My learnings from conducting virtual workshop
Updated: Jan 6
As we are beginning the new year, and looking back we realize how 2020 has changed our lifestyle. Work was majorly impacted by the Covid-19 situation; most of us have been remotely working for almost a year. This change in our lifestyle and work environments caused many companies to rethink their digital solutions. Leading to discussion for creative strategies involving multiple people. And the likelihood for a successful collaboration is best done in-person with a room full of influential folks. Most of the product or service-based companies, which relied heavily on such interactions, had to move to a virtual remote set-up.
As designers, we conduct workshops to collaborate with our stakeholders to ideate for the best possible solution. These workshops are essential in setting up the base for any design solution. Moving this to a virtual format was not an easy task. I remember my first virtual workshop in march. We had to align with our stakeholders on their perspective of redesigning a public service website and, most importantly, getting the content hierarchy correct. Getting everyone to not speak simultaneously while reaching consensus and helping stakeholders to adapt to the digital tools which we were using for virtual activities was quite a challenge. But throughout the year, I got opportunities to conduct various workshops with my team that helped me improve my process. And here are the things that I've learned from it.
Before I dive into the key learnings, below is the view of the process you could follow to prepare for conducting workshops.
As designers, we are aware of this process; hence I will not get into each step's details. However, I will share what you should or should not do while moving from an in-person set-up to a virtual set-up.
Identify and limit the NUMBER of participants.
Now, let's directly begin from Step 2 in the process of identifying participants. The key to any successful workshop is to get the right set of folks to participate. This eventually leads you to achieve the expected outcome. Although, unlike the in-person workshops, you will have to be very mindful in finalizing the number of participants for virtual ones. “The more, the merrier” won't work here as it would draw challenges in terms of participant availability and managing the chaos during discussions. My experience says this number could vary depending on the type of workshop. A knowledge-sharing workshop where participant interaction is the least could have 50 or more participants. In contrast, an ideation workshop demanding higher participant engagement could have 10 to 15 folks for it to be successful.
Draw in more participation
Most of us are aware that not everyone is engaging in a conversation on calls as they would be in-person. Hence, to engage all participants to get the intended information would require you to move away from the usual approach, of assigning a single task to everyone and then reviewing it at the end of the discussion. Trust me, this will be counter-productive. If you want answers to close-ended questions, create polls. It's the best way for your participants to share solutions without disturbing the flow of the agenda. And if you want them to do an activity, for instance, card sorting, divide your content cards equally for each participant to sort and then make groups to review it.
Your tools are your superpower.
While engaging participants is crucial, making this easy is also vital. Pick your digital tools wisely. Take into account the level of adoption of all your participants. You don't want to spend most of your time explaining to them how the tool works rather than focusing on the task at hand. Two of the tools that have worked well for me in collaboration and documentation are Miro and Invision's Freehand. Both provide various whiteboard templates depending on your need and allow customization. Although, miro limits you with the number of participants, making it necessary to create an account to access its full features. Whereas, Invision lets you access the application as a guest without having to sign-up.
It doesn't kill to do a rain check.
With all the effort in preparing for the workshop, I think the dry run is one of the most critical steps in the process. Still, most of us bypass this step, thinking it's never going to rain on my parade. I have been guilty of doing the same. However, after experiencing a few setbacks, I make sure to do a dry run with my team. It helps in foreseeing any gaps or challenges (be it tech or process-related) that one could face during the workshop and escape the plan continuation bias. For example, take the card sorting workshop. It was a closed card sort with limited content cards to be sorted under predefined content categories. During the dry run, we faced a few challenges with the tool. The proxy participants were struggling to understand how it worked. The application with its trial version had limited features. We saw the gaps and quickly switched to another far more flexible app having a small learning curve. On the final workshop day, it was a smooth sail.
If you inform, you will impress.
The majority of us keep busy juggling between work and home. Now, if you are the one who informs your participants (often very busy people) about what to expect in the workshop and if they need to go through any resources or sign-up to use a tool. You'll prepare them beforehand for what to expect. This sends a message to your participant that you care. Create a starter kit and always share it with your participants two days in advance and follow-up just one day in advance before the final workshop.
Feedback leads to improvement.
When your workshop is towards its completion, take the opportunity to ask for feedback. I highly recommend having this on your workshop prep list. Undoubtedly this will help you better your craft and do things differently the next time. Hence, craft your feedback form accordingly. For instance, you could ask what went well and what didn't go well. And there are multiple ways you could capture feedback like surveys, polls, etc.
These are a few learnings from my observations for conducting virtual workshops. As we always keep learning and sharing, so I'll keep adding to this list. If you have any learnings to share, do share in the comments below. Happy to hear your experience and learn from it.
Also, giving y'all a bonus tip, send out a summary of the workshop at the end of the day. Helps you document the details, and you get to assign the next steps, if any.