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The Untold Potential of Remote Workshops and Virtual Collaboration [Guide]

by Reka Kosik

21 July 2020 9:11am

Remote workshops, home offices, virtual meetings — to this day all these terms intimidate a significant number of entrepreneurs, startup owners, and project managers. Because of the remote nature, these activities are often regarded as something slow and of low efficiency.

‘It is difficult to manage a remote team’, ‘It is impossible to complete a project without live meetings with a team’, ‘We failed to deliver a product because of the offshore contractor’ — we’re certain you have heard conversations like these going around in the IT community. But what if we told you that managing a remote team can be done without too much effort?

Having vast experience of running successful remote design workshops with our team and clients around the world, we are in the right position to state that it can be done. All you need to do is simply follow this small guide to effectively collaborate with your team in a remote setup.

Preparation always comes first

Whether it is a remote workshop, conference call, or any other kind of virtual meeting, the preparation must always come first. As the facilitator, you need to be prepared to prevent vocal chaos and maximise the sharing of ideas during the virtual meetings with a team.

For proactive and productive conference calls, there needs to be a clear structure, so participants know what to expect. A lucidly communicated structure and collectively established rules of etiquette are necessary at the start of the meeting. All members should understand the agenda and agree to the rules of the online meeting. You must also make it clear at the beginning that you or another member of the team controls the timing of the workshop, so if participants start to go on tangents, the timekeeper has the authority to bring them back on track.

Remote conferences may seem to have fewer distractions, but outside emails and texts can intrude. Ensure participants activate ‘do not disturb’ modes for emails, social media, and texts, but provide breaks dedicated to catching up if necessary.

Prepare assets such as slides, images, tables, and canvases before the remote meeting starts and, where needed, distribute them in advance of the workshop so people have time to digest their contents. You don’t want participants to watch you spending time trying to find the needed asset on your computer during the meeting.

Pre-configured tools improve time on task and focus. Initiate screen sharing setups, use a quality video conferencing platform, select cloud-based document sharing, pre-created shared files, interactive canvases to map and share ideas in real-time and create a group communication channel for follow-up. Here are some tools to help you with that:

1. Online canvases: Miro, MURAL, Figma, Lucidchart

2. Document editors (cloud-based): Google Docs/Sheets, Microsoft Office 365, Evernote

3. Video conferencing tools: Zoom, Hangouts, Teams, Webex, Skype

During the workshop

Create a playground
To ensure full participation and maintain clarity, a clear structure or ‘game board’ is helpful. Everyone needs to be able to see and contribute to the canvasses in real-time and to track ideas.

To help participants process information faster and access the bigger picture, a virtual ‘game board’ provides structure and improves understanding. Use grids, drawings and shapes to fuel feature ideation, function grouping, and co-creation sessions between participants.

Use shapes and drawings to help generate ideas. Include planning periods for chatting and decompression if needed. As you see, such a playground helps keep the meeting focussed and productive.

Keep everyone engaged
Remote workshops require more direct attention by the facilitator to maintain engagement and involvement of participants. Introduce activation exercises or breaks to maintain focus. Use individual ideas to generate multiple solutions to clear, unambiguous tasks.

Monitor and track participants’ activity levels and seek their input or opinion if they seem to be fading. Collect feedback every half hour, post and discuss individual work material, and ensure everyone’s ideas, opinions, and views are heard and included on the virtual board or shared mental map. Your observation and guidance ensure that all participants act proactively and feel valued.

Timing, timing, timing
Online workshops or meetings should be shorter than face-to-face meetings as participants tend to get tired faster. We advise to break each session into three or more blocks to maintain engagement and focus, or even spread sessions over multiple days. Try to avoid marathon meetings; however, if the time works against you, a maximum of 5-6 hours a day with a few breaks is recommended.

Don’t forget to sum things up
The importance of wrapping up shouldn’t be ignored. Dedicate the last ten minutes of the meeting to discuss continued collaboration and how outputs will evolve. Explore further workflow and how new ideas will integrate with existing systems or products. Also distribute completed worksheets and documents edited or created during the workshop to all participants, encouraging them to add more ideas if they come up later on.

And that’s actually it. Now you’re all packed up and ready to facilitate your next workshop or online meeting that is going to be successful, productive, and enjoyable for all participants.

At Supercharge, we are a next-generation innovation partner working with our clients to create transformative digital solutions.

Visit our blog for more practical tips on how to master the art of remote workshops!

Tags

Workshop
product design
User Experience Design
leadership