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February 9, 2021

How to prepare and run online workshops

Have you ever run an online workshop? Many companies and agencies have some concerns regarding their efficiency. After all, meeting in the same conference room is so much more effective, right? Well, not necessarily! Today, we’d like to show you our approach to online workshops. How do we prepare for them? What do we do to make them effective? And finally, what principles do we stick to when running an online workshop? Let’s get right to it!

Jake Knapp's quote

We have to be honest, at NoA Ignite, we do a lot of workshops with commas and we are huge fans of this solution. Primarily, that’s because we think they are excellent collaboration tools. They allow us to gather different people together to exchange information, solve problems and work on solutions. That’s why workshops play a significant part in almost every one of our projects, and we willingly run them on different stages of the project work.

We truly believe that this is the best way to:

  • Start the project work
  • Discover possible challenges
  • Come up and go over ideas

Although we do many different kinds of workshops, our main concern is to always adjust them to the clients' needs and goals that we want to achieve.

Types of online workshops

If you dig deeper into this subject, you will discover that there are several types of online workshops. However, we have three favourite types, and these are:

DISCOVERY/KICK-OFF WORKSHOPS

Typically, we use them at the very beginning of a project. They are extremely helpful in understanding business requirements, gathering existing knowledge, building a shared understanding of the challenge, and deciding on the next steps.

IDEATION WORKSHOPS (INNOVATION JAM, DESIGN SPRINT, DESIGN THINKING, BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS)

They are perfect for generating, discussing and testing a broad set of ideas. Some of those workshops can be done within a few hours, others can take even a few days, but in the end, we end up with thoroughly tested business assumptions, which can save our clients a lot of money and time.

DECISION-MAKING AND PRIORITISATION WORKSHOPS

We always run them after key steps within the project, such as the research phase or the MVP tests, in order to create a road map for our work.

How to design an online workshop?

Our role, as designers, is to prepare and facilitate the workshop. This means that we have to design exercises that we want to perform during a given workshop and decide on tools that we want to use.

So what exactly do we do before the workshop? Generally, preparing an online workshop consists of three steps:

  1. Defining the goal and purpose – the first thing that we have to do is determine the goal. We name what we want to achieve and then design exercises that lead us to it.
  2. Selecting the participants and informing them about the workshop – We always choose participants that will contribute and actively participate in the workshop rather than observe and listen. We also try to get different perspectives. That’s why we care about the diversity of participants.
  3. Selecting appropriate tools and exercises.

PRINCIPLES YOU SHOULD STICK TO WHEN DESIGNING AN ONLINE WORKSHOP

In order to make your online workshop effective, you have to bear several rules in mind and stick to them every time you are designing an online workshop. These rules are as follows:

  • Choose the form of workshop and exercises according to the main goal you want to achieve.
  • Always think about your ultimate goal. Write down all the questions and concerns that need to be addressed. When planning an online workshop, think about the information that will be needed at the design stage. After all, no one wants to spend a lot of time after the workshop processing its results.
  • Choose exercises and prepare the workshop materials in a form that will help you spend less time afterward. Ensure that activities you devise are logical and occur one after the other so that participants will have a sense of the progress made during the whole session.
  • Sometimes it is worth including your client in the process of designing an online workshop. Let them present their expectations towards the workshop.
  • Always try to maintain a high level of dynamism during the meeting and keep it concise. When we need to go through a complex decision-making process, we always try to divide it into smaller parts and focus on one step at a time.

HOW CAN YOU RUN YOUR ONLINE WORKSHOPS SEAMLESSLY?

To make our job easier, we always prepare a virtual workspace ahead. Miro is our favourite tool. In essence, it’s a live collaboration whiteboard.

Why do we use Miro?

  1. First of all, with Miro, we have all the workshop materials in one place.
  2. Miro allows us to collaborate in real time, so that we can see each other’s cursors and what everyone is doing at any given moment.
  3. It’s intuitive and easy to use. Even if it's your first time with Miro, we bet you’ll be able to get to know this tool and its functions quickly and effortlessly. It's good practice to introduce a warm-up activity that will help everyone practise basic options.

Miro workshop

PRINCIPLES TO FOLLOW DURING THE MEETING:

  1. Timeframe: Online meetings can be exhausting, so one session should take 4 hours tops!
  2. Smaller tasks and breaks: We divide the workshop into smaller parts, and make sure that there is a short break after each part
  3. Cameras always on: This way, we can feel that we are all in this project together. Also, it’s worth noting that cameras allow us to see expressions on people's faces and their reactions, which are sometimes more meaningful than words.
  4. Gestures: We use gestures to keep the communication organised and abundant
  5. Stick to the agenda: The most important rule is to stick to the plan and keep the time. That's why everyone always has access to the schedule with time intervals for the exercises and breaks.

Introduction & rules

It’s important: *As a facilitator, you need to be a detective, observer, listener, guardian and documentalist at the same time. Indeed, you have a lot to do, and your job involves listening carefully, collecting conclusions, writing them down, keeping the schedule tight and making sure that every participant follows your instructions and has a chance to express their thoughts... Doing all that simultaneously can be tricky. That's why it's worth having a co-facilitator who will help you do your job. *

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE WORKSHOP?

  • Everyone gets some rest. Workshops are exhausting!
  • We analyse the workshop materials. After the meeting, we always go through the collected materials and summarise them. Typically, it’s in the form of a report, presentation or just another board in Miro. We emphasise all the agreed actions/next steps and assign tasks to specific people so that the responsibility is not blurred and everyone knows what to do.
  • We meet and decide what the next steps are. This way, workshops help us move forward with the project.

Take a look at our webinar that helped us write this blog post, it will surely broaden your knowledge on online workshops:

Workshops: Online or offline?

Many people believe that offline workshops are better. With the entire team in one conference room, it really seems like a better idea. However, in the times of COVID-19, the vast majority of organizations work in the home office setup. That’s why, in many instances, online workshops are your only choice. However, don’t think of them as something worse!

As our experience shows, sticking to the aforementioned principles plays a crucial role. If you make your online workshops well thought-out and concise, you will be able to achieve the same level of productivity. And yes, we are 100% certain that online workshops do their job well.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s a flawless solution. You can run into some problems during the remote workshops, such as: • Network issues • Problems with concentrations (but honestly, offline meetings have the same problem just distractors are slightly different) • Nonverbal communication is limited • Working in smaller groups can be problematic

However, keeping these obstacles in mind will help you take necessary measures to avoid or at least minimise them.

ONLINE WORKSHOPS: ADVANTAGES

  • All your whiteboard notes are already digitised, and each team member has access to them, so no extra work needed.
  • It’s an eco-friendly solution: No paper used!
  • No commuting! You can participate from anywhere in the world.
  • No need to find a suitable conference room (mind you, in large corporations, it can be a huge challenge)
  • Efficient management of the meeting’s output: Everything is already in one place and can be accessed anytime.

BENEFITS FOR THE CLIENT:

Online workshops are beneficial not just for your project teams but for your client as well. Why? For your client, it’s an excellent way to share expectations, knowledge, ask questions, check the status of the work, and decide on the next steps. They feel more engaged in the project. They can collaborate on the solution and be able to see not only the outcome but also the entire process that led to it.

Key takeaways: Why do you need online workshops?

It's a good moment to sum up today's discussion. In short, we believe the online workshop is the most straightforward and quick way to get everyone on the same page.

Online workshops help you with the project work. They are brilliant for sharing ideas and looking for the best solutions. And, as long as you have the right tools, setup, and a well thought-out plan, online workshops can be as equally efficient as offline ones. Don’t think of them as something inferior. They are a fantastic covid-proof tool for every company and marketing agency! And if you are still looking for the perfect online workshop tool, we strongly recommend Miro!

If you’re curious how Making Waves collaborate remotely with clients, we’ve prepared series of videos about this subject. The first one is about workshops. Enjoy watching, and stay tuned next videos coming soon!

Author

Mariola Szklarz

Mariola is a User Experience Designer. She appreciates working collaboratively. For her diversity of mindsets, experiences and insights are key to successful products. She also values communication, building relations and cooperating on a team.

Contact Mariola: mariola.szklarz@noaignite.com