How to collaborate creatively in a hybrid world

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When some people are in the office and others are in remote locations, discussing new ideas as a team relies on shared technological interfaces

The future is ‘distributed collaboration’ but it’s not the easiest thing to get right, so here we have mapped out a recipe for productive sessions in a hybrid environment that combines online and offline approaches.

1. Decide who needs to attend

Be discerning about who actually needs to attend the session as it will get chaotic if too many people are involved and there won’t be time to hear from everyone. One person will need to lead the workshop and act as the facilitator. Don’t just base your decision on hierarchy, though, as underestimating people lower down in the organisation could be a mistake. Fresh thinking is what you want.

2. Book a time, date and intention

Hybrid working means some people could be logging on from a remote location overseas, so consider time differences when planning a session. Midweek mornings (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) are probably when people are feeling most focused. Use an online scheduling platform such as Calendly to book a time that works for everyone, wherever they are. You will also need to specify how long the session will be – two hours is probably the limit.

3. Decide on a physical venue

It could make sense that the workshop facilitator is based in the office, but not necessarily. Think this through – there may be four people in the office that need a dedicated meeting room to attend the session, plus three people joining remotely. Will those in the office all need a laptop or iPad or will there be a large video-conferencing screen that can be used? (Tech can be supplied to create physical Zoom Rooms and BlueJeans Rooms, for example.)

Flexible workspaces such as Regus locations offer well-equipped meeting rooms, so if you’re struggling for space or are a small business owner looking to make the right impression with face-to-face attendees, this might be a good solution.

4. Allow for advanced preparation

Most people don’t respond well to being put on the spot – they need time to gather their thoughts and reflect on the brief. To make sure everyone is prepared for the session, set some questions in advance and explain what problems you want to overcome. What is the objective of the meeting? You could set up a running Google Doc or Slack channel where people can share their ideas in advance.

Consider what you might need from a creative stimulus point of view, too. If there are props or products you’ll need to interact with or test out during the session, make sure all attendees have had access to them upfront.

5. Choose your video-conference platform

Most companies have their preferred video-call provider now, but it’s worth considering all the options – Google Meet (previously Hangouts) has the advantage of being connected with other Google Workspace applications such as Forms, Sheets, Calendar, Slides and Jamboard (see below). GoToMeeting, ClickMeeting, RingCentral Video and BlueJeans are others to consider. If you’re sticking with Zoom or Microsoft Teams, that’s fine – just remember to send everyone the link to join.

It’s worth staying abreast of technology if you’re likely to be doing hybrid collaboration in the long-term. As time moves on, the platforms available to facilitate meetings like these will only improve. Who knows when we might be able to send holograms to sit in meetings alongside our real-life colleagues?

6. Synthesise initial ideas

The day before the session begins, the facilitator should go through all the ideas that have been submitted in advance and highlight any that stand out or are worthy of further exploration. Don’t be too dismissive at this stage, though. Give people a chance to explain their thinking in person, without prejudice. It’s easy to crush confidence and, consequently, miss out on hearing potentially great ideas.

7. Use a virtual whiteboard

Once everyone is in attendance, you will probably find that using a virtual whiteboard/dry erase board works ten times better than pointing a camera at a physical whiteboard. Miro, Mural and Google Jamboard are all great options for working collaboratively in this way. The facilitator should be very familiar with how the technology works and set a warm-up activity to get people started. It’s a good idea to assign attendees different coloured virtual ‘sticky’ notes with their name on. They can then use these to write their ideas on as the session moves forward.

8. Follow up

After the session is over, compile all the ideas and send a follow-up email with a summary of what was achieved. People may come up with additional thoughts that ‘ladder’ on the initial ideas in the days that follow.

With locations in thousands of locations worldwide, discover how Regus can help your business thrive in the new, hybrid world of work