We carry on workshopping – no matter what
By Berulv Tøndel and John Anderson
Like many clients and fellow agencies, we still find ourselves in the thick of it - just not in the same room! For us, collaboration must continue to create considered, inclusive work, and there’s no reason to let a virus get in the way of a good workshop. Below are a few tips on how to keep things going in the age of social isolation.
Online workshops are not a new concept. We have helped run many before, but never when every participant is joining online. We've learnt a lot from working in this unique situation, progress is fast, and we're now armed with a variety of tools that we have been having great fun experimenting with.
1. Preparation is key
- Test your preferred digital tools properly before the session begins. You don't want to trip at the first hurdle and eat into your allocated workshop time. Expect the unexpected.
- Think through the activities and make sure you’ve made it easy for participants to use post it notes, stickers, apps, and any other tools you might need for this. Are your participants tech savvy? Would they have used something like this before?
- Some tools might allow for integrated video content – test the quality with a few colleagues or even your key counterparts before you start.
- Test the login procedure. If it's not simple, it will eat into your session time. Invite participants to register in advance if they are new to the tools.
- When planning, think of a potential time frame and then double it. Overall, we have found it best to build in lots of breathing space for the inevitable teething problems in the group, on top of breaks.
- Make it fun. For example, we've sometimes used the tools to set up little games like noughts and crosses or drawing challenges that participants can play with prior to the workshop. This gets everyone in the right mood and makes sure they’re familiar with the tools.
- And, as always: set a clear purpose, goal, agenda, roles, and rules for the workshop. This might be even more important for an online session, as it will help people focus on the bigger picture and foster a participatory environment.
2. Picking the right tool
There are numerous tools out there. The ones we’ve tested so far are intended for real time collaboration:
The first three tools on our list enable basic workshop functions, such as the ones you would expect in person: creating and moving post-it notes, drawing, grouping items, and making comments. The key differences are highlighted in the diagram below.
Using these tools can make it incredibly easy to quickly generate ideas, but we think the most important thing to consider is the human factor. How do you need to see and hear each other to truly collaborate? Miro, for example, includes an audio & video function, but we’ve found it cannot support a session by itself. You're going to need an additional tool, such as Teams or Skype, to feel like a happy, productive team.
All of the tools listed above are intuitive, but we've found Mural makes it the easiest to facilitate a workshop and offers the possibility of breakout sessions and voting - all very handy options to have. Miro also has incredible templates for UX exercises or for when more detailed collaborative work is required.
In comparison, Freehand is more limited, but is often the first choice for designers. It works best if you want to illustrate something simple, build on your idea, or need to define details.
3. Avoiding the facilitator pitfalls
There's lots that can go wrong in a workshop, but it’s easier to pivot and change the situation in person. Online, you'll need to totally boss it.
- Start with a video check-in: as the facilitator, you lose the important feedback you normally get by observing body language. Doing a video check-in at the start is highly recommended, as it helps to establish the right insight into the mood of each participant and also sets a good level of trust and transparency.
- If one of the participants is having trouble with the tech: introduce a short break, keep the one having issues online, and onboard properly. Don't let anyone feel like they are lagging behind.
- If one participant is dominating: change the format from open discussion to an exercise where all participants contribute by writing down their individual thoughts. You can then present these on the virtual whiteboard or verbally, one-by-one.
- If you have passive participants: post-it exercises will keep people busy for a while, but you should encourage counterarguments to statements or decisions that have been produced during the workshop to get the best from everyone. It's handy to have a visible list of active participants to make sure they are all included, as you would in person.
- Don't forget to set up an online retro after the workshop to review progress and gain feedback. No workshop will ever run perfectly to plan, but it gets easier if you seek feedback and aim to improve. You can find incredible online tools for running retros as well!
- How are you coping and what tools are you using to adapt to the new working life?
- How can we help you facilitate collaborative meetings, be they related to corporate websites or otherwise?
- Get in touch if you'd like to know more - we're happy to share and discuss what we have learned.
Take care, stay safe, and don’t forget to collaborate!