New challenges, new possibilities

The Corona era taught us above all: virtual work is not only possible but works great in many applications. Some people would prefer not to return to the former training and workshop world with travel, organizing seminar hotels, etc. At the same time, many long to feel like a team again, to meet each other personally again, to meet and perceive each other holistically, with small talk and everything that goes with it. Even difficult topics and conflicts seem to be much easier to work on in personal encounters.

Even before the Corona era, we and many other companies had already held numerous web meetings, especially for regular update meetings and standard meetings. Often in meetings and workshops some of the participants were present remotely. In the meantime, we have further developed practically all seminars in a virtual form. Many workshop formats are also implemented purely virtually, for example the Innovation Marathon in the framework of the Forum Alpbach.

So, what happens next? We see an increasing desire to combine the best of both worlds – in other words, to work in hybrid settings. By “hybrid settings” we mean the combination of face-to-face meetings and virtual settings. This ranges from a single remote person linked to a classic face-to-face meeting to virtual settings which link a plenary group and several small groups, sitting in different places (for further variations see the graphic below). In all cases, there are challenges in terms of technology but also in terms of “non-discriminatory” participation, i.e. no unfair preference or discrimination of individual participants (groups). First: This sounds simple, but it is not. Just as a hybrid car needs a lot of additional equipment and has clear advantages over pure EVs like Tesla only in selected use cases, so it seems to be the case with hybrid settings. So, it depends very much on the concrete situation.

Differentiated approach – principles and generalization

If a (purely) physical meeting is not possible (e.g. due to travel restrictions), we recommend purely virtual meetings whenever possible. Nevertheless, we have embarked on a learning journey into the world of hybrid settings. Our question is: How can principles and rules, methods, roles, and technical equipment be designed to enable a non-discriminatory participation of dispersed participants without technical frustration? In our view, there is currently no simple, generally applicable answer to this question. It all depends on:

  • What is the goal or of the meeting or workshop (and how much interactive or creative work is required).
  • Which spatial constellations should be combined in hybrid settings.
  • And what effort one is willing to invest in the hybrid setting.

A first important distinction is the question: What is the purpose and what complexity of interaction should the meeting design cover? If the focus is on sharing information and the possibility of feedback and asking questions, then this places significantly lower demands than if the design is to enable creative, content-based dialogues in mixed breakout groups. Second important distinction: Which spatial/local variations and combinations of hybrid settings does the situation require (see graphic)? Typically, there are locally distributed smaller groups and individuals in addition to the main room (plenary room). It makes a significant difference whether each participant has his or her own technology (camera, microphone) or whether they share it. In a dominating plenary room, virtual individual participants and remote groups are often “forgotten”. The intended non-discriminatory participation is very challenging. Third important distinction: How much effort are you willing to put in? Large events can be well realized with a great deal of technical effort if one is willing to invest in sound equipment, video mixing desk, moderators and audio/video technicians, etc. Settings with simple means often reach their limits – and are often not stable and robust enough. And yet a lot is possible here as well.

Work in progress: hybrid settings with (mostly) simple means

An example: Workshop with 30 to 40 participants with planned group work, where the largest group is at headquarters, three small groups are in the branches, further participants are in different hotel rooms. The workshop should be about sharing content (presentations), obtaining feedback on it, discussing questions, working out solutions in mixed small groups, documenting the results and making them visible to everyone. The design should be guided by the following principles: transparency – who contributes what, and (communicative) non-discrimination – everyone is equally involved. A structured approach is also helpful here:

Roles in hybrid settings are very similar to those in virtual meetings. You need at least two moderators. The content moderator is clearly visible and audible to everyone – and on the other hand has a good view of all participants. The technical moderator is in control of sound and vision, operates breakout groups, chats, Menti queries, etc. We strongly recommend that there is also one moderator paying special attention to all remote participants.

Methods are largely applicable as in physical meetings, supplemented by the possibilities of virtual tools (survey tools such as, digital whiteboard such as However, small group methods quickly reach their limits.

Rules of communication and participation are extended in hybrid settings to include rules for the (non-discriminatory) integration of all groups and, especially in COVID times, rules on hygiene and security.

