The impact of COVID-19 on business operations was sudden, unexpected and let’s be honest just plain weird. DCMN’ers have even termed it ‘The Weirdening’. But like always, with a little creativity and knowledge sharing, there are many ways you can adapt to ensure your workplace standards are still high across the board.

Up to now, most of our working lives operated under the necessity of physically sharing a space. No doubt about it there will be obvious, but palatable, changes in going remote for the average Joe. But when it comes to facilitating something as physically collaborative as a team or client workshop, you might be left scratching your head picturing how this will function online. It’s not going to be the same, but it’s definitely possible to make it work. 

Creative solutions are a must. To get you kickstarted, we’re sharing all the remote workshop nuggets we’ve learnt here at DCMN, to help keep the learning wheels-a-turning and ideas-a-burning during this crazy time.

Shhhh, time to silence any distractions

Here at DCMN, our teams regularly host a variety of internal and client workshops. These sessions rely on getting everyone to block several hours in their day to join minds together in a large room free of distractions most importantly, offline. In order to really focus and channel creativity for a successful remote workshop, what’s important now is to minimise the distractions at home just as you would in the classic setup. As participants will now need to be online, it’s time to mute notifications, ditch phones and dial-in from a disruption-free environment where possible. 

Virtual tools work too 

Workshops typically involve the use of a broad range of stationary such as sticky notes, flipcharts, whiteboards and coloured pens, while requiring large open spaces and surfaces to lay out this information. Without these luxuries, our teams have had to rapidly figure out a way to digitalise these workshop processes. The good news? There are tons of fantastic alternatives! 

Héloïse Nelte is DCMN’s Team Success Igniter AKA workshop superstar, and she had a bunch of tips. “While there are commonly used and useful tools for collaboration such as Google Docs and Sheets, when you’re running a digital workshop, these tools are not ideal for simultaneous collaboration and brainstorming activities,” she says. “Digital whiteboard tools (and there’s plenty to choose from) will complement your workshop best”. 

With the online whiteboard program Mural just one example we’ve been trialing at DCMN – users can easily add sticky-notes, sketches and more to a shareable board. There are well designed templates for idea prioritisation, scenario mapping and creative matrixing. On the plus side, not only is this method more sustainable, but now you can easily save, share and revisit your collaborations later, avoiding the need to take photos of flip-chart pages and indecipherable whiteboard notes. 

Staying engaged during a remote workshop

engaged worker on a remote workshop

Keeping an audience engaged for extended periods of time is no easy feat, so it’s extra important to keep the communication flowing between everyone when online. We’ve all witnessed attention spans drifting away in larger conference calls especially when there’s only one or two active speakers so be sure to ask individuals for their direct input regularly. That way everyone remains actively participating from behind the screen. 

Participants are generally also more focused during remote workshops. “Small chats between participants in between activities are removed either you’re speaking for all or muted for all,” Héloïse explains. “As a moderator though, you’ll likely need to work harder to keep your audience engaged.” For that purpose, Héloïse recommends trying “small individual steps for the whole group.” “As breaking off into smaller group activities will be less feasible,” she says. “This way, everyone can witness how their contributions are adding to a bigger picture, which keeps them engaged.” 

Keep your remote workshop condensed

When you go digital, you should also go shorter. For optimal results, a condensed format of no more than two hours is recommended within a staged series. This allows people time in between sessions to reflect. “Remote workshops can be very intense because we tend to expect instant input from everyone, which is more challenging,” Héloïse explains.

Having your video switched on is also non-negotiable during a digitalised workshop. Even if you’re physically apart, video is crucial for both the participants and moderator to connect at a personal level. You can even see it as an opportunity for an ice-breaker conversation checking out everyone’s unique set-up and possibly introducing some furry friends to the group! “Take advantage of a new situation and think about activities for participants while on camera it’s time to get creative,” says Héloïse

As a final and very important lesson on engagement don’t forget to take breaks. The same rules apply just as they would for a classic workshop. Make sure that participants are given enough time away from the screen to recharge. This means cameras off, mics muted and let’s not forget the highlight of any workshop lunch and snacks. 

Key takeaways for facilitating a remote workshop

  1. Create a distraction free environment mute notifications, phones away and dial in from a quiet place. 
  2. Collaborate cleanly with shareable online tools such as a virtual whiteboard.
  3. Keep everyone engaged by asking for direct contributions regularly.
  4. Build upon a series of smaller steps so the entire group has clarity around the bigger picture. 
  5. Cameras on! It’s an ice-breaker and you’ll need it to connect on a personal level. 
  6. Take breaks and stock up on snacks.

Looking for advice about how to manage remote work for your teams? We’re happy to share our experiences with you in this difficult moment. Just reach out to hello@dcmn.com