How to make your full remote workshops efficient

That’s it! With the actual global situation (that is the COVID-19 pandemic) that forced most of us to stay home we’ve all become expert on remote work and a lot of people that thought it was such a bad idea are pretty surprised to see that it really does work šŸ‘ Ok, let’s be honest though, it’s not all that easy and some people actually struggle in finding the right balance (see, having kids might not have been the best idea in the end šŸ˜„) but still, they get the job done!

I’ve had my share of remote work over the years, working with teams in different countries, sometimes members of the same team in different places and well now this…So here are a few things that you should keep in mind to have awesome workshops.

Interactions change a lot

That’s kind of obvious I know but you need to be prepared for it and find ways to create them.

Side discussions won’t happen

You know, that thing that kind of annoy you when you are speaking in a meeting: people starting another conversation on the side. Well guess what, those conversation can be pretty important! They create ideas, inputs, actions…they can help the debate a lot and the fact that people don’t have the possibility to have them is definitely not helping. There are some workaround that can help a little bit (like using Discord with several rooms for example) but I’m not a big fan of those, it gets technical and you will loose the natural impulse.

Body language is lost

People staying aside, showing signs of boredom, stress, interrogation, disagreement, excitement and more…all those little things that help a facilitator do his work properly can’t be seen anymore. You will have to make an extra effort to find those signs in a conference call (with or without visio) and let’s be honest, you won’t be able to get all of it. The facilitator job is much harder but you can still do it, get people back into the conversation, ask for reactions, questions or doubts…just keep doing what you would do in a physical meeting.

Participation is reduced

Based on my experience, most of the time there will be 3 or 4 persons very active, participating a lot and basically leading the discussion. You’ll have a few others that raise their voice from time to time but that’s it. It is very hard to get everyone involved and the reason is pretty simple: there are a lot more distractions! Everyone will be on their phone, tablet or computer, with a lot of other applications running (chats, email, social network, Visual Studio Code…) and a lot of work to do beside assisting to your workshop. Some people will stay connected but you can bet your a** they won’t be listening a thing…because they are working on other tasks at the same time. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing on the contrary, just something to keep in mind, no need to stay connected to a call if you have something more important and productive to do (no judgement here).

Maintain focus a long time is more difficult

You are alone, in front of you computer or phone or whatever device you’re using and after a while you start to feel tired and disconnected. Once again interactions are less natural and fluent, you need to put more focus to understand what’s happening (bad connection and/or audio/video quality aren’t helping here). And all of this is tiring! Every workshop demands energy but when it’s online it can be even more draining.

A few things you can do about it

Ok so it is more complicated, that part is clear. Now if you are the organizer it is your job to make it worth everyone’s time.

Make sure to have the right tools

We are very lucky nowadays, there are a lot of applications that are designed for online collaborative work. My current favorites are:

  • Miro: the interface is very intuitive, the sticky notes (yeahhhh, sticky notes!!! šŸ¤©) are very well designed and you can still get that nice feeling when moving them around. You can see the other participants cursors which generate great group interactions and there are all the useful “basic” options you might be looking for (export to image or PDF, individual access rights, comments and the possibility to put some animated gifs in there – a must have for a proper retrospective šŸ˜†). Another alternative here is Klaxoon, I’ve used it for a while in a precedent company and it’s really great but takes some time to learn how to use it
  • Hangout meet: a very good option for visio calls. Works great, automatically integrated to your google calendar, accessible price (you need a G Suite account to use it), you can invite between 100 and 250 participants based on your plan and have external participants (people without a G Suite account). I also recommend the use of the Grid View Extension for Chrome šŸ˜‰
  • Slack: to be honest I wasn’t a big fan of slack before but I must say that it helps a lot! Instant messaging, private and public channels, hashtags and so on…you can connect a lot of interesting plugins like calendars for automatic reminders (a must have for someone with a golden fish memory like myself)

Put more attention to details in the preparation

One of the key factors of an efficient workshop is its preparation. Do people know what it is about? Why they are asked to participate? Do you have an agenda of activities? Should they prepare something before they come? And what about a clear vision of what to expect at the end of the workshop (what are the deliverables)? All those are important questions and you must make sure that people get the information with enough anticipation. Always add a description to the meeting with links to documents if there are some and if (like it’s often the case) you’re not sure that people will read the description don’t hesitate to go talk to them (you should do that anyway) or send an email with all the details.

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

Don’t forget to prepare everything in the application you’re going to use during the workshop. In Miro for example add text with explanations for each activity, create separate zones and examples of what people will have to do. Oh and don’t forget to test everything before, I’ve learnt that it might work in your head but it won’t always go as planned. I recently lost almost 20 minutes in a retrospective trying to use tags in a way that wouldn’t work…could have been easily avoided. Everyone had a good laugh about it but still, lesson learned, I always try things beforehand now!

Oh and one last thing, you will have to take some time to explain to everyone how to use the application, what options you are going to use and let them play a little bit with it. So yeah, plan some time for that too in your schedule.

Don’t leave the “room” without actions and/or feedback

It is important to make sure everyone is aligned on what was learnt and/or decided and get some feedback. Just like when we are all in the same place, I like to take a few minutes at the end of a workshop to write down the results, actions and leaders (that is who will remind us that we need to work on something and coordinate a little bit if needed). Add a few post-its (same rules applies as in physical ones: one post-it = one idea, one idea = 2-3 words to describe it) and write down what we got out of the exercise, was it worth it and should we change something next time.

That’s it folks

Just a few things out of my head. But what about you? Any particular tip to share with us? Leave a comment, I’m always interested in learning a few new tricks šŸ¤“


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