Enabling connections in a hybrid world

The challenges and benefits of running internal tech conferences in a hybrid-working fashion

2022 Engine Room Confernece where approximately a third of the attendees were online

Cultural impact

When I joined the FT Delivery team last year in November 2021, my first week coincidentally landed in the inaugural week of the Delivery Room conference, which was organised by the Delivery Management team focusing on sharing the knowledge, experiences, and best practice that had been acquired over the years. Later in the same month it was the turn of the Engine Room conference which is engineering-focussed and a well established event in its seventh year of running.

2022 Delivery Room conference where I helped host a hybrid workshop

Hybrid or not to hybrid

Earlier this year when visiting my delivery colleagues in Sofia we were asked who would like to help organise the Delivery Room conference. Without a second thought I volunteered, as did my colleague whom I mentioned started at the same time as me. She is based in Sofia whilst I am in London.

Hybrid pros are larger captive audience, heighten engagement and interactive experience. Hybrid cons are added costs for in f2f experience (drinks & food), more planning/set-up involved e.g. challenge in harmonising online and onsite audiences, risk of audience envy of f2f experience More decisions e.g. do we co-locate (London or Sofia). Online pros are little if not zero costs, can be rehearsed easily and eco-friendly. Online cons are no personal contact/relationship buiding, reduced engagement
Table used to help decide if the 2022 Delivery Room conference should be hybrid or fully online

Rubix Cube Agenda Challenge

I learnt from a previous tech director’s blog post on the 2020 Engine Room;

How to include everyone

Empathy of timings for a global audience is key to a successful and inclusive conference. The decision of when to start, smaller/longer break timings and when to end is an important one. Having things in the middle of the UK day gave us the best chance for people in our Sofia and Manila offices to be able to join in too. We recorded all the talks, as the afternoon sessions would still be late in these locations. Also lots of people are working flexibly at the moment so we wanted those people to be able to watch it later, as well as help make the conference memorable.

2022 Engine Room lightening talk on how Amplitude can make your lives easier and reduce bugs

That conference vibe

When I chatted to some of the speakers who were hosting a physically located session beforehand they all said that this was the first time post-pandemic they were speaking at a conference in public. I got a sense of their nervousness but also their excitement from that lost feeling of speaking to a physical audience. The speakers who were virtual hosting all expressed how much easier it is to confidently speak publicly and have all their notes/prompts to hand.

  • London Office ~30 people
  • Sofia Office ~30 people
  • Manila Office ~8 people (*note it was 6pm there)
  • Online ~120 people

Best of both worlds

I clearly remember a great talk that had the audiences both in the office and online completely engaged. The speaker used analogies of his breadmaking hobby with the effective re-use of design components. He even brought some of his homemade bread in for the audience and put up pictures of the various types of bread (drool emoji galore).

Engine Room talk on Bread, Brands, & Cross Group Collaboration
2022 Engine Room talk on Bread, Brands, & Cross Group Collaboration

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