Remote workshops in the hindsight or what comes in handy even now

CZ  | EN
22. 5. 2020
Reading time: 1 min.

Few weeks ago we wouldn’t even think about having to lead an entire HCD (Human-Centered Design) project in an online mode. Past the initial shock (ours and clients’) and much speculation on how to go about it, we jumped straight into online workshopping and interviewing. At first with some worries, last time as seasoned veterans who cannot be surprised by kids, dogs and cats on the camera. Our team at ČSOB trusted us with the experiment and so we managed to hold 3 all-day workshops (9-17) and multiple two-hour meetings. I came across a gazillion “How to lead a remote workshop” texts on LinkedIn. But let’s take a step back and look at it in time.

Phase 1: Crap, how do we make it work?

Alright, we now have to work from home. How are we gonna do it? We are used to leading all the workshops “physically” using tons of post-its and other materials. Miro? Ok… We are postponing the first workshop and instead do an internal remote rehearsal. When desperate, our colleague sings to us and we have a little dance party in our respective living rooms. It works – we feel encouraged, the atmosphere is relaxed and it builds the team. And who knows, we are just at the beginning of the project and regulations to stay at home.

Phase 2: OK, the quarantine is the real deal, let’s try with the client

When it was becoming obvious that we are not gonna set foot in the office for a while, let alone in bigger groups, we decided to try online workshopping with the client. Here are a few tips on what to do before you even start:

  • Try everything in advance. We basically rehearsed the entire workshop internally before having it with the client. How to work in Miro? What methods should we use? What is better – working individually or in a group? We definitely do not have such extensive preparation for “physical” workshops. However, without it the online one would go straight to hell.
  • Even if you work only with an internal team it is useful to keep your agenda and timing. At first we neglected it and it quickly got out of hand.
  • Get your digital workspace ready in advance. It applies both for internal as well as external workshops. We for example ended up not using Miro templates. Thus we prepare all “post-its” and “flip charts” ahead so on the day of the workshop we can just write on it and move it as we need.
  • If connection fails, use the good, old, traditional phone. So it goes without saying that having everyones’ phone number is a must.

Phase 3: Let’s get to work or dos and don’ts for workshop facilitators

All-day workshops were our daily bread prior to the quarantine. Yes, we did use online tools but we were always all physically at one place. Here are a few things that we learnt while seeing each other on screens:

  • Always have your screen divided between workspace and participants. Or use two screens. Focusing on facial expressions and body language even remotely is very important.
  • If you are sharing your screen, always keep a communication channel with your team somewhere else. You cannot possibly keep track of the chat while presenting. At the same time, being able to coordinate internally with your team during the workshop is priceless.
  • The biggest advantage of online inputs is that everyone can have it in front of their eyes all the time. If you as a facilitator want to keep this under control, it is better to only share the screen at specific moments to make sure you don’t divide your audience’s attention.
  • Keep talking and describe. When workshopping remotely, silence is a mystery – suspicious and uncomfortable. Explain to the audience what is going on, what you are waiting for and why it just seems like nothing is happening at the moment.
  • Choose your methods carefully to fit the purpose. During our last workshop, we decided to do a lot of work individually and then put the various inputs together as a team. And it worked wonders.
  • Make room for questions, comments and chatting and let someone else from your team administer it.
  • Give your attendants numbers to indicate their turn to give comments or participate. It’s just like a little throwback to summer camps 🙂
  • Keep it easy. Online is not very good for the informal chit chat that can work miracles over coffee breaks. That’s why we decided to dedicate time to it during our last workshop. Just ask whatever comes to your mind and talk about small things as well.

Phase 4: What’s next or being and not being online at the same time

When we managed to bring our online workshops almost to perfection we hit another bump on the road. We started to get a combination of online and offline. We had 7 participants online, we were online, but we also had 3 participants together at one place. There is a whole different dynamic in an online versus an offline group. And we got this weird hybrid. We quickly realized that it is very important to watch each of those in the same room separately. We needed to make sure they don’t discuss when they should be working individually, watch how they communicate with each other and ensure that everyone is putting in their own ideas during brainstorming.

As we are slowly returning to our offices, it seems that offline physical groups will be getting bigger. At the same time it will still take a while before we can all meet and many people will still be joining us online. This hybrid on-off model is thus another challenge in workshopping with the clients. But that’s for next time.

Michaela Šišková

Senior Innovation Designer

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