As a Service Designer, facilitating workshops is a big part of my work. I feel that nothing beats the luxury of having people coming physically together in the same space. We humans are social creatures. For most of us, it’s easier and more effortless to connect when meeting in person.
For me, it sure feels much easier to facilitate people towards common goals when we are physically together. Joint space functions as a collective memory and I have tons of tricks up my sleeve to make group work engaging and effective.
But, this kind of physical workshop has become practically impossible due to the coronavirus. All of a sudden everyone is working from home.
How do we collaborate effectively when everyone is remote?
You might feel tempted to cancel or postpone your workshops, but there is no need for that. You just need a little creativity and some systematic planning to pull off a successful workshop entirely remotely.
Nearly all businesses have to work remotely for the next while and at Eficode we’re no different. The challenge is to keep the projects moving at full speed. Enter “bunker based workshopping”. As of last two weeks, we started internally to share our best practices, favorite tools and handy tips on how to facilitate, collaborate and run great workshops with remote teams.
Here are our top 5 picks that might help you
1. Make sure everyone is prepared
With any workshop it’s always good practice to create an agenda and make sure participants know what they have to do to prepare. In remote workshopping mode this is even more important.
Make sure all participants know what the goals and desired workshop outcomes are, how the workshop will unfold, what kind of methods you will use, and what supplies, tools, and devices will be needed. For example, if you plan to do sketching during the remote workshop, participants should have paper and pens ready and within their reach. If you use online collaboration tools that work better with a large screen and roller mouse, advise your participants to gear up accordingly. If you want to do pair activities during the workshop, plan and prepare them in advance.
2. Plan an engaging workshop flow
Remember that participating remotely is not as engaging and energizing as being physically present. Participants get tired and bored more easily. The temptation to open another browser tab to answer a few emails or check Slack messages can become impossible to resist.
If you want your remote participants to be focused and present, you need to plan the workshop flow well. Break the workshop into max 10-minute chunks and make sure there are different kinds of work modes, activities and enough breaks in the agenda. It’s easier to improvise when your plan A is solid!
3. Make use of collaboration tools
For many workshops and meetings, it’s usually enough to just have a quality voice connection and the ability to share screens and edit documents simultaneously. However, sometimes this is not enough. Luckily, there are lots of great online collaboration tools that make remote workshopping easier and more engaging.
Last year, my colleagues ran a series of DevOps workshops for a large Danish insurance company that has distributed teams with members located across the globe.
During the kick-off keynote they surveyed the audience using a tool called Mentimeter. As the responses ticked in, they were visualized in real-time, creating an engaging experience with lots of talking points.
In a Value Stream Mapping exercise, it was also crucial to have a tool that resembles the qualities of a whiteboard. They used Miro, where every developer collaborated simultaneously on visualizing their process while discussing the details.
These tools gave an immediate overview and automatically saved all the results for the next workshops. Much more efficient than real world sticky notes!
Get to know the remote collaboration tools and learn to use them. It pays off. Before running the workshop, make sure every participant can use the chosen tools. Prepare clear instructions and if necessary hold a pre-training.
It’s also always good to have a backup plan. If a tool won't work for whatever reason, or some workshop participants keep dropping off, they should know who to contact and how.
4. Make it more human
Make sure everyone is mentally present and productive in your remote workshop by making it more human. You can do this with little things.
For one, make sure everyone knows who is present. If you don't want or can’t have the web cameras on all the time, ask people to put them on when they are talking or at least during the beginning of the workshop when you do a check-in or an introduction round. This might seem irrelevant but can make a big difference.
If your workshop participants don't know each other at all, put even more effort into this. People tend to be more creative and productive when they feel safe and comfortable. If the traditional introduction round feels awkward, you can form pairs who interview each other shortly and then present their pairs. It’s sometimes easier to talk about someone else than about yourself.
Another idea is to create a virtual mood board where everyone can upload an image that best describes how they are currently feeling and then introduce themselves with that image. This usually produces some laughs, which is always a good ice-breaker.
For the facilitator, one very simple yet handy tip is to have a list of participant names in front of you and keep addressing people by their names.
5. Adapt facilitation methods for remote
There are tons of great facilitation methods and the good news is that many of them can be quite easily adapted for remote work. One of the easiest facilitation methods is called Me-We-Us. The flow of the method is super simple yet effective:
- Start by giving participants individual working time (Me)
- Then ask them to share their thoughts and ideas within pairs or in small groups (We)
- Proceed to collect all the ideas and inputs together (Us)
Sounds simple enough?
What do you think, would these tips work for your workshops or perhaps you have some great tips of your own to share?
Want to discuss more about your projects and how we could help you?