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Workshopping apart, but together

Written by: Amy and Cheralee

23 April 2020

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Workshopping apart, but together

Introduction

Many industries and businesses have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has challenged people to change their ways of working and think creatively on how to work together, but apart. As product designers, a major part of our role is conducting various types of workshops, ranging from understanding users’ needs, client requirements or brainstorming concepts and ideas for new products. This involves constant collaboration both internally and with our clients. In times of crisis, it’s key to embrace the opportunities that innovative tools provide, which helps us collaborate with teams and colleagues around the world. 

 

Here are some of our tips to best facilitate remote collaboration and workshopping during the lockdown, and beyond.

 

Preparing your Digital Workshopping Space

 

Setting up a clear, well-defined workspace makes participants feel more comfortable, gives them a better idea of the task you’re asking them to do and helps the team look prepared and professional. Set up templates for workshops on digital workshopping tools for exercises in advance helps tremendously with the productivity of the workshop. Our favourite collaboration tool is Miro, but there are a bunch of others that work well too.

 

Encourage participants to have everything they will need for the workshop ready before you start by sending an email the day before with details of the workshop like the agenda, expected outcomes, important links and documents. This also lets you get a final head-count on participants. 




Tip:
Create a company-branded template that includes some elements that you will use in your normal workshops like the instructions of tools and tasks, teams, rules of engagement during the workshop etc. We encourage you to share a Spotify playlist among your participants, especially when they need to complete individual tasks and it keeps the energy flowing from the workshop.

 

Bring the Participant’s Comfort from Home to the Workshop

 

Allow time at the beginning of the workshop for participants to do some preparation like open links, set up their surroundings, make coffee and run to the bathroom. Bad connections, late arrivals or general confusion can sometimes mean that participants are unclear about activities and tools being used. This results in participants not having the opportunity to ask questions without interrupting or stalling the workshop. A good transition period into the workshop can go a long way to preventing this sort of confusion and misalignment.

 

Written instructions at every step in addition to verbal instruction can help guide participants and keep everyone on the same page. At the beginning of the workshop allow a 15-minute catch-up or get to know you session or your choice of an ice breaker to ensure everyone is settled. This also allows anyone running late to join the workshop without missing instructions or context.

 

Tip: Use the mute function on Google Hangouts or on other video call platforms, while not speaking. Zoom has a cool function where participants can “raise their hand” to ask a question without interrupting others on the video call. This eliminates background noise for others participating and avoids interruption while people are speaking - don’t forget to turn your sound back on before you speak. Invite users to showcase their favourite pet or snack of choice to add some energy to the workshop!

 

Setting the Tone and Avoiding Distractions

 

We like to set the tone for these workshops with an ice-breaker, which allows us to get into a creative mind frame and also allows everyone to get to grips with the tools functionality before jumping into the workshop activities. It’s easy to get distracted in workshops, so we also set the rules of engagement upfront, such as no devices (except your laptop, obvs), one idea per sticky note and only one person speaking at a time.

 

Jumping between documents, video calls and a Miro board can cause confusion and distractions. Aim to use as little tools as possible if you can. Being on camera can be one of the most tiring parts of a workshop. Be clear with participants about when you’ll need them to have their cameras on and when they can turn them off (during presentations etc). 

 

Tip: Miro is fitted with a video call feature which allows the team and participants’ focus to be at one place. However, if you find yourself where you are needing to use more than one tool, having two screens can be a massive help. 

 

Turn off notifications on your computer during a presentation or casting your screen - constant notifications can be distracting. 

 

Google Hangouts allows you to cast an entire screen or a single tab. It’s best to open the document you want to cast in a separate tab and cast that individual tab. This can help you to avoid casting wrong or sensitive information.

 

Timekeeping and Breaks

 

Remote workshops don’t often allow for as many comfort breaks and it can be more difficult to get a sense of the energy in the room, especially if people aren’t working with their laptop’s camera on. It’s a good idea to make your remote workshops shorter than in-office workshops. Switching mindsets is hard, especially after a lunch break. 

 

Just as participants would leave the room to go for lunch in a physical workshop, participants switch mindsets during lunch or long periods away from their laptop. Consider doing a workshop in the morning before lunch or having another 15-minute adjustment period after lunch. Three hours the maximum amount of time we recommend for holding a remote workshop, as they can be a lot more demanding than in-person workshops. Ensure to have a timer for the activities you have planned to avoid going overtime. 

Tip: Take advantage of Miro’s timer function, it can be set by anyone and seen by everyone.

Best Practice for Miro

  • The bulk sticky note function on Miro is perfect for rapid ideation, by pressing enter you can move to the next sticky-note swiftly. Voting on Miro is a great way to get a consensus on decisions and to ensure each participant’s opinion is heard. Facilitators can set a voting time limit and how many votes each person gets.
  • Voting is anonymous and each participant can view their votes and votes left in the sidebar. 
  • Frames can help to segment different activities and separate frames become easier to present later, however, it is not difficult to navigate the space. Consider taking the participants through each frame before starting with the workshop as this will help them become accustomed to the platform and the space you’ve created.
  • Locking permanent elements in place can also help limit participants moving them around by accident, but lock them after you finish editing the templates.  

Tip: Large groups in workshops can be difficult to navigate. Be clear from the beginning who will be speaking and leading activities at the different points in the workshop. Allow time for questions and feedback after every instruction or section. As the facilitator, it will be your role to direct conversation and minimise cross-talk. 

 

Last Thoughts

 

We hope this guideline will help you to prepare and facilitate your remote workshop as effectively as possible. Experimenting with various collaborative tools, video call tools and other digital solutions can help you figure out what works and what doesn’t. The key takeaway is not to panic in times of a crisis and be agile with your circumstances - might even inspire you to design better digital tools than the existing solutions. Happy remote workshopping!


If you are looking for any more collaborative digital tools for both clients and colleagues, I highly recommend that you read this article.