How to Facilitate Remote Workshops
Workshops are mostly about interactions between people, dynamic exercises, and vivid discussions. Remote workshops, on the other hand, are quite different as there are aspects that you will not find in those organized in the office. It’s not always easy to keep everything on track, let alone moderate them remotely.
In recent months, the planning and implementation of remote workshops have become commonplace in Miquido. This applies to both short discovery workshops or those specifying the exact scope of MVP, but also to entire product design sprints. We have some of them behind us, so we hope you find these tips and thoughts helpful.
Time and breaks
Normally, workshops are planned for the whole day (about 6h). But not in case of remote sessions. Participants sitting in front of the computer get tired and bored much faster. That’s why it’s a good idea to organize remote workshops in sessions of up to 4-5 hours.
The best hours are the morning ones, e.g. 9 am -1/2 pm. Working with a fresh mind is better and nobody thinks about other overdue things waiting to be done. Remote workshops will take place on more days, but you can use afternoons to prepare for the next session. Let’s take into consideration a product design sprint – you can do additional research, work on a prototype, or even prepare MVP estimation for the next day’s session.
Don’t forget about well-planned breaks. Our concentration at online meetings drops very quickly. Give participants a 15-minute break every 1,5 hours. As a facilitator, keep observing the energy level in your team.
Team building is another important matter. The more people at the meeting, the greater the likelihood that someone will not be focused and engaged. This does not affect group dynamics well. It’s worth taking care of diversifying the team and gathering key people: a creative, technical person, a project or product manager, and of course the most important and decisive people from the client’s team.
Here, it is worth realizing that key decision-makers are needed and they must have space for active participation, not only observation. The best idea is not to have more than 6-8 people on the call – but the fact is that it is not always possible. It’s a good idea to rotate teams if you have sessions focused only on design or technology.
In remote workshops, the space for small talk is a bit short, so it’s important not to skip some kind of icebreaker and simple exercises that help the team get to know each other better. This can be combined with an introduction to the tool that you will be using.
Asking participants not to use computers or phones is standard in the workshop contract. In case of remote workshops, a laptop is a must and it’s always tempting to open another tab for other things. So stress this point in the contract, and if possible ask for keeping cameras on during the workshop. Thanks to this, as a facilitator you can immediately see when the eyes of the participants start to drift away.
Don’t be afraid to remind everyone, but try to do it with a dose of humor, as not to introduce an unpleasant atmosphere 🙂
Working in groups
For remote workshops, you must additionally plan the structure of the exercises. And this is the most challenging part! Working in groups is trickier, but it can be solved by dividing into groups with an additional “room” in the teleconference tool.
Exercises involving loud brainstorming are worth changing to the quiet type. Just ask participants to generate ideas on sticky notes. If there are a lot of ideas to discuss, it is worth limiting presentations to only the most important and interesting ones, which were indicated by the participants by dot voting.
Sketching is not comfortable for everyone even in standard workshops. Using a new tool to sketch would be an additional stressor – so let’s keep this session in the “real” world. Just give participants 15-20 min in private to sketch solutions and then upload all the photos of the sketches to the board. The presentation can start now!
Discussion in a conference call is a challenge. Two scenarios await us: either everyone will start talking at the same time, or no one will. So let’s moderate it with exercises. Prepare a board divided into several categories – challenges/questions/doubts, which will allow everyone to put their opinion and questions, and then you can all calmly discuss it step by step.
What about simple questions such as: Do you need a break? Do we all agree? Any more questions? It is worth asking the participants to show ok/not ok – with a gesture of the hand or just nod of the head 🙂 Thanks to this we do not introduce chaos, and as facilitators, we know if the group is compatible.
What about people who will take on the role of an observer during a remote workshop? Let’s moderate discussions and engage those who seem absent with additional questions.
What if the discussion begins to drift away?
- Plan so-called parking slots on the workshop board. If a topic requires a separate discussion, we park it and return to it later.
- Inform participants how much time we have for a specific topic. Thanks to this, everyone is aware, and cutting off the discussion no longer sounds “rude”.
- If we anticipate that a topic may trigger a wave of comments, let them be collected by participants on sticky notes. Thanks to this, as a facilitator, we know how many “points of view” we need to predict in the discussion.
Before the workshop, it is important to introduce the participants to the rules and the tool you will work on. Remind them about having headphones and access to the camera, not to mention a stable internet connection. For facilitating two screens is a must – you have to have space to work onboard and observe the team.
The day before, send an instruction with the possibility to test the tool but do remember about the introduction at the beginning of the workshop. There are many online tools to conduct remote workshops. Choose which you like the most, but remember to test the team access and prepare templates for exercises.
Workshops are full of different dynamics. Sometimes, even though we plan an exact agenda, verify and plan with the client along with their course, it turns out that some changes need to be made. In this situation, you can always talk to the team on an additional communication channel, or make quick consultations during a break. For this purpose, it is worth preparing an additional internal meeting, where the team can make a quick chat during the break.
Need more design tips?
If you are hungry for more, read our other blog posts about product design here. Need straight answers? Shoot us a question at firstname.lastname@example.org!