Remote Working: How to run online workshops

Remote Working: How to run online workshops

Date

October 29, 2020

Author

Hannah Gatland, Cata Bonavia, Wriddhi Banerjee, Justin Chin & Jason Remen

Category

News

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With our migration to the home office, our ways and ways and styles of working have changed significantly. However, while our styles have changed, the outcomes we want, have not. 

Our HCD team and other teams at RXP, we’ve leant heavily on face-to-face workshops to collaborate and share with our clients and teams. At the best of times, running a successful workshop was akin to herding cats. Now with the added challenge of exclusively remote work, it is more akin to herding cats… in space? As a facilitator, keeping focus is now challenging for different reasons. Asking teams to engage, be creative and come up with innovative solutions while pets bark, deliveries arrive or someone using Netflix uses up all the bandwidth is quite different to when you ask them to do those things within an office environment. 


Since the commencement of lockdown, we’ve worked and experimented with projects across a range of clients – from Government to banking and everything in-between. Our teams have leveraged a few tools and key principles which, we believe, have led to successful delivery and engagement. 


Tools


Most of the tools we use have been outlined in a previous article. For remote workshops, the two key platforms we have used are Microsoft Teams and Miro

  • Teams is a complete solution for communicating and collaborating with others in the team for remote and online meetings. For workshops, the meeting functionality has been a staple tool allowing our team to share screen and video conference with our participants. We’ve found that the chat functionality while being a valuable tool for asking questions, has been a great way to note down decisions and thoughts. It acts as a real-time repository of information and allows us to clarify our understanding of what was discussed.
  • Miro (Real-time Board) is a great design tool that mimics a whiteboard with post-its and templates. Our team uses Miro to collaborate and showcase slides. This allows us to keep slides for future review and for participants to leave feedback.
  • PowerPoint is a staple for presentations. However, you’ll notice that we put this last for good reason! Death by PowerPoint is exacerbated in a remote situation. With our workshops, we try to make it as engaging and interactive as possible – hence the move away from PowerPoint.

Top tips

  1. Start with the end in mind: Before starting a workshop, preparation is key. As one of my first managers drilled into me, it is important to "feel the pinch" before the day of presentation. When creating workshops, we engage stakeholders early to understand key outcomes, blockers and the information that needs to be presented on the day. Once we have a clear understanding, we work backwards to design activities to take participants on a journey to reach the outcome. Stakeholders are engaged throughout the creation of the workshop as it’s a collaborative process. Much like the human centred design process, collaboration increases effectiveness, while working in silos reduces it. 
  2. Use collaboration boards: In running workshops, our purpose is not to show and tell with participants. Rather, our goal is to collaborate and share the team’s knowledge to bring about novel solutions or gain a better understanding. We use Miro and create activities so that participants can contribute and add commentary. As the workshop unfolds the team can go back and review key decisions or information that led to the outcomes.
  3. Account for Screen Fatigue: A combination of being focused on the screen and not being able to move magnifies the fatigue of participants. The moniker "Zoom Fatigue" was born from this and is a factor we try to account for in all our workshops. We find the optimal session time to be an hour.
  4. Create breakout rooms: Microsoft Teams and Zoom have introduced breakout room features to their products. In the absence of this, parallel meetings are an effective way of creating a breakout space. With these activities, much like face to face workshops, we split participants with a different facilitator working with each group. We can rotate groups through activities or challenge them to approach a problem differently. When we come back together, the combined answers add more depth to the final outcomes. 
  5. Get feedback, log assumptions and decisions and save ideas: We’ve found that it is important to keep track of assumptions and consistently get feedback throughout sessions. This can be achieved by creating a space on the collaboration board where participants can leave post-its or log decisions in the meeting chat. This way, you and the team have a repository which can be checked in the future. Also, this space allows us to capture the spontaneous brilliance which may otherwise be lost. 
  6. Make it fun: Most importantly, make it fun for your participants. With people you haven’t met face to face it is important to bring your personality through. We like to ask our participants “What is your favourite ice-cream?” and we keep referring to them with their ice cream names throughout the workshops. Calling a grown man Bubble-gum is a sight to behold and it helps us build rapport with our participants. 


The world has changed, so too has our approach. These six top tips have held steady through several projects with a variety of clients. Most importantly, the result. We’ve seen high levels of engagement using this approach. Making it fun and interactive beats death by PowerPoint. We’ve seen increased creativity and engagement with our teams and received great feedback from participants. 

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