How to run remote discovery workshops

For remote discovery and product workshops, online tools are an essential consideration. But there’s a lot of hype out there around new digital tools, especially with the pandemic still raging and most people who can still work from home. 

The tools you use, basic rules for running the sessions, and the type of agenda will necessarily take on different forms. The organizer will need different strategies for making sure everyone on the team is involved and engaged on the other side of the webcam. But the main difference between in-person and remote workshops is that, with every attendee working from a remote location, inclusivity and participation become more important than ever. 

Remote whiteboard for running effective product workshops

Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard platform which we use in many of our own workshops, estimates that distributed teams of individuals or small, equally sized teams of collaborators tend to be the most productive, inclusive, and comfortable with remote collaboration. This is difficult to achieve even in a traditional office environment. But with tools for conducting remote meetings becoming more accessible and simpler to use, it’s easier than ever to achieve optimal group configuration, even spread across a multitude of physical locations.

Source: https://miro.com/blog/100-remote-workshops-learnings/

Here are other tools we recommend using for remote workshops

  • Zoom or Google Meet (formerly Hangouts): video conferencing and communication
  • Google Drive: sharing files and collaborating on documents
  • Trello: productivity, setting and assigning tasks & deadlines
  • Miro alternatives:
    • Free Google Jamboard, being now linked to a Google Meet with additional options
    • MURAL, another online collaborative whiteboard

Some of the other tools we leverage after the workshop is delivered include:

  • Slack: get in touch with team members for communication and file sharing
  • Sketch: for building wireframes, or a different wireframe platform
  • Invision: translate wireframe screens into usable prototypes

When choosing the digital tools for a remote workshop, keep the selection to a minimum, and only use tools proven to help teams perform specific activities better, faster, and more efficiently

Step-by-step guide to run remote discovery workshop

You can find a lot of specific tasks involved with a discovery session or an agile product development workshop. However, there are a few additional considerations for running workshops remotely. We’ve broken them down into steps for before, during, and after the workshop:

Before the workshop

  1. Break down the schedule into shorter sessions. Sitting in front of a computer for hours, even with great collaborators, can get exhausting. Try reducing the time planned for each day to a maximum of 4-5 hours.
  2. Establish the agenda, timeline, and workflow ahead of time with all participants, so everyone knows what to plan for. People working from home often experience interruptions, so let everyone know how they should block off their schedules.
  3. Designate a facilitator and core team with specific responsibilities for leading the meeting and documenting output. Workshops are most efficient with 4-8 people, and higher numbers of participants are more challenging to manage in online meeting environments.
  4. Decide on offline tasks such as brainstorming user personas and customer values, so that participants can come to sessions with lots of material ready to share, since remote workshop sessions will necessarily be shorter than face to face conferences.

During workshops

  1. Use cameras & screen sharing. Treat the