We’ve all heard how Design Sprints can transform the way companies can work better — from solving big business challenges quickly to refining company processes to launching innovative ideas. 

Now, as companies adjust to survive and thrive in the pandemic-impacted world, Design Sprints are more important than ever. They were originally created to be done in person, but the working world changed in ways no one anticipated in 2020, and most businesses were forced to adapt to the virtual landscape. In response, facilitators had to rethink how to run workshops like Design Sprints with a distributed team

We’re currently facing another shift as many companies are considering a hybrid workplace, and workshop facilitation must adapt to accommodate hybrid events. In fact, prior to last year’s lockdown, Voltage Control had only ever facilitated one hybrid Design Sprint. After everything we’ve experienced over the past 18 months, however, we expect hybrid Design Sprints to become more commonplace.

How a hybrid Design Sprint differs from an in-person one

In theory, how a hybrid Design Sprint happens is not tremendously different from a more traditional in-person Design Sprint. While hybrid sprints require a bit more preparation — and technology — the overall framework is the same. At Voltage Control, we follow the five-day methodology established by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures:

  • Monday Map the problem space.
  • Tuesday Sketch big ideas, and take risks.
  • Wednesday Decide on a solution and create a step-by-step plan.
  • Thursday Build a prototype experience.
  • Friday Test with real users and observe.

To be honest, the most obvious change in the shift to hybrid is using an online collaboration space like Mural vs. placing sticky notes on a whiteboard (more on that later). For the most part, thanks to advances in video conferencing, almost everything else can happen as it would’ve in 2019 — with an important schedule adjustment. 

MURAL templates allow distributed participants to work together in real-time using a virtual whiteboard.

Any Design Sprint with a distributed team, whether remote or hybrid, must move at a slower pace to accommodate remote attendees and give them the best experience possible. You don’t want distributed participants to spend more than four hours on Zoom as being chained to a desk and laptop for any longer can stifle focus and participation. Therefore, you must adapt the Sprint agenda for all attendees. This could mean supplementing shorter live-working sessions with asynchronous work that all attendees can complete no matter where they are (and on their own time). 

How to prepare for a hybrid Design Sprint

As companies reopen their offices, it’s a given that some employees will be hesitant to return. Their reasoning, however, will be radically different. Some won’t be comfortable complying with a mandatory vaccination policy while others won’t want to give up the comfort (and flexibility) of working from home. And those are just two of the many reasons people may not be eager to return to the workplace.

A hybrid Design Sprint can accommodate those who want to be in office and those who don’t. It’ll just require a little more forethought to ensure things run smoothly and no one feels left out. First, make a list of your ideal participants then verify who can attend in person and who will attend remotely. Next, think about the geographic alignment of these participants. Finally, identify the physical locations that will be required to meet in person. 

Knowing all of this will help you book any necessary physical meeting spaces, set up an appropriate number of video conferencing rooms, source the necessary A/V equipment and use physical proximity to determine the team structure for breakout sessions. As you can see, accommodating everyone’s needs will require detailed planning. This careful attention, however, will show that you equally value what everyone — regardless of their location — has to contribute.

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How to run a hybrid Design Sprint

The one hybrid Design Sprint Voltage Control conducted pre-pandemic was a last-minute change due to an employee’s sudden inability to travel to the meeting site. We managed it OK (and have learned how to adequately adapt since then). We diligently repeated things and drew our remote attendee into the conversation. We also had to adapt our facilitation approach when we got to heat mapping the sketches on Day 3. Our prototyper simply held a camera phone up to the wall so the remote attendee could let her know where to place dots on the sketches. 

Conducting this impromptu hybrid Design Sprint taught us an important lesson about inclusion. To foster connectivity with those not in the room, it’s a good idea to have more than one facilitator. In the above instance, I deputized the prototyper — who had facilitation experience — to stay on top of chat messages from the remote attendee so their comments weren’t ignored in favor of what those in the room were saying. 

This is why I recommend every hybrid Design Sprint has one facilitator for each physical environment and one facilitator for the virtual environment. I also suggest the co-facilitators have a separate online collaboration space where they can communicate or coordinate both prior to and during the sprint. Before the Sprint occurs, they can use this space to get in sync about the arc of the event, the necessary preparations, the potential pitfalls, and everyone’s individual roles. During the Sprint, the facilitators can use this same space to chat with each other about what cameras should be used, what mics should be muted, etc. 

The tools you’ll need to succeed

To make sure you’re capturing what’s happening in the rooms — and giving those who are remotely participating a way to engage — here are the tools and gear we recommend:

Video conferencing platforms

While you’ve likely used Zoom, Google Meet, and Webex in the past, there are also upstarts like Butter. While none of these are perfect solutions — we’d love to pin multiple feeds so we could specifically monitor those not in the room — each service has useful features.

Online collaboration spaces

While participants will each work on their own laptops, we also recommend the use of a virtual whiteboard like Mural or Miro. Working in tandem or asynchronously, each team member will be able to see what everyone else is doing — no matter where they are.

Project management software

While we’re partial to Trello here at Voltage Control, we’ve also used Basecamp, Asana, and Monday. Some of these services have steeper learning curves than others, so make sure you choose the one that works for the majority of your team.

Omnidirectional microphones

An omnidirectional mic ensures remote participants hear everything that’s said in the room. For a large conference room, you’ll want to link two of them together (positioning each towards the ends of the table). While Webex sells its own A/V gear, the Blue Yeti Microphone and Jabra Speakerphones are also worth considering.

Check out our free guides for even more advice

For additional insights on how to execute hybrid Design Sprints, I encourage you to download our 21-page Hybrid Work Guide. It goes beyond what’s above and covers much of what you’ll need to know to establish a hybridized workplace. We also have a Remote Design Sprint 101 Guide that can help you plan for the remote attendee experience. If you have any questions after reading — or want to schedule a consultation — you can contact us at hello@voltagecontrol.com.

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