A colleague recently had the opportunity to facilitate an in-room training session for one of our clients. When the global pandemic hit in early 2020, my learning and development company mobilized with speed to ensure that all of our customers could access our learning solutions virtually. This was the first session in over 18-months that was actually happening with participants and facilitator together at a physical location.
He prepared by drawing on his expertise in running face-to-face sessions prior to COVID-19 and walked into the building feeling excited and optimistic. As participants started filtering into the room, someone remarked, “Joe (a pseudonym) decided to work from home today so he will be dialing in,” and soon it became clear that this was the case for a few of the other participants scheduled to be part of the session. And just like that, this “on-site” session became hybrid. That is the reality of training today; after 18 months of fully virtual work, as some in-person work and training re-emerges, people expect to have the choice between on site and online formats, even down to the very last moment. Because of this, trainers need to be ready to work in a variety of hybrid settings at a moment’s notice.
Here are a few tips to help you be successful when you are facing this scenario:
Two (Facilitators) Are Better Than One!
A hybrid learning environment is always more complex than either fully online or fully onsite and having a partner to support you is the number one way to ensure the session runs smoothly. If you are in the room with some participants, while others are online, identify an online support person to monitor the online space; and if you are online while some participants are together in a room, identify someone in the room to be your physical eyes, ears and hands. Ideally, this would be done ahead of the session so that you could prepare alongside your second facilitator, ensuring you both are clear about the purpose of the session, the plan, content and exercises; and so that you can clarify how you will communicate and interact with each other during the session. In a pinch, you can ask a participant to take on the role of second facilitator for you.
If your co-facilitator is in the online space, they can monitor the chat, set up the exercises for online participants, and act as a bridge between you and the participants in the room. If your co-facilitator is in the room, they can hand out physical materials, notice when people have questions, clarify instructions and run in-room exercises.
Mix It Up!
Often, our default approach when we have participants in various settings is to group people based on their location, so for exercises or conversations we might set up breakout rooms for those connecting online, and group in-person participants together. However, training provides an important opportunity for people to connect across locations, so it may be worth the extra effort to intentionally set up exercises and conversations that mix in-person and online participants. This can be done by having in-person participants log in on computers and join online participants in online breakout rooms. Or, you can turn it around and have an online participant connect through a tablet that can be carried around by in-person participants. If your online participants are audio-only, have in-room groups use a symbol such as an empty chair or an action figure (think Monopoly pieces!) to represent the online person in their group. This reduces the chance that the online participant will be forgotten in the discussion or exercise.
If you do end up grouping people based on location for your exercises, look for ways to extend the learning after the synchronous session that encourage connections across settings. For example, assign learning partners or peer coaches that mix on-site and online learners.
Time is precious, and it is always difficult to get people together at a similar time, much less place. Make the most of the synchronous time you do have by reviewing your course content and considering what could be offered to all participants as self-guided content, to be completed in their own space and time prior to the live part of the course. This puts everyone on a level playing field coming into the synchronous part of the course and means you can focus on setting up ways of successfully interacting and conversing about the content in the hybrid space.
Another approach, for a course on giving feedback, might include providing a short video on effective and ineffective feedback and an infographic on your feedback model of choice to all participants ahead of when they are coming together for the synchronous part of the learning. Then you and your co-facilitator can focus on finding ways to facilitate discussion across the whole group about how and when to apply that information about feedback, as well as looking for ways to group people across the hybrid environment that allows them to practice giving feedback.
For this to work, you need to have a way of ensuring the pre-work is completed by all participants. Make it relevant and easy to access and hold people accountable.
Training or facilitating in a hybrid environment is definitely a challenge, but with some planning ahead, intentional integration of in-room and online participants and support in delivery, you will be able to provide an experience that meets the needs, preferences and contexts of your learners.