In 2020, remote work has become commonplace. Though holding workshops face-to-face was the standard, we now find ourselves working primarily online. This holds true for the world of Design Sprints, Design Thinking, and co-creative workshops. If you’ve only done face-to-face workshops before, hosting online workshops can be daunting. There are a number of new elements to consider while planning– so let’s break it down, and talk step-by-step about how you can get prepared.
Please read on if you:
- Are facilitating a remote workshop for the first time
- Struggled with facilitating remote workshops previously
- Have experience with remote workshops but want them to run more smoothly
What kind of preparation is required to hold a remote workshop, that might differ from a typical face-to-face? We’re going to focus on these six basic points:
6 Workshop Preparation Points
1. Deciding Participants
In remote workshops, it is especially crucial not to have too many participants. We recommend up to 5, with one facilitator, and one person providing technical support.
Since remote workshops use video conferencing tools to divide sessions into groups, it is possible to facilitate multiple groups at the same time. However, it becomes very difficult to check whether all the participants are keeping up with the content of the activity and whether there are any technical problems. Try to keep one facilitator per group if possible, and avoid facilitating multiple groups at the same time.
Also, make sure you have someone on your team who can be responsible solely for operating online tools, and respond quickly when any technical problems occur. It is important to have someone managing technical support person aside from the facilitator, as the facilitator must focus on the participants progress of the workshop.
- Workshop Participants (5-6)
- Main Facilitator (1)
- Technical Support (1)
2. Selecting Tools
Remote workshops require two main online tools:
- Online Virtual Whiteboard
- Online Meeting Platform
Your online whiteboard will replace the paper canvases usually used in face-to-face workshops, and is used for writing ideas on post-it notes, voting, and more. Though we often use miro at Neuromagic, MURAL is another popular service we recommend. Miro features an infinite workspace and allows you to freely set the size of each canvas. Because the boards are infinite, even if you add a canvas during a workshop, the layout of the board will not be disturbed.
▲ MURAL has one base canvas
▲ With miro, you can create many canvases called “frames” and arrange them freely.
Zoom is a popular conference cool with an easy to use breakout room feature, but please be aware that it may not be available depending on company regulations. Check in advance and choose a tool that participants can definitely gain access to.
3. Creating Canvases
In face-to-face workshops, you can easily see where important decisions are made and look back on what you have done so far with canvases either laid out on tables or posted on walls or whiteboards. However, in remote workshops, it can sometimes be difficult to find what went where on your screen (this can be a downside of the infinite board space we mentioned before on miro). To avoid confusion, try to design your canvases so that they are even simpler and easier to understand than the canvases you use in a face-to-face workshop.
Once you’ve created the canvas, run through it and find which parts might be difficult to understand, what explanations need to be added or explained more clearly on the board, where you need space to clearly show decisions (like results from dot voting), and so on. Checking the flow by yourself is a good start, but, if possible, invite an outsider to participate in a rehearsal. Having a pair of fresh eyes on your canvases will help you find out what needs to be clarified or changed. This way, you can avoid confusing your participants during the actual workshop, so they can focus on coming up with great ideas.
4. Working Space
First of all, make sure that all participants have a laptop or desktop. Also, if possible, try using two monitors, one for the online whiteboard and one for the online meeting. As an example, try the following combinations:
- Desktop and laptop
- Tablet (for the conference call) and laptop
- Smartphone (for the conference call) and laptop
In addition, ask participants to find as quiet a room as possible and use earphones or headsets to prevent noise.
Be sure to have a session to test and practice your online tools with participants before conducting a workshop.
Start by selecting the functions you’ll be using within your online tools. Most online tools have a myriad of features, and you might actually only need a few of them. Also, consider the participants’ experience level with technology, and if necessary, limit the functions you’ll be using to a bare minimum. If you use too many functions, participants may get confused and be unable to concentrate on the contents of the workshop.
After deciding which function you will use, hold a lecture to introduce the digital tools to participants, followed by a practice session with the participants. Make sure to follow the covering points:
- Are there any problems with voice/mic/hearing?
- Is everyone able to access the online meeting and whiteboard tools?
- Can the online conferencing tool and the whiteboard tool run at the same time on the same device?
- Functions used in online conferencing tools (ex: reactions using icons, getting in and out of breakout rooms)
- Basic functions used in online whiteboard tools (ex: how to create post-its, how to navigate the board, how to duplicate post-its)
After the lecture is over, try doing a practice session. Run an ice-breaker or a shorter workshop activity to get everyone comfortable using the tools you’ve just introduced or reviewed with them.
When explaining online tools, please note that the display and operation method may differ depending on macOS or Windows. Try to figure out any technical difficulties before the day of your workshop.
6. Designing a Schedule
You will need to create a timeline for your remote workshop, similarly to a face-to-face workshops. However, you’ll need to design with more detail when working remotely. You will need to take into account the time required for loading and using digital tools. It’s convenient to use something like Google Sheets, where updates can be shared between multiple stakeholders without having to send a new file every time there’s a change.
For example, instead of just setting a rough voting session of 3 minutes, we might set 1 minute to decide which you’d like to vote for, 30 seconds to cast your vote, 1 minute for the final decision maker to decide which to vote for, and 30 seconds for them to cast their vote, in detail.*
*we’d are usually working in Japan, and clients tend to prefer this level of detail— you may have to adjust this depending on your cultural setting!
It doesn’t matter exactly how detailed the timeline is, as long as it feels right to you, but it is important to keep in mind the time required for each step. Also keep in mind that you will likely have to answer some clarification questions from participants. Factor in buffer time so that your schedule can be adjusted if this occurs.
Let’s review again what we need to prepare for the remote workshops we have mentioned so far.
- Less participants. The standard should be 5 participants, 1 facilitator, 1 assistant, and 1 technical support.
- Be deliberate in choosing your digital tools. Select an online conferencing tool after confirming that there are no issues with security regulations. Choose a whiteboard tool that is easy to use.
- Create canvases carefully. The online canvas used in the workshop should be designed to be easier to understand than in a face-to-face workshop.
- Use more than one device. When attending a workshop, prepare as many devices as possible, at least one for the conference tool and another for the whiteboard tool.
- Practice, practice, practice! Before conducting the workshop, set up a session to practice online tools.
- Schedule with buffer time. Create a workshop timeline that takes into account the time it takes to operate online tools and answer questions.
Please refer to the tips introduced here as you take on the challenge of remote workshops!
In college, Tomoe majored in service marketing management research, and has a great passion for cultural differences and humanities-related fields. Currently working as a workshop instructor and sustainability associate at Neuromagic, she interested in topics such as user research, storytelling, and social design for sustainable development goals!