalf of your remote attendees. If you take this approach, be careful not to leave your remote participants feeling powerless or lacking autonomy.
Like any workshop, it’s worth incorporating some ice-breakers. Come up with simple activities that everyone can do, regardless of how they’re joining the workshop—for example, getting everyone to draw something and hold it up, or to take a photo of something they can see beginning with a certain letter.
With careful planning, you can adapt pretty much any workshop agenda to the hybrid environment. The key is to plan every last detail, always keeping the same question in mind: How can I make this exercise as engaging for remote attendees as it is for those in the room?
And remember the golden rule of facilitation: the secret to running engaging workshops is balancing out how much time people spend on exercises vs. how much time they spend in “listening” mode. It’s essential to reduce the latter as much as possible—regardless of whether your workshop is hybrid, completely remote, or completely in-person.
6. Be clear about the structure of the workshop (and communicate it ahead of time)
The hybrid workshop model is still relatively new, and your participants might be unsure what to expect. Once you’re clear on all the physical and digital logistics, it’s important to share them with the group ahead of time.
You don’t need to give away the entire agenda, but a brief, pre-workshop email will go a long way.
I hope you’re looking forward to our workshop next week! Here’s some info on how it’ll work.
If you’re joining remotely, please dial in via Google Meet and have your video/webcam at the ready. Each remote participant will be visible via a dedicated desktop screen, so you’ll pretty much be sitting around the table with us 😊 We’ll have some additional webcams and microphones set up in the room, too, so we can all see and hear each other crystal-clear.
The workshop presentation will be accessible via Google Slides, and hooked up to a big screen at the front of the room which everyone will be able to see.
I’ve got a few activities planned that will require pen and paper, so it would be great if you could all have those to hand on the day. One exercise includes a PDF which you’ll receive via email or as a print-out, depending on where you are.
After the workshop, I’ll collate all notes, ideas and outcomes in Google Slides and share them with the group via email.
We’re all set! Please let me know if you have any questions.
This will help to put your participants’ minds at ease, and to ensure that everyone is set up correctly on the day.
7. Do a practice run
If this is your first hybrid workshop rodeo—or your first time trying out a particular hybrid setup—do a practice run.
So much of your success relies on all participants being able to see and hear each other clearly. Once you’ve got the room set up with all the necessary equipment, do a dummy run with one other person in the room and someone else dialing in.
It’s so simple, but so important. One slight technical hiccup could disrupt the entire workshop or accidentally exclude your remote participants. Do your due diligence ahead of time and make sure your setup is flawless.
8. Tap into the power of music to deliver an immersive, cohesive experience for all
In the wise words of Madonna: “Music makes the people come together (yeah)”. She may not have been thinking about hybrid workshops at the time, but the sentiment certainly applies!
Music is a huge factor when delivering a good workshop. It helps to create an immersive experience and, depending on the vibe you go for, can help to relax your participants, energize them, and get those creative juices flowing.
Many people forget about the power of music, especially when it comes to running hybrid or remote workshops. But, in the hybrid setting in particular, music is yet another way to bring people together. It simulates a cohesive environment where everyone is enjoying a similar experience, regardless of whether they’re in the room or dialing in from afar.
So: Have your playlist at the ready and make sure it’s accessible and audible for all participants.
9. Step up as a hybrid facilitator
The best facilitators don’t just plan awesome workshops; they’re also able to read the room and adapt accordingly.
In a hybrid meeting, you need to be hyper-aware of maintaining an even playing field for both remote and in-person attendees. If you notice that remote participants are less engaged or not speaking as much, make an effort to pull them in.
If you require people to break off into groups, don’t automatically segregate remote and in-person attendees. Hybrid workshops call for hybrid groups!
At the same time, be alert to any technical issues that might be impacting the remote experience. Can your remote participants see and hear as clearly as those in the room? And, equally important: can they be seen and heard?
Everything you know about being a good facilitator still applies—just make sure that your remote joiners are as involved and engaged as those attending in person.
Learn the 5 things you can do to become a top 1% facilitator
4. The best digital tools for a successful hybrid meeting
As you can imagine, there are some great tools and software out there to help you run an awesome hybrid workshop.
Our top picks include:
- Miro: An online collaborative whiteboard with built-in video conference tools, music, virtual sticky notes, and the very cool Stickies Capture function that enables you to digitize handwritten sticky notes.
- Butter: Another virtual collaboration tool that also works well in the hybrid environment. Butter has a ton of useful features such as a time-boxed agenda, customizable breakouts, a commenting and questions function, whiteboarding, and polls.
- Smart Gallery by Zoom Rooms: Smart Gallery is a Zoom Rooms feature that has been developed specifically to optimize the hybrid meeting experience. It uses cutting-edge hardware and AI to create individual video feeds of in-the-room participants, giving remote attendees a clear view of their fellow workshoppers. You can learn more about Smart Gallery in this guide, or see it in action in this video demo.
- Microsoft Teams Rooms: A meeting room solution that aims to bridge the gap between those working remotely and those in the office. Rooms promises high-quality video and audio, inclusive video layouts, intelligent speakers, collaborative whiteboarding, and intelligent content capture powered by AI. You can take a virtual tour of Microsoft Teams Rooms here
- Airmeet: A hybrid events platform that can also be used for hybrid workshops. Airmeet is especially geared towards larger workshops with lots of attendees, offering features for speed networking, team activities and group assignments, chat, polls, and Q&A, breakout sessions and huddles, and downloadable resources. If you’d like to learn more about Airmeet, they have tons of case studies.
Those are just a handful of tools you might consider for your hybrid workshop. Depending on the agenda and activities you have planned, you may just need good video conferencing software, Google Slides or Powerpoint, and some robust audio and video equipment.
5. Additional resources to help you run a successful hybrid workshop
By now, you hopefully have a good starting point for planning your hybrid workshop. Here are some additional resources you might find useful.
Tools & icebreakers:
- The best tools for engaging virtual attendees at hybrid events
- 10 tools for boosting engagement in hybrid meetings
- 35 icebreakers for your virtual and hybrid meetings
- 25 more icebreakers for hybrid workshops
- Hybrid team success toolkit (this is mostly geared towards the workplace but can be adapted for workshops)
- Digital facilitation tools for online workshops & meetings
Facilitation guides & best practices:
- How to master hybrid meetings: 22 best practices
- A guide to setting up a hybrid workshop environment for high engagement
- How to write a meeting agenda (with templates & examples)
- 9 proven strategies to help you manage your facilitation nerves
- The ultimate guide to workshop facilitation
- The ultimate guide to remote workshop facilitation