Many of us are back to working in the office, but that doesn’t mean we’re all together.  While some companies have brought their people back to working onsite full time, others are experimenting with a hybrid work model. Despite common challenges, delivering learning in a dispersed work environment can offer trainers the chance to effectively develop and facilitate lessons to live audiences.

Let’s look at a few scenarios.

Everyone Together

Ah, the halcyon days when everyone was in the same room. Everyone could share ideas freely and were eagerly waiting informative instruction.

Oh, wait. Those days never existed.

It is easy to think that having everyone together was all roses and sunshine, but that was rarely the case.  Returning to an all in-person training environment will quickly remind you how things really were. The details matter. Do you have enough copies of handouts, flip charts or name plates? Does the room have a projector, speakers or a microphone? How will you arrange the room? Do the tables move?

What about the attendees themselves? While remote training can have its annoyances, there are far more distractions that could occur in person: learners on their phones and laptops visibly not paying attention and side-bar conversations are more likely and are more distracting in person.

Consider all these issues and plan for success. Whenever possible, visit the location ahead of time, test all the equipment and consider all every scenario. There are many more of them than you may remember.

In-person Trainer in a Hybrid Classroom

As a facilitator it’s easy to focus on the people in the room with you to the exclusion of your remote audience, but they need as much (or more) of your attention to stay engaged.

It’s important to stay visible. Make sure you have a webcam set up that will allow them to see your entire stage no matter where you go, or if you have the resources, have a camera person ready to follow the action.

It’s also important that you see them. Request that all remote learners turn their cameras on and face the screen toward you. If you have multiple remote attendees, consider pinning a different person to view every so often. This will allow you with connect to them more easily and ensure you don’t forget about them. Have a trusty producer or co-facilitator monitor the remote attendees for any questions or comments.

Check in with them regularly and ask them specific questions so they feel involved.

When looking at group activities, be sure that there is a role for someone who can’t physically interact. For example, if the group is building a tower out of office supplies, make it so that one person on the team must tell the others what to do without touching the tower. In that way everyone has a leveled playing field.

Remote Trainer in a Traditional Classroom

A potentially more complicated circumstance occurs when you are remote, but you’re talking to an audience that is all in person or where some of the learners are remote.

For this you will likely need someone on the ground to be your advocate. Ask the person who requested the training to provide you with an onsite advocate. Be sure to meet with this assistant regularly to clarify how they can help.  They will prove instrumental in working with on-site technology, handing out material and “working the room” to clarify instructions and answer questions.

If possible, get a webcam into the classroom so you can see what is going on and ensure the activities are going according to plan.

Even if you can get a webcam into the room, you will likely not be able to see them well and may have trouble hearing them. Allow them to use a chat feature or provide them with a microphone so you can communicate clearly.

Remote Trainer in a Hybrid Classroom

To many people, it would be most challenging to train remotely to a group of people where some are in person and others are remote. It really does conflate the complications of both environments.

In this situation, an onsite advocate is essential. During activities and breakout sessions you could split the room where you work with remote attendees while the on-site advocate works with onsite attendees.

While that is a good way to start and build confidence, don’t be afraid to branch out and explore other options. Use your session as an opportunity to build communication skills between in-person and remote learners.

To do this, create a predetermined number of virtual breakout rooms. Your onsite advocate can set up the same number of laptops around the room and ask the in-person attendees to split up among those sites.  As the learners complete their activity or discussion, you and the in-person advocate can rotate between both the virtual and physical rooms to check progress and answer questions.

Moving Forward

While there are many challenges to facilitating groups in dispersed locations, it allows you to use your creativity to overcome those challenges. Consider all the similarities and potential pitfalls for both in-person and remote attendees; then determine the best way to facilitate the event that will give your training program the best of both worlds.

You may have to alter activities to meet these challenges or devise new activities where everyone can participate in specific roles. Consider sending all the course material out ahead of time so everyone comes in on a level playing field. Use technology to mimic how the attendees with communicate in the real world and it will be more impactful when they return to their duties. Provide hands-on and “hands-off” roles so all attendees can participate in activities.

Take time to plan, prepare and practice and you can be successful regardless of where you and your attendees are physically located.