Tips and tricks for remote workshops and team sessions

James Gadsby Peet
Jun 2, 2020 · 7 min read

Summary:

  • Break sessions into 10 minute chunks
  • Switch between presentation and interactive activities
  • Always write out the exercise instructions
  • Spend time building trust with people outside of meetings

Remote sessions have opened up a whole new way for people to contribute to the direction of your organisation. It’s now as easy to run a workshop for people across the world so you may as well get everyone involved.

Many are finding this switch uncomfortable because it’s so different to before. However, done well you can actually get just the same if not better levels of collaboration and team trust.

However, we’re all learning that you don’t want to simply replicate what was done before we all went remote.

If you’re an extroverted, sensing personality type, you may find this harder than you did in person workshops. For every one of you though, there is someone else who prefers to have time to think and prepare their responses rather than being put on the spot.

So here’s a few templates for making your remote workshops and team meetings as effective as possible.

NB: The vast majority need some form of interactive whiteboard — such as Miro or Mural, plus a reliable video conferencing tool like Google Meet or Zoom.

Warm up exercises

Aim: get everyone comfortable and confident with the interactive tool you’re using

When using an interactive tool such as Miro or Mural — you can create a low risk warm up exercise to make sure everyone feels confident to contribute to the meeting.

The basic tasks you want people to practice include:

  • Create a card
  • Edit a card
  • Duplicate a card
  • Dot voting

Examples:

  1. What was your favourite childhood movie & your favourite scene / moment / quote?
  2. Name this animal and come up with their tag line
  3. Caption competition
  4. If you could have dinner with anybody in history, dead or alive, who would it be? What would your first question be to them?
  5. Favourite place map plot

For this exercise, and all the others, write down the instructions for each activity on the board. Don’t forget to include the outcomes and next steps too.

Retrospectives

Aim: Work out what went well and how to tackle what went wrong for the future

Virtual retros are nothing new. Distributed teams have been doing them for a long time. Now everyone is experimenting with them though.

First you want to get everyone to post their own thoughts anonymously.

The best approach is for people to add these cards beforehand — in their own time.

Before the session, the facilitator groups cards into themes. When the session starts, the whole team votes for which areas they want to focus on in the time.

The facilitator then guides a discussion — asking people to contribute their experiences, reflections and ideas for moving forward. Some questions to get started include:

  • Who’d like to tell us more about that?
  • What could we have done differently in hindsight?
  • What can we do next time to avoid this happening?

Time limits for each discussion can be transparent to all and a collective responsibility rather than solely on the facilitator.

Show & tell demo / Feedback session

Aim: build understanding of and buy in to progress that a team has made

As with many remote activities, things work better if you break discussions up into sections.

For this activity, you want to show and tell, then leave space for reflections and questions.

First, whoever is presenting should prepare a board that demonstrates the highlights of what has been created.

Talk people through that board using extra, off board materials like links /interactions if necessary.

Those watching, then ask questions on the board as you’re going through it and after you’re finished.

At the end you’ll have a nice record of any issues or actions that need to be taken following the session.

Training sessions

Aim: build peoples’ confidence in a skill to allow them to practice for themselves

Traditionally there has been a lot of broadcast content for training sessions. Online tools don’t lend themselves well to this approach. It is simply too hard to maintain focus for long periods of time when looking at a screen.

So now trainers need to break their content into small, bite sized chunks — which people may consume at their own pace.

10–20 minutes is about the longest someone will really concentrate on a video for.

So for a 45 minute training session we’d suggest an agenda of:

  • Content video 1–10 minutes
  • Exercise 1
  • Content video 2–10 minutes
  • Exercise 2
  • Content video 3–10 minutes
  • Exercise 3
  • Next steps discussion

The ideal is that the videos are recorded, but they are watched by a class at the same time with a facilitator answering questions and running the exercises as you go.

The exercises can be simple reflection or practical applications of the skills discussed in the video. The aim is to get the participant to think about the content for themselves.

Action learning groups

Aim: discuss a skill with peers to raise everyones’ capability

Action learning groups are an excellent way to build your own confidence in a particular set of skills.

The broad structure is for a small group (6 max) to consume the same content before the session. This could be a book or a series of articles about a particular topic.

You then use the session to reflect on the content — solidifying your own thoughts and hearing differing perspectives.

When doing this exercise remotely, you can use a board to capture peoples’ thoughts and reflections. Each person is assigned someone else to note as the discussion moves around the group.

Again, this gives you a nice takeaway to help remember the conclusions you came to.

Audience mapping

Aim: create a shared understanding of who a product, content or service is trying to help

Start by getting everyone to plot their audience groups on a bullseye, ranking them from least to most important.

The facilitator then identifies areas of agreement and where opinions differ to discuss. The aim is to create a model that everyone broadly agrees on — with compromises where necessary.

After this exercise, you can start to build proto-personas for the most important groups. These should build your understanding and empathy with the groups of people you’re building products for.

A great exercise is to get people to tell stories about individuals that fall into the groups described and for everyone else to note the information on the board.

Walking 1–2–1s

Aim: Give space for conversations that wouldn’t happen otherwise

The main aim of a 1–2–1 hasn’t changed — you want to share reflections, ideas and emotional responses which aren’t always appropriate or easy to uncover in the moment.

You should think about doing these session on the phone rather than a video call. They can be easier for all and some people find it simpler to open up about a subject when not looking at another’s face.

If it is a phone call then you can also go for a walk whilst doing it. If your team haven’t got a decent pair of wireless headphones yet, then buy these for them so this is easier.

Team socials

Aim: have shared, non-work based experiences.

When you interact with people about non-work stuff, you build up your understanding of them as a person.

If you understand someone better then you can empathise with them, respect their point of view and eventually trust them.

With trust, you can make bolder suggestions to a group — knowing that you won’t be harmed by the people in that team.

This creates better solutions to problems — with ideas that challenge the status quo, being more freely suggested and accepted.

Everyone’s remote schedule has now meant that these can take place in hours where everyone is able to join. We’ve had more socials in the last two months than we have in the last two years as they can fit around everyone’s home commitments.

Some activities that we’ve seen work:

  • Quizzes
  • Emoji catchphrase
  • Virtual book club discussion
  • Music intros game
  • Acronym quiz
  • Two truths and a lie

William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency.

William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency. We help you excite new audiences, engage stakeholders, build loyalty and raise funds. www.williamjoseph.co.uk

James Gadsby Peet

Written by

Director of Digital at William Joseph — a creative agency. I’m always up for chatting about fun things and animated cat gifs www.williamjoseph.co.uk

William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency. We help you excite new audiences, engage stakeholders, build loyalty and raise funds. www.williamjoseph.co.uk

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