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Running remote workshops – eight top tips for success

Sanne Verbaan and Kate Pennington

What are the big challenges facing organisations wanting to run remote workshops in pandemic times? And what are the best solutions being used out there? Those questions were front of mind at October’s Collaborative Connections: a workshop about workshops – an online session to help the 70-strong HMRC user research community taking part.

For the workshop, we worked alongside Vicky Midson, a senior UX designer at Opencast, and Hazel Dixon, PhD researcher at Newcastle University’s Open Lab. Hazel was able to share her research and knowledge about communicating online. 

At Opencast we use the Miro whiteboard tool a great deal and that’s the platform we chose to run the workshop. As a basic, therefore, we had to ensure that everyone in the session could actually use Miro. So, we ran through some basics then challenged participants to try it out.

What makes a good – and bad – workshop?

We have all in our work experienced meetings that should have been workshops, as well as workshops that had no clear goals. So we went back to basics to explore what a workshop is and how it differs from a regular meeting.

Running a remote workshop can be daunting and have many barriers. We shared some of our own experiences and asked participants to describe barriers they had faced in the past. These included a lack of clear purpose, technology not working or workshops simply taking up too much time.

We explored this in more depth by asking participants to plan and design the worst-possible remote workshop they could imagine. We encouraged them to reflect on what hasn’t gone well in workshops that they had either facilitated or attended. 

Ideal world workshops

We then flipped the idea and asked participants to plan the best remote workshop in the world, with no practical, monetary or resource constraints. What would that best-ever remote workshop look and feel like?

From there we moved into the real world, sharing tips and tricks about planning, designing and facilitating remote workshops – before asking participants to look back at their ideas for the best workshop and think about ways they could make that a reality after all the reflections and information shared so far. 

We wrapped up by sharing key takeaways, as well as shared resources that we find particularly useful when planning, designing and facilitating remote workshops. From there we were able to draw together eight top tips for success.

Running remote workshops – eight top tips for success

1. Make sure you set clear objectives about what you want your remote workshop to achieve before you start any work on the session.

2. Test out the technology and tools you are planning to use before the workshop and make sure everyone has access to the tools of your choice. 

3. Use your own learning from past experiences and workshops you’ve been to and make good use of external resources. 

4. Ask people you trust to try out your exercises and activities before going live in a workshop. That way you can iron out most problems.

5. If there is any anxiety about the word ‘workshops’, try calling your event a ‘session’ instead.

6. Think about ways for everyone’s voice to be heard. You don’t want the senior stakeholders or the highest-paid person in the room to dominate the conversation.

7. Plan enough breaks during your remote workshop. Sometimes facilitators will have a packed, brilliantly planned workshop but won’t have factored in sufficient breaks. Remote workshops can be more draining than in-person, so regular breaks are important for both participants and facilitators.

8. Don’t forget to make the workshop fun and engaging! 

Remote workshop resources

Workshop activities

gamestorming.com – co-creation tools
liberatingstructures.app/en – workshop companion
toolbox.hyperisland.com – creative collaboration resource kit
sessionlab.com – workshop design advice
miro.com/blog/virtual-workshop-activities – interactive workshop activities
mindtools.com/pages/article/virtual-ice-breakers.htm – bring remote workers together
thinkfwd.co/toolkit – resources for innovation

General workshop information

nngroup.com/articles/workshop-facilitation-101 – workshop facilitation 101
nngroup.com/articles/ux-workshop-agendas – effective UX workshop planning
mindtools.com/pages/article/PlanningAWorkshop.htm – workshop planning
uxdesign.cc/a-step-by-step-process-to-run-ux-workshops-2b38fedab7dc – step by step UX workshop planning
nngroup.com/articles/dominating-workshop-participants – tactics for handling dominating workshop participants.

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