Technology: There is a lot to be said on this topic and the experiences are growing almost daily. It is important to look at all five dimensions: Sound, picture, visualization, collaboration, and internet connection. We have summarized some practical tips

Suggestions and practical tips on “technology” in hybrid settings – work in progress

Suggestions and practical tips on “technology” in hybrid settings – work in progress

SOUND: hear and be heard

  • Remote groups are usually easy to integrate with conference hands-free kits (eMeet, Jabra).
  • The challenge is the plenary room: Either you use a professional sound system or a software mixer for several USB devices (conference speaker, headset for the moderator, mobile microphone). Up to about 12 participants in the plenary room can also work with a good conference hands-free kit. Above that, the demands on the technology increase by leaps and bounds.

VISUALISATION: contribute and view/change contributions

  • Screens can be shared for presentations.
  • For the visualization of contributions, we use either flipchart/pinboard with own camera and/or a virtual whiteboard (e.g. Miro-Board).

PICTURE: stay in contact from plenary room with remote groups

  • A laptop (camera and monitor) in front of the main presenter simulates eye contact to the remote groups.
  • Video transmissions from different perspectives: Plenary room cameras in the front and back allow the remote groups to get a feeling of the overall situation; a room camera should also be available in all remote groups.
  • Two large monitors in the plenary room: one shows the shared contents, one transmits the images of the remote groups to the participants in the plenary room.
  • A mobile camera unit on a tripod allows the integration of offline presentation materials and atmosphere of breaks. We like to use a smartphone with power bank and direct internet access.

COLLABORATION: Breakout groups, contribute with questions/feedback

  • Questions and feedback on presentations work well via chat function or query tool (Mentimeter).
  • Working in small groups/breakout groups is always a challenge. Small groups with physical proximity are easier to organize – keep in mind, that COVID protection must be observed. require significantly more technology and logistics for acoustic decoupling. The best solution is a simulated virtual meeting: Everyone is connected with their own headset and laptop/mobile device. The alternative is separate group rooms at the main location with individual virtual participation from the remote groups.

INTERNET CONNECTION: stability and bandwidth

  • Usually everything is good when testing. Once all participants are logged on to the WIFI, the problems become apparent.
  • Suggestions: If possible, connect the host PC via LAN cable, use a mobile phone network for mobile devices – not everyone has to be connected to the WIFI.
  • Provide backup: This includes options for joining via telephone, a separate mobile hotspot, but also distributed co-host roles.

Summary: Recommendations from the ICG point of view

From our experience with many virtual and hybrid meetings we can say the following:

Purely physical settings (all participants are on site)

are easier to moderate, enable good group dynamics, good comprehensibility, and equal involvement of all participants. In addition, there is also the possibility for quick and social contact. Typically, everyone is well- or even very well-satisfied. Current COVID measures are however a real challenge.

Purely virtual settings

are more complex to moderate, offer sufficient group dynamics (if everyone is present via video), good comprehensibility, strong focus on the work and allow equal involvement of each participant. Quick side agreements and social contact are only possible to a very limited extent. If the platform is stable and if everyone is present via video, typically everyone is well- or very well-satisfied with the content of the work. The social exchange is not perceived as sufficient – on the other hand there are no COVID restrictions.

Hybrid Settings (groups are in distributed locations)

unfortunately, do not offer “The best of both worlds”. Too often the restrictions from both settings dominate, and can only be minimized with great effort (technology, additional roles). Informal contacts on-site are possible, but they will never be non-discriminatory. In the same way, group dynamics and participation are often “imbalanced” – dislocated participants feel less involved, local people feel inhibited in the dialogue. Typically, none of the participants feel very satisfied.


If a (purely) physical meeting is not possible (e.g. due to travel restrictions), we recommend purely virtual meetings as a priority. However, as with hybrid cars, there are some special applications where hybrid settings bring clear advantages and satisfaction to the participants. Here are a few examples: a temporary virtual participation of experts or resonance groups in largely physical meetings, meetings with little cross-location collaboration or primarily content-based meetings with little group dynamics. If you choose hybrid settings, use as many elements of virtual meetings as possible – both in terms of roles and technology. Pay attention to technology, so that it is robust and redundant – make it as simple as possible.