Remote workshopping can bring us together

An quiet room with a grey couch, on which there is a pillow that reads “There is no place like home”
Working from home to save lives

A strange new reality

It’s incredible how in a matter of weeks, life changed for all of us. No arguments, no options — The new normal became the new normal incredibly quickly and while it was, and remains, tricky at times to navigate and get your head around, this writer finds it nothing short of impressive how easily collectively we were able to adapt to our new way of living.

Facing up to the new normal

Like every other company, Elemental Concept has been affected by Covid 19. The lockdown meant that life at work couldn’t continue as normal, leading to workshops, scoping sessions, regular interactions and face to face conversations being off the table.

One of our most important foundation blocks is the Discovery Workshop, which enables our clients to evolve their concepts into a real and achievable roadmaps for business transformation, product builds and proposition validation.

Like most workshops, we relied heavily on the impact of our activities in the room on the day. The free-flow of discussion and ability to question any elements as they cropped up; our freedom, as well as the client’s, to at any point grab a pen and start illustrating a potential approach on a flip chart or a whiteboard and have others join in in real time. All of this was taken away.

It was a big challenge — The sense of organic revelation that comes naturally from this format was going to be incredibly hard to replicate offline. On top of this, we also had to factor in the feelings of the client, who wasn’t getting the same opportunity as they normally might, to get a gauge of who they were talking to in person, and without this validation, not knowing whether to trust them with potential contracts for future work.

For them, this was stepping into any new scoping or development work, when there was the fear of not getting it right, of potentially missing something crucial in the handover — genuine fears that we needed to address and put at bay if we wanted to continue to do what we love.

Evolving our approach

What this led to Elemental Concept doing was to rapidly evaluate the tools at our disposal, the journey we take our clients on in these sessions, the tasks needing to be done, the input required from both the client and workshop team, as well as a summation of the things we did that set our own personal approach to others apart.

Suddenly, we were ironically having to apply our own bread and butter principles that we use for our own clients on a daily basis to ourselves and find a way of adapting our process to digital.

Working from home, we needed to be able to find a way to achieve the results of our workshops. We needed to keep the clients engaged, while hitting targets, not losing focus and crucially, enabling them to feel that they were active participants, not audience members, in the shaping of their roadmaps. I’m happy to say that we’ve successfully done this and not only has it led to more workshops but has probably changed and elevated our original way of operating in the long term.

Innovation over replication

The key to success is NOT trying to replicate the existing workshop but adapt the format to work for digital. We see a lot of people rushing to this initially and it’s understandable, as there is safety in the familiar as opposed to the new.

There is risk in simply digitalising existing processes and trying to replicate what is currently done in an analogue way, as opposed to elevating or innovating, which gives you the space, scope and scale to make it better.

This is something we educate our clients on and now, have had the benefit of seeing play out in our Discovery process as a fantastic real life example.

Due to the formula we’ve refined, we have now opened ourselves up to full scope remote workshopping, both locally and internationally, as we have proved a successful model for understanding the business needs, making fast progress and taking the client with us. Our method means we can get to the necessary answers quicker and enable clients to scope, agree and sign off work in record time, knowing they have a fully documented and comprehensive roadmap to their end goals.

Our new toolkit

We do this by harnessing the powers of our incredible team and the tools that enable us to collaborate together in real time to get to the heart of what the clients need: Zoom, Mural and Adobe XD.

The key is keeping all parties both visually and verbally on the same page at all times, being mindful of time and keeping sessions short, targeted and productive to ensure we achieve our goals for each session.

A person looking at a collaborative Mural dashboard on their computer and second screen
Using Mural has revolutionised how we collaborate remotely

Zoom brings us together, enabling us to see each other in real time, discuss and share screens for specific demos of concepts or content.

Mural enables us to collaborate on specific tasks that we can have pre-prepared for every session. Its incredible asset library means we have a wide range of adaptable business and concept development templates at our disposal, like the business model canvas and empathy maps, which is incredibly useful for driving specific discussions. The biggest selling point though is the ease of use — All parties can collaborate, adding virtual post-its, notes, sketches and references, in a seamless and free flowing manner. Facilitators can call all attendees attention to certain areas at the click of a button to keep the session on track and users can export all assets easily post session — What was once a time-staking task to digitise post-its post discovery session now doesn’t exist.

Adobe XD gives us the freedom to in real time design and discuss ideas for interface development so that clients can see their creations come to life in real time. The program’s review features enable us to share prototypes with clients and have them annotate the experience at every screen with their comments, while developer review settings enable devs to take HTML and CSS values from these designs in real time and never be left waiting for answers from the designer.

How this approach enables us to make rapid headway

These tools have enabled us to not only keep up with the client but get ahead of them in their need to make progress. We do this in a very simple and effective way:

  • Get an early gauge of what’s required
    Our initial conversations with you help us understand your problems, business needs, drivers and competitors. This gives us food for thought on how to best serve your needs in the workshopping stages and enables us to create and refine a strategy with you. We also take the time to do a deep dive into the competitor landscape, from both a market and UX perspective, so we are well informed coming into the workshop.
  • All parties prepped on digital protocol in advance
    We ensure all parties know the workshop protocol, have familiarised themselves with the tools, have done all necessary application downloads and are ready to go, guns blazing on workshop days.
  • Break down activities into productive 2 hour chunks
    By breaking down the activities and organising the Discovery workshops in digestible 2 hour chunks, we enable the group to get the best out of themselves without experiencing what I call “Zoom Fatigue”. People’s online attention span is shorter than in person, so we keep the sessions short, targeted and productive. Knowing your end goal going into every session and that way, we know when we’ve hit our targets and can call it a day rather than elongate sessions unnecessarily.
  • Consolidate results as you go
    We consolidate all the results of each workshop and in the interim, between sessions, produce the necessary assets, all the while, sharing and refining with you to drive the project to the final proposed solution.

Having done this a few times now, we’ve discovered all the fun potholes and stumbling blocks that were bound to pop up along the way and have written up a comprehensive list here to save you the same headaches in the future! It’s definitely been a journey, but this particular challenge has proven a gift and one that’s given us a lot to benefit us, now and beyond Covid 19.

A cinema billboard, with the letters spelling out “STG presents THIS IS JUST INTERMISSION — We’ll see you soon
Giving hope through connection can be seen everywhere

Maintaining gratitude for gifts and opportunities

I like to be able to acknowledge the gifts I’m given in real time and maintain a level of gratitude in my life. This is particularly important to keep at the forefront of your mind in a period where we are seeing so much pain and struggle through circumstances beyond our control. The situation has personally affected all of us, with many of our colleagues, family and friends suffering directly at the hands of the virus.

Looking forward

Everyone will emerge from the Coronavirus situation slightly different and it’s worth personally reflecting where you see yourself in that. One thing I have felt a seismic shift in is my relationships with my clients as well as my colleagues, not to mention family and friends. Work-wise, we are all trying to continue on as normal and as a result, we are revolutionising and expanding how we can engage with clients, remotely or not.

Covid 19 is keeping us apart while also simultaneously bringing us closer together. Aside from collaborating closer, from a human perspective, we are all suddenly united on the same page.

When we ask after you and your family, we are genuine in our concern, because we are feeling the same thing in our own universes. Through Zoom, we are seeing glimpses into each other’s lives, our homes, our kids, that helps us to relate to each other again, in a way we never imagined we would.

The corporate facade is down — We are all human, in all of our messy, imperfect glory. There is no harm being reminded of this.

Staying positive, rising to challenges and keeping well will keep us going through this crisis. We are all in this challenge together and this has the potential to drive the best in all of us and what we do.



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