Remote working has quickly become our new normal, and whether it’s what you want to hear or not, it’s here to stay. I have been working remotely for 7 years now and have accumulated experience running remote teams of 40+ people across multiple sites and worked with clients across multiple locations and time zones. I have had to learn from the scars as to how to effectively run remote workshops. Here are my 9 top tips from what I have learnt from the good, the bad and the ugly.
- Set the stage (for the dress rehearsal). Workshop set up remains as (if not more) important for virtual meetings, as it does for face to face ones. Put in a pre-meeting with key stakeholders to define the objectives for the workshop. This is an ideal time to start building rapport with the members of the workshop. One of the most important outputs of this stage is defining purpose – determine who needs to be in the workshop and what purpose they will serve. If you have a large group for the workshop, break it down into smaller sessions. Having too many people creates an overcrowded room with under-responsive participants.
- The patter does matter. Don’t underestimate the power of a bit of chat. What is often missed with virtual workshops are the naturally occurring conversations that happen in between sessions or at the breaks. All these conversations help you better understand your clients and their business needs, so it is important to try and make space for these conversations in the virtual world (without explicitly putting it in the agenda). For example, ask your participants if there is anything they might need to nip out of the workshop for—e.g. kids, pets— and next thing you know you’ve bonded over your love for dogs for 10 minutes.
- Find a fellow meerkat. It’s very difficult to run a workshop solo. When you are presenting materials, you aren’t focusing on the people in the room. This is especially true when ‘the room’ is made up of faces on screens. So – like meerkats – you should work in a pair and have at least one other person who is acting as a lookout and reading ‘the room’ to make sure the participants of the workshop are engaged.
- Road to somewhere. Come prepared with templates for collating information and demonstrating progression. It is more challenging to convey messages and relay outcomes virtually – as typically this is done on a whiteboard throughout the session. Hence, prepare templates to create structure and tools for signposting so that the workshop has a clear framework and direction.
- Less talking, more painting. Make sure to paint a story with your ideas. Many people think more visually than verbally. Our age-old friend Powerpoint is great, but ensure you are using it as a tool to tell the story (rather than giving away all the info at once); the same way you might illustrate ideas on a whiteboard. For example, draw on top of a slide or build out an idea in stages, one bit adding on to the next. Bring people on your journey, they will buy into it more.
- The notification itch – You must appreciate that your audience is more connected than in a face-to-face workshop. They will be receiving messages and emails on their computer the whole time. You need to offer them time to reset and make time for breaks. These breaks are also good to catch up with each other internally & get feedback on the session thus far from your main stakeholder (but let them know in advance).
- Let’s break this up – One way to emulate breakouts is to split sections of the workshop into smaller focus groups and have parallel meetings. This re-creates structure of sessions like in person and keeps groups engaged. We have yet to see many other companies running workshops this way.
- Apples and oranges. Being in the same room makes it far easier to gauge whether your participants are on the same page as you. This is especially true when you have language barriers which can create extra levels of misunderstanding. Thus, build in opportunities to replay back to the group what you've said and make sure everyone is on the same page and talking about the same thing.
- The carousel – ‘Leaving the room’ virtually just requires the click of a button whereas in person you are erasing the whiteboards, putting all your coffee mugs back in the kitchen etc. Those moments are where naturally occurring wrap up conversations happen. So, as you won’t have that in our virtual world, make sure you round off the session fully when you still have everyone present. Collect all the feedback and make sure everyone is aligned for next steps. Use that feedback to steer the shape for the next session. Then you are set to do it all again.
It is no easy task to do all of these things and do them well. Across my career, I have yet to see companies running remote workshops with all these ideas in mind. Despite the fact these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, they will give you another set of tools to help tailor content for your workshop audiences. Now is an ideal time to impress your stakeholders and get in front with these tips.