Although we were unexpectedly forced by the COVID-19 situation to switch all our workshops to online mode, it does not mean we weren’t prepared for that. It is important to state that online workshops require way more preparation work and facilitation skills than offline ones. Learning best practices from NNGroup, Miro team, InVision team, Mural, Dallas Design Sprints and AJ&Smart, I’ve extracted the essence and clashed them against Netguru’s approach to workshops, as well as our methods and toolset.
Some past experiences, as well as ongoing experiments, lead to the conclusion that despite the lack of a live experience, online workshops can be successful, although ensuring their success requires practice, mastering facilitation, and a solid grasp of methodology.
One benefit from the business point of view is worth mentioning, namely the savings on travel & accommodation and not excluding engaged participants – key workshop stakeholders – from the day to day business.
With an online PDS, your facilitation skills are really put to the test!
Online workshops require way more attention to processes than onsite workshops. Also, there’s a pay-off with your consultancy role as well as the creative energy generated by having all the participants in one room.
No one is able to withstand a 3-days-long & 8-hours-long call.
So adjust the agenda to the number of sessions, but don’t disconnect Zoom for the breaks if you’re recording the session. With Google Hangouts, proceed as you like.
Plan reasonable breaks of around 5-10 minutes after each block or stick to the school schedule - 5 minute break after 45 minutes of workshop with a mutually agreed longer lunch-break.
An online workshop can be successful if it meets some critical conditions:
All participants join on their own machines. Meet everyone and ask them to introduce themselves – invest time in having a human experience before the workshop, especially given that a fully remote environment and your specific toolset might be something completely new for many people.
Participants need to be briefed on how it works. Hold a practice session to test connections, play with the tools, and have some warm-up time. Once everyone’s connected, play around with the virtual whiteboard and test if everything works smoothly.
The essential condition is to keep your participants focused, so ask them to turn off their notifications, phones, etc. You can also look at Zoom and activate users who aren’t paying enough attention and ask them questions.
You might not be able to grant Miro or Mural access to all participants – therefore you’ll be responsible for adding post-its cards while presenting the boards to all participants.
Once everyone has joined, their mouse cursors should be marked with their names. Agree on the color of post-its for each participant.
Carefully introduce each of the methods before moving on to the actual process – describe whether it requires shared effort, for example whether you’re the person to place post-its or if the participants should do so themselves.
Share the instructions and give users a chance to download the required software and get access. Map out what you would do for each scenario and who would be responsible for carrying either possibility forward.
Make sure to do a test run of all of the above after the initial setup.
Tools and how to use them:
Google Hangouts in presentation mode; however, it might be more beneficial to use Zoom as a communication & facilitation tool. Use video & chat for conversations – ask participants if they agree to record sessions.
Miro or Mural to be used as the main workshop platform/board – you can import all the canvases you need from image or PDF files (don’t forget to lock the board so that participants can’t break it by accident).
Create a specific workshop channel on Slack to share the documents & contact the participants/client & workshop team. You can also communicate on Zoom chat, Google Hangouts or even Messenger – whatever works for you.
Use Google Documents or Notion to share your agenda, notes, summaries, etc.
Ask your dedicated PM or Co-Facilitator to make notes as well as notify you if there’s anything that needs your attention while you are focused on the boards through a private message, rather than in public, to avoid losing the focus for the entire group.
1 – 2.5 weeks before the workshop for research and preparation
30 – 45 minutes call to check if everything works and introduce the teams – a day before the workshop
4 – 5 hours daily – recommended length of a daily session
5 working days – workshop summary/report or prototype
An online PDS or workshop requires more preparation than an onsite one. The agenda should be adjusted so as not to overload participants with the daily call time.