Skip to main content

As we near the easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK, a question that is front of mind for many organisations is: ‘How can we retain the benefits of virtual collaboration while embracing a return to in-person events?’

In this article, we will address this question in the context of our Accelerator events. At Gate One, we use our Accelerator capability to unpack complex business challenges and craft event experiences to help solve them. We work with leadership teams to co-create events that excite, align and inspire their teams as they plan their organisation’s next chapter. But as we start to enter a period of hybrid working, what will this mean for Accelerator events and virtual vs in-person events more generally?

Keeping the spark

In the not-too-distant past, Accelerator events were almost always hosted in-person, with participants travelling – sometimes from abroad – to join sessions. Over the past year however, many organisations have come to realise the benefits of running virtual events, including reduced costs, lower environmental impact, and the potential for innovative event design and facilitation.

On the flipside, a major challenge has been learning how to retain participants’ attention and keep everyone engaged in a virtual setting.

Some tips we have learned to keep people engaged during virtual events include the following.

  • Novelty – to retain people’s attention, we recommend introducing novel elements at least every 15 minutes. This could mean new voices, content, structure or even gamification.
  • Engagement limits – sessions shouldn’t run for more than two hours in a virtual environment. The benefit of being virtual is that the event can be split over multiple days. For example, a traditional one-day, in-person event could be three, two-hour sessions spread out over a week.
  • Digital collaboration – mural and other digital collaboration platforms have become the norm, replacing the traditional whiteboard. These platforms are easy to use, intuitive, engaging and inclusive for all participants.
  • Time to reflect – spacing out sessions can help people absorb and retain information, as well as reflect on the problems and conclusions drawn from previous sessions. Create this space by leaving a few days in between sessions to give participants the opportunity to improve learning outcomes and create proactive habits.

Shaping the future

Recent research1 shows that ~60% of office workers favour hybrid working, with ~20% keen to return to the office full-time and ~20% preferring to be fully remote. So how does this hybrid working model apply to collaboration events?

There is no denying that as humans, we are typically social creatures. There has traditionally been an innate preference for in-person events – a valuable day out for networking and catching up with colleagues. But as organisations have realised the benefits of virtual events, many are open to exploring novel ways of working and innovative approaches to events that might include some virtual elements.

Is the future of collaboration events therefore hybrid? Quite possibly, but rather than each event having a mix of virtual and physical participants, organisations are more likely to benefit from running fully in-person and fully virtual sessions. This will enable them to retain the benefits of both without doubling the complexity.

Hosting events with some participants online and some in the room significantly increases the complexity of event design and can create a two-tier experience. Among some of the factors to consider are audio-visual challenges – with potential difficulties hearing people online or in the room, and the impact of a mix of technology inputs – with virtual participants using their own devices while in-person participants use the event hosts. So while technology makes it possible to host in-person and online participants at the same time, it might not necessarily make for a better event experience.

To get the most out of your hybrid event, use short, sharp virtual sessions to support a flagship in-person session. In practice, this means a previously three-day, in-person event could now be a one-day, in-person session, supported by a number of virtual sessions before and after the flagship in-person session. The one-day, in-person session would retain the social benefits and networking opportunities people enjoy, while the virtual sessions can be spaced out over a longer period of time to retain the benefits of a virtual event.

Dónal Browne

Our talented team can help you design a unique hybrid Accelerator event, tailored to your organisation. We’ll give you the space and the guidance to turn your intuition, data and experiences into action.