Workshops that win by a distance.

Keeping a safe social distance means changes for workshops. With technology such as TEAMS, Zoom or WhatsApp ready to help, the challenge is creating a remote experience that maximises engagement and productivity.

Your participants are likely to be spending plenty of time on conference calls and may not relish more. So when planning think about quality shared screen time moments and, as importantly, the activities and experiences in between. Here are some recommendations for workshops that can win by a distance:

Adjust your timings

If possible convert your workshop into a series of digestible tasks or ‘sprints’ that can be spread over a few days (and accommodate time zones if required). Your participants may well have family at home so staggered bursts rather than day will often be more practicable.

It will depend on the complexity of the deliverable, but try and keep each task to less than 75 minutes to sustain energy. To achieve this, divide bigger tasks where necessary – for example, group Business Model canvas sections into logical steps, separate idea generation from idea articulation, etc.

A series of tasks over a few days gives you more scope to review, pause and adapt.

Spreading across 2 or more days will allow your facilitator to review and share progress so that this is fully discussed before moving on to the next step. This will ensure participants make the connections and find the themes that would be more visible if they were physically in one big room.

Brief with extra precision

Remote working will reduce visibility of participants’ work in progress so the possibility of misinterpretation is a little higher.  As with a physical workshop the combination of a clear brief, stimulus and a carefully structured capture template (ideally with a worked example) will mean you won’t go too far wrong.

Make selective use of simple online tools

I’m not keen on complicated online workspaces that require inputting in front of a remote audience. The file sharing, streaming, etc, you have already with packages such as Microsoft TEAMS is worth sticking with. However, there are some really simple tools that can boost collective energy. For example:

Kahoot quiz. This can be shared via Zoom or TEAMS to create a live all participant quiz. It is an ideal way to land some key information, highlight issues and foster some competitive motivation.

WhatsApp groups. These can be used as a channel for requesting quick help from the whole team and updating on timing if you are facilitating. Define the role / scope of WhatsApp communication in your briefing clearly.

Digital Post-it notes. Sites like Miro offer digital sticky notes which work for the capture of simple spontaneous ideas and builds. Have a look at the brain-writing board where you can arrange and colour code notes for each team or participant.

Idea voting. Apps like Poll Everywhere give you the opportunity to vote for outputs when ready to share. This will benefit from your facilitator having time to set-up and (let’s be honest) this is better than the dubious science of physically sticking on dots on walls.

On-line consumer interviews. Providers such as offer the potential for participants to engage with real consumers on-line as part of a ‘workshop.’ Taking to someone news in energising and will move people from internal assumptions.

Think through the task and team allocations

Working remotely it is easier to start with a large number of participants (perhaps adding external guests) and then move to the next task with a smaller core team. Teams may also work in parallel on different tasks, so consider in detail.

When you are generating ideas gathering individual contributions makes sense (and the more diverse the group the more likely you will hear something new).

For solution development put small teams together (ideally 4 or less) with a mix of relevant skills.  The evidence is that groups with at least one female are more productive than those without – so keep this in mind!

Detach it from the daily routine

One of the assets of a physical workshop – helped with a great venue – is the separation of attendees from their office activities. I therefore suggest, where possible, that some of the savings made on travel or venue be invested in detaching participants from their daily routine. It could be mission / stimulus boxes sent to homes, the addition of external coaches / consumers in teams, live interviews lined-up with experts / senior managers or perhaps a requirement for groups to compile a video diary. Be creative but recognise the importance of energised activity robustly staying clear of other tasks!

Schedule a warm-up call ahead of the workshop

As well as being an opportunity to share advance information or preparation activity you can check technology works and identify any issues. It will be much better that people sort out any registration or connection issues before you launch your first workshop task. That said, assume some time for a few issues in your time plan!

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