Best practices for remote workshops in 2020

2020 has brought in a lot of changes in the way people do business. Most companies moved their operations and business online. The challenge was not only to learn how to adapt to the inevitable changes but also how to implement them successfully. Remote workshops are the single most popular way to communicate both internally and externally. Having in mind they are not easy to conduct, what can you do to ensure the success of your remote workshops? Here are some of the practices that have worked well for us and our clients.

1. Preparation

Preparing for online events is as important as it is for offline events. You should always aim to make people feel welcome and prepared by sending a message to the participants before kicking off the workshop with the agenda, instructions and some sneak peeks to get them exited. First impressions matter and will shape the rest of the workshop. 

Here's an example of an "Ahead of the workshop" email I like to send out

2. Tools

The use of proper tools can get you far. Our go-to tool for remote collaboration on workshops is Miro. The experience with the software is so seamless you almost forget you're not in the same room. Miro allows you to map out and facilitate the entire collaborative experience on a remote whiteboard in a way that is really intuitive even for first-time users. Other great supporting tools for remote workshops are Zoom to connect the video, and Slack to communicate with the participants, pin the board link, share relevant documents etc. The three combined are a proven recipe to make remote workshops run smoothly.

Our remote workshops tool stack for 2020

3. Accessibility

Not everyone in the workshop has prior experience with remote workshops tools. So make sure that everyone has been granted access and provide clear instructions on how to use them. I normally include a few simple pre-workshop exercises in the board itself, so the participants get a hang of the tool. What's also important in times of distributed teams is that everyone has the same collaborative experience of being fully remote, even if part of the group is sitting in the same room. Each person is to use their own computer to join the Zoom call, camera on of course.

Some 'Get to know Miro" exercises from AJ&Smart that I like to use to onboard participants.

4. Planning

Make sure you plan out every step of the workshop. As a facilitator, I usually spend 3x the duration of the workshop on the prep itself. I like to prepare an extended personal agenda and shape it into a Miro board with specific timings, exercise guides, individual and collaboration spaces, frameworks, facilitation tips and disaster scenarios (connectivity, group dynamic, timing or technical issues). I like to prepare backup plans, because, unlike with offline events, in a remote setting it is much more difficult to improvise. Facilitators, make sure you set up your workspace before the workshop - two monitors work best for me, one for the whiteboard and one for watching faces on Zoom.

I structure the Miro boards with timings, next steps and additional tips.

5. Observation

If you are the host of the workshop, don’t forget to have your camera on and instruct everyone else to do the same. This will help establish better relationships and keep track of participants’ mood and energy levels. Pay special attention to that as it can determine the course of your workshop. Schedule the breaks and activities in a way to keep the participants clearheaded and engaged throughout the entire session.

Deep thinking or distraction? (It was deep thinking) :)

6. Engagement

People will actively participate when you give them the structure and opportunity to contribute during our workshop. Similar to offline events, you want to have and maintain a good balance between think alone time and group discussion. Each participant should have their own work space and be assigned a colour for their post-its so that they can visually be presented in group discussions. Some of the things you can do together is ideation, prioritizing, voting, sketching, etc. 

Split the whiteboard in individual and group activities

7. Closure

In order to give the group a sense of accomplishment, make sure you've got notes from the session and have a collaborative agreement on next steps and follow ups. A common situation is that you run out of time to get through the  agenda. You can prepare for that by coming up with worst- to best-case scenario in terms of possible workshop outcomes and plan different closings (e.g. schedule a second session, take it offline, follow up asynchronously, etc.). Another useful tip is using the 'Parking lot' to park topics with lengthy discussions that we are unable to close in this workshop.

You can use a Kanban board to create follow-up tasks, assign owners and track their progress later on

8. Feedback

Make sure to send a thank you email to all the participants and include a quick report with key workshop outcomes and insights. I like to send them a short Typeform survey, asking for feedback on the format (time & setting), facilitator, tools, and some workshop-specific questions. This feedback is invaluable to help you improve future workshops.

Which of these tips have you already implemented? Which ones do you need to work on? Let us know in the comments under our Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter post, we’d love to hear from you.