Running effective virtual workshops: What I’ve learned
I’ve been working remotely for the best part of a decade. Often it means working in an environment like this.
Well, this isn’t entirely accurate. I’ve lived in Melbourne, London, New York and other cities that are less ‘spacious’. The connection between these locations that’s relevant here is that they’re slightly unusual work environments. Or rather, they were.
Now they’re not. Now many of us are working from home, grappling with the challenges of balancing kids and other aspects of life that offices help compartmentalise.
These are different times. They’re challenging. But, so many of us are learning, evolving and finding better ways to collaboration and coordinate.
The purpose of this post is pretty simple: To share what I’ve learned facilitating interactive, action oriented workshops that require coordination across different time zones, effective design and a solid, accesible toolkit.
Let’s dive in.
Oh framing. It matters so much. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve participated in workshops that try and frame on the day. This is hard. And I’d argue this is less than ideal.
Because of this I’d suggest framing be a critical priority. Nail it and people will enter the virtual room with a solid mindset, decent alignment and enough information to be relatively effective. Fail it and, well, the workshop might suck.
Here are a few little tips:
- Be SUPER explicit about expectations: What do you need to know and do ahead of time? Who will be doing what? What tools are in play? What are the inputs, throughputs and outputs? Etc.
- Communicate via preferred channels: If everyone is talking on Signal, don’t sent info via an email. Give people the info they need in the way they’re most likely to actively engage with it.
- Design with people, not for them: By this I mean you should try and include people in the design process as much as possible. Be pragmatic about constraints, opportunity cost etc. but give those involved a voice. This isn’t a lecture. This is about people working together, supporting one another and moving whatever needle you’re trying to move.
If you want some examples on how to do this, connect with me on LinkedIn and we can talk.
Design your constraints
This ain’t a talk fest. This is a highly coordinated scenario designed to produce usable and useful output. It’s also a brilliant learning and team building opportunity.
Really all I’m saying here is be focused. You will not solve all your problems in this session. The tighter and more granular your focus (unless divergence is the focus) the better.
There’s nothing worse than engaging in a workshop and walking away thinking it was a waste of time. Avoid this by:
- Ensuring people are hands on
- Providing learning opportunities
- Producing tangible outputs
- Communicating exactly how these outputs will be used going forward, and
- Connecting the process, learning and outputs directly to people’s day jobs
Do this and folks will be shouting praise from the rooftops.
Nail the toolkit
Yes, pun intended. But first, what do I mean by “toolkit”.
In simple terms, a toolkit is a set of interrelated models, methods and techniques that help achieve distinct outcomes.
So, if you’re trying to design terms and conditions that people ❤️, your toolkit needs to consist of models, methods and techniques to help achieve that.
For us this usually consists of:
- Communications tools: This can include messaging, email, video conferencing and anything else that’s useful
- Visual collaboration tools: Right now we mostly use Mural, but this might differ depending on the audience and focus. And,
- Specific models or methods, like our Better Disclosure Canvas (a step by step, evidence based process for better contracts and legal disclosures) or our Better Disclosure Evidence Kit, that is being utilised to achieve the outcome in focus.
Just keep in mind that your toolkit is about relevance and accessibility. It has to augment people’s abilities. It has to make achieving the stated outcome easier.
Fun wins, every time
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Fun is soooooo underrated in most organisations. Yet laughter is quite literally the best way to ensure that this process is enjoyable and memorable.
This isn’t about becoming Ricky Gervais. It’s more about being human. Make fun of yourself. Make fun when things break. Deliberately design fun into the experience.
So much can be achieved when we’re having a good time. Try not to forget this.
Adapt and accept that shit goes wrong
You can plan and plan, but things are gonna break. This just happens. Accept it. Own it. Adapt where you need to.
This is perhaps the greatest skill of remote facilitation. It’s something I continue to learn from each and every time stuff doesn’t go my way.
Share what you learn
Help those around you. Post on LinkedIn and Twitter. Candidly communicate when and how you screwed up. Put good vibes out there and help those in your inner and outer circle help you.
Learning alone can be hard. Learning together is still kinda hard. But it’s also easier and often more enjoyable.
If you wanna see this and more in action, here’s an awesome session we ran with about 50 people. The focus, designing the terms and conditions for a privacy preserving digital contact tracing app. A timely topic indeed…
If you need anything at all, reach out. I recognise this post barely scratches the surface. Virtual facilitation is like an entire category of skills and practices combined. I’m by no means a master. But I am willing to keep getting better and better. Help me. I’ll do what I can to help you in return.
Until next time. Big ❤️