5 tips for facilitating remote workshops

Caya Kempe - 2 April 2020

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At Hike One we facilitate a lot of workshops: creative sessions with the client, think of Design Sprints but also half a day sketch or customer journey sessions. Not only in our projects with clients and end-users, but also with colleagues to improve internal processes or to come up with new services. With the current quarantine situation, where everyone works from home we had to quickly adapt the way we work. Going from facilitating workshops in-person to facilitating them remotely has been a nice challenge.

Here are the key differences we found and some tips to use for your next remote workshop.

1. Prepare like never before

When you organise a workshop you need to know what the desired outcome is. If you don’t know the problem you are trying to solve, take a step back and figure that out first. Try our Workshop Canvas if you don't know where to start. It will help you define the goal and activities.

Think about the set-up, tools and materials as well. Meaning: It’s important to prepare with the type of workshop in mind. The choice of tools and materials should support the end goal. Think about the materials you would normally need, and then look for tools that mimic these materials in a similar way. For example, replace post-its and dot-stickers with Miro (which we have fallen a little bit in love with, as they have ready to go templates as well). Dropbox paper or Google docs are also great collaborative tools, as long as they actually support you on the way to achieving the initially set workshop goal. 

Once you have chosen the tools, don’t forget to make sure all participants have the right access and have installed all software. Also, always send participants an email with preparations they need to make upfront and schedule a dry-run to ensure everyone is up and running. 

Workshop Canvas

Get the template straight in your mailbox. Download here.

2. I see what you mean

Don’t underestimate the power of a video call, not only for workshops but dare I say even for meetings. Here we like to use Zoom, Hangouts, or Slack, depending on the number of people. The thing about video calling is that it lets you see reactions, which is so important when explaining an activity. Normally, you can see when someone is displeased, or gets distracted, or needs a break. You want to be able to respond to those moments remotely as well.

Another benefit is seeing when someone wants to speak up. When you are on thephone with more than 3 people you need to have either a very strict meeting format (yeey for Holacracy meetings) or the magical gift of knowing when someone wants to speak... Therefore, being able to read people and anticipate their reactions, helps you as a facilitator to ensure everyone gets their turn.

"Normally, you can see when someone needs a break. You want to be able to respond to those moments remotely as well."

3. Less talking, more doing

Share the 'rules of the game' with your workshop participants: how you will work together, what is the expected outcome, how long will it take? Explain the rules to the group but have them written down in your shared workspace as well. We also recommend you to explain the rules for all individual activities during the workshop, as it will keep people focussed on the goal to achieve.

Keep your group engaged by including them in the conversation and inviting them to participate in activities. Talking a lot and just sending information one way can have the effect of people dropping out and getting distracted. Keep your talking shorter and instead ask your participants for input. Generally, this is also a good tip for offline workshops. To give an example: you can either explain the accountabilities of a facilitator or you can ask the group to write down what they think the accountabilities are. Next to that, ask a participant to summarise the input, instead of going through it yourself. You can still add necessary information, but this way you include the group in the conversation too. It will not only keep them more involved but they are more likely to remember things.

4. Have a break, have a lot of them

Attention goes away quite quickly when sitting in front of a screen. This, you already notice when you take your laptop to an in-person workshop, you might just check your to-do’s or answer that email that just popped up. Not only that but screens tend to drain your energy faster. Therefore, plan enough breaks so participants can get away from their computer, get something to drink, or stretchtheir legs. When they come back they will have renewed energy. We find it works best to have a break every 30 to 45 minutes, so double the breaks you would schedule for in-person workshops.

5. Keep the energy, keep the focus

Distraction is bound to happen during the workshops. So, make sure to do energisers (we find you can still do most of them). Include a fun 'Meeting Bingo' card and everyone will stay focussed for sure. Also, when you are writing or summarising a lot in a session, give the floor to others. As a facilitator you don’t always have to give the recap. Moreover, when you often give turns to people, they are more likely to stay focussed as they expect to get asked something. And lastly, request everyone to turn off their phones and notifications, for maximum attention.

So here you have it, five tips for facilitating remote workshops. For more tips on facilitating workshops, check out our Facilitation Manifesto.

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Caya Kempe

Interaction Designer, Design Sprint Facilitator

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