Tips for Running a Remote Design Workshop

Businessman on a video call chatting to colleagues in a meeting visible on the screen of his tablet

Advice from an Experience Design Lead

What makes a remote workshop so different? And how can you make it work for your team? A practical guide for running remote workshops – specifically design workshops – that work and deliver results.

Work from home policies and remote collaboration don’t need to put workshops on hold or detract from their value. But online workshop do you need to be rethought in a few ways to ensure the business outcomes are achieved.

There is plenty of advice available for those looking to run any kind of a virtual workshop but I wanted to talk to the special requirements for a design workshop. Below I will guide you through how to facilitate a remote design workshop so its most effective.

How are remote workshops different?

First, let’s talk about how remote workshops are different to in person workshops.

  • Reduced depth of conversation: intonation and body language carry significant amounts of meaning but these pretty much vanish during an online workshop. Even with videos turned on and good internet it’s easy to miss visual cues.
  • Increased levels of distraction: emails, text messages, Slack/Messenger/Teams, your dog in the room and learning new tools are all the result of not having a dedicated workshop space.
  • Reduced effectiveness of tools and methods: post-it notes and whiteboards take on different forms when online and sometimes these aren’t as effective as in-person.
  • Reluctance to actively participate: Creative teamwork takes trust and it can be difficult to build trust over a remote connection.

Advice for a successful remote design workshop

I’ve been running design workshops (in-person) for many years now but we recently ran a design workshop for a new client and I wanted to share the extra steps we took to ensure high engagement from all participants. Let’s dive into those now.

General Advice

  1. Prior to workshops, advise people to be on time, joining midway will derail the agenda for the group and usually ends up causing topics to be repeated.
  2. Organise a workshop assistant to lookout for participants who wish to speak that may be missed by facilitator. Facilitator may miss participant’s body language signs in the video grid while working with the tools, and they may also be unfamiliar with the introverts in the group. The workshop assistant should know all participants and encourage equal contributions from everyone in the group.
  3. I suggest that participants bring and use a mouse and not use trackpads for interactive workshops. We’ve seen some participants having issues with clicking and dragging items around on trackpads.
  4. I highly recommend participants connect to an external larger monitor if they are working on a laptop as it can help with viewing smaller details on the screen.

Miro-specific Advice

I’m a huge fan of Miro, a collaborative online whiteboard platform designed for remote and distributed teams. But if you are going to use Miro then I recommend familiarising yourself and other participants with the platform in advance of the design workshop. A few tips to help with this:

  • Tutorials are required for the first workshop participants.
  • Conduct an tool-familiarisation exercise to get participants to write their name on a sticky note then move into a designated area in a workspace.
  • An ice breaker is required for the first workshops to ease participants into doing workshop activities. We love a simple ‘price is right’ guessing game of three items which we prepared in advance. It’s not too hard, provides a little competition and fun without being so technical that some group members won’t be able to participate.

Running a remote workshop requires additional levels of focus and leadership to ensure engagement and participation from all attendees. To summarise:

  • Set up ice breaking activities
  • Over communicate
  • Set ground rules to reduce distractions
  • Ensure sufficient breaks to maintain engagement
  • Document using the tools that meet your workshop needs

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