Remote event at scale? Challenge accepted!

The magical online Agile Camp you do not want to miss

Yuliia Pieskova
The Liberators
Published in
13 min readFeb 11, 2021


This guest post was written by our friends from SimCorp, Maryanne Kmit, Yuliia Pieskova, Anne Aaroe, Renato Claudino, Jesper Ingvardtsen, Poul Mejlsted, kschutter, and Sven Kuehnel. They kindly offered to share their experience with the large virtual event they hosted, and we feel their learnings are incredibly useful to a large audience.

In the summer of 2020, we searched for recipes to organize a large scale online event. It turned out others were searching, too. Unfortunately, we did not succeed. But this unfruitful search motivated us to find a way to create an Open Space online, and to write this article to share our learnings with you. That way, you can learn from our experience and create your own large scale online event with greater confidence. Here goes!

A new beginning

This could’ve been a story accompanied by photos of smiles, high fives, and happy feet barely touching the ground surrounded by walls full of posters and post-its. And it would’ve been, if not for a raging pandemic.

High fives with real hands touching real hands are not possible in late 2020. So this is a story of how a remote Unconference, spanning four days and dubbed an agile camp, came into being.

“This could’ve been a story accompanied by photos of smiles, high fives and happy feet [..] surrounded by walls full of posters and post-its. But those photos were taken last year.”

This post is a story of bringing people together in a space conducive to open communication. On topics important to participants, namely topics which participants bring to the table themselves.

The event turned out to be both quite remarkable and slick. It was about seeing, listening, embracing, and being embraced. It was about reassurance, surprise, and epiphanies. It was about bravery on multiple levels. It was about a diverse organizing team making space for each other and excelling in facilitation and delivery.

Along with a story of an Unconference to cherish, we provide a checklist for you to organize a remote Unconference event that’s out of this world, with tips on how to maintain enthusiasm, advertise, gamify, use dry runs, and how to communicate.

The story of our Agile Camp

After several months of intense work, the moment of truth had finally come: the organizers of SimCorp’s first remote Agile Camp are waiting for the participants to come. Will they prioritize our event over other work? Did we do enough to advertise the event? Will our tools present us with issues? Such thoughts were buzzing in our heads when the first participants joined and cheered us up with their readiness to experience something new.

And the miracle begins: scrum masters, product owners, UX experts, and a lot of people representing other roles started flooding our virtual room. To get the feeling about the format and to warm up a bit, we started with a funny hobby ice breaker. Then, the first keynote took place and one after another, agenda points were completed.

Difficult to find a hobby to share? No problem, we gathered a list of unconventional hobbies, so there was definitely something to talk about in a test breakout room.

Probably, the most challenging part was the open space session: on the one hand, it’s always better to grant the audience the right to define their topics, especially as the culture of Ask, Involve and Share becomes a part of our company DNA. All in all, less is more when it comes to putting strict borders on areas to be discussed. On the other hand, it was never a piece of cake to create a safe environment where people not-acquainted with each other can be curious and openly discuss their working challenges.

It’s hard to say what percentage of our success was our event preparation (read about it in detail in the next sections) and what was due to the community maturing. What we can proclaim is that the open space was successfully embraced and actively fed with various topics. We were talking about change resistance and about the new changes our company started, about moving towards lifelong learning and sharing the recent learnings we’ve got. We were laughing at our daily challenges and tried to brainstorm how to tackle them better. We were making temperature checks about our next endeavors and seeking the experience that would help us to make them more efficient.

Find at least one card with an ironically titled topic. Do you face the same situation at your company?

The next days were much easier: with the feedback and first runs, participants got used to the format, and our concerns about the setup were diminishing. At the same time, the feeling one usually gets from the presence at the offline event prevailed.

The last keynote by Melissa Perri about Escaping the Build trap was extremely thought-provoking.

We could feel in the air how the community has grown: we are moving towards a learning organization, with the bridges positioned between different roles in our Product Division and even people from other departments. Therefore, the lightning topics varied from tips for working remotely to troika exercises by scrum masters, from opening the doors to the customer user experience to the parallels between the DevOps and genetic engineering.

A lightning talk by Brendan Puli was dedicated to the communication challenges and opportunities. As you see, words can transfer different messages…

Instead of shedding tears about no opportunity to meet together at bars and or over coffee, we did our best to make up for it. The “Sloth” room, specially prepared for coffee breaks, was initially barely used, as during the breaks people rushed to add their songs to the camp playlist at the main room. Some people even danced during the breaks: it’s both a pity and a great blessing that we didn’t record them. After several reminders and advertisements by participants, conversations flooded the Sloth room. Evening games were also a big success: we played different GameBoxes and made several virtual trips together with GeoGuesser.

Organizer’s Tips and Tricks

Before we try to convey the magic of what happened during our first remote Unconference, we discovered the following to be foundational to our success (and it may help you too):

Bring the organizers together in a working group. Right away!

If you haven’t organized anything similar remotely, the preparations will take a lot of time. We were a team of eight volunteers — several of us with experience in organizing offline camps — and still, it took six months to prepare. We would meet every week, and do a lot of work asynchronously in between. Getting together frequently made it easier for us to stay on track.

Keep it upbeat!

Maintaining enthusiasm is vital when working on something over an extended period of time. Therefore, quick results are not as important as having fun when preparing together. If you do have fun at preparation meetings, you will do your utmost not to miss the next one.

The organizers, deep in creative preparation

Non-stop preparation

Instead of effortful negotiations to agree on everything in a big group, we delegated decision making to smaller groups. To guarantee the highest performance, we adhered to the principle of 4 eyes or more when it came to key decisions: just like developers striving to submit code reviews or pair program to make sure they deliver the best product. We believe that such working agreements enabled us to maintain a remarkably even pace of work and progress despite summer vacations, operational workloads, and autumn depression when summer ended. (or: potato digging period in Ukraine and berry gathering time in Denmark)

Define communication channels and make them transparent

What helped keep the organizers’ engagement high and communication efficient, was that we agreed on upfront where and what kind of updates, as well as calls for collaboration would be made. Keeping all of it on a Miro board, messaging on our MS Teams channel, and using google docs for text preparation proved to be a very prudent agreement.

Start with the most time-consuming activities first

External keynote speaker invitations, tools negotiations with IT and, of course, the advertisement campaign would obviously not be the best “last moment” activities. We brainstormed, prioritized, chose the people accountable, and periodically put deadlines on milestones to stay on track. Deadlines helped us to re-plan on time when accountable people were unavailable due to summer vacations or picking berries, without undermining the agricultural wealth of our countries.

The marketing campaign

There can’t be too much advertisement: we used all possible communication channels and provided frequent updates

The advertisement starts as soon as you begin organizing the event. Just like in politics: the road is not there yet, but people should know you’re working on it. You can be flexible about your keynote speakers, you may be experimenting with an agenda until the last moment, you may do a lot of things, but what you don’t want to do is meddle with the ad campaign and thus the risk of no one showing up.

The steps we followed to advertise our event didn’t differ a lot from the standard ones:

  1. Identify your target audience.
  2. Create a landing page with a clear value proposition on your internal website.
  3. Utilize open communication channels, i.e. those people use most, e.g., Slack or Teams, create groups in all relevant channels, and grow the number of potential attendees as you would on social networks for an external event.
  4. Add content on a regular basis to keep the audience heated up. Increase activity as the event approaches.
  5. Remember to take the opportunity to go to the places where your target audience goes and advertise!

Shape the event structure and consider it your backlog

After you brainstorm the outline of the agenda, you can treat it as your backlog.

You decide what’s the highest priority, validate it with your target audience if needed, and then refine it and move it to implementation.

For example, Unconference was a proven format that worked seamlessly at offline camps. We agreed on it as an agenda topic, and then “refined” it: broke it down into smaller tasks that needed to be done by a working group to prepare for it. We’ll of course share our Camp structure in detail so you can iterate on top of our experience.

Dry Run everything you can think of

Regardless of what your chosen activity is, run a Proof of Concept with the target audience, or one as close to it as possible. Under the “Tools” section, you’ll get more details on how we did one for the most challenging part of Unconference.

Tools: how to make friends out of potential enemies

The remote setup makes it really challenging to watch and “feel” your audience. You can’t entertain the audience with a story while your fellow organizer is setting up your slide deck that’s suddenly out of date. You can’t help a person experiencing a problem as soon as you see them struggling, because you do not sense their struggle. Everything should simply work from the start: there’s no possibility to try it out first, and if you fail in the beginning, no one will show up after the break and certainly not the next day.

Don’t trust your intuition: validate everything

The most effective way to prepare was to try out a set-up resembling the real thing. For example, we tried out MS Teams breakout room set-ups in different situations with our team(s) but discovered even more potential issues when we practiced the actual Camp setup at our Agile Coach CoP. We still had “surprises” at the event itself, but fewer, and they were minor.

Let the audience experience the event set-up in an ice-breaker

The primary purpose of the ice-breaker was to have fun and set the mood, just as it would be at an offline event. The benefit increased rapidly because the audience was given the opportunity to practice joining breakout rooms and mastering the Miro board navigation. The ice-breaker format emulated the unconference structure, the only difference was the content: we got to know each other and shared some exotic hobbies. It was key to the success of the camp, because it made subsequent sessions effortless, given this amusing and purposeful introduction.

Tip: Don’t forget to explain why the ice-breaker is shaped this way. If you set the proper expectations and explain to participants that they should consider it the exercise to learn the tools, they will be much more collaborative and make an effort to benefit from this investment of time, instead of complaining that it’s boring or useless. And take the opportunity to include some general Miro remarks, like hiding cursors and editing highlights as early as possible.

The simpler the setup, the better

We believe that striving for the simplest setup was the key to our success: minimizing the risk of things going wrong is easier than trying to predict all possible scenarios in a complex setup. That’s why, for example, in spite of having found descriptions of more complicated setups using additional tools, we decided to use Miro as the central tool, and the place to find all the required information. Every day we used the same rooms for the open space sessions, with the same names and the same principle to find the links to the breakout rooms and frames (sections) with notes. The design of our agenda was also the same from the time we announced it: easier for us, and more convenient for the audience.

Visual language

Engaging and fun visuals not only make things more fun, but it also makes life easier for the organizers! We used, for instance, animal and plant names for breakout rooms and chose easily recognizable images to identify each, making it simple to remember what room to go to and where the notes from sessions could be found. And a picture of a playful raccoon identifier in a breakout room is far more pleasant than a sophisticated room named after a town or boring “Room A”.

How to structure a perfect event

When working on the structure of your event, try to envision it in your imagination and remember all the negative and positive aspects.

Breaks are important

Extended time in front of a PC is much less tiring if you schedule extended breaks between the sessions. They should be long enough so that you can end a session late, and participants would still have at a minimum 15 minutes to stretch out, make a coffee and answer the urgent email before the next session starts.

There is nothing worse than an exhausted participant, so don’t give them a chance to get tired!

Alter the type of activity

If activities switch often, you won’t wear out as quickly. A small presentation followed by an interactive marketplace and closed with sharing impressions is a light and efficient (half-)day plan. At some point, you may be tempted to add more activities and struggle with sacrificing some of your bright ideas, but keep in mind your focus is not quantity, it’s quality.

Analyze the psychological aspect

Think of your target persona and try to understand what would be the least stressful yet still enticing plan, and then validate it with several interviews. For example, our Product Owners took part in this event for the first time, and as all people acquainting themselves with the Unconference format, they’re likely to hesitate to raise topics of their own. We prepared an introductory video, explained the concept when we were advertising the Camp at meetings by voice, and encouraged participants to prepare topics beforehand. Then we talked to several PO’s and asked what they thought about it and if they were ready to take part actively.

What is more, we split the marketplace over four days, so people got to experience it on the first day with only one session, giving space for them to come up with ideas with little time pressure, and to be motivated by both their peers and superiors suggesting topics. We actually validated the agenda, activity types, and the general ads with several PO’s just to ensure they had no doubt about the intention and that they expressed the interest we had hoped and expected they would.

Enable the Feedback Loop

Ask for feedback daily, act on it immediately, then make clear what you have done. Because organizing the camp as an online event was new to us, we wanted to gather as much feedback as we could. Initially, we were keenly interested in what we could improve from one day to the next. To facilitate this we did an “Organizer Mini-retro” at the end of each day, talking through the feedback we received and implementing changes to reflect it in the design of the following day. This retro also gave us the opportunity to discuss our own perceptions, improvements, and adjustments. So from day two onward, we started the day by explaining what we changed based on participant feedback to let everybody know that their opinion was valued and taken into account. Don’t forget to ask for feedback at the very end of the camp (we forgot).

Ask for feedback daily, act on it immediately, then make clear what you have done.

Gather reflections and take-aways silently: make a space for it on the Miro board, ask questions like ‘what do you see now that you didn’t see before today’ and ‘what does that mean.’ Then give people 7 minutes to add post-its and images. Watch the space grow as people contribute, make connections between thoughts, and take the opportunity to ‘listen’ to everyone by navigating this area.

Unconference Online

Read more about Marketplace and Unconference format online in our separate article. It was a great success and has already been replicated in several environments.


We didn’t have any photos of smiles, high fives, and happy feet barely touching the ground. Did we really miss out on this? Yes, we did. But we also gained a lot with the remote setup. We hosted twice the number of people. Nobody missed their children’s birthdays. We even traveled together at a social event. And we did learn a lot together, as is the intention at an Agile Camp. In this safe and extraordinarily collaborative space, new perspectives and common ground emerge.

You can do it too, now that you have a recipe of sorts to build upon, and high five each other in the end. Follow us to be the first to join our external events, and we all will be happy to be contacted to help you make your magical event. When you do, please remember to take your 2021 group photo.



Yuliia Pieskova
The Liberators

Organizational and Agile Coach, COO at Alpha Affinity. Ukrainian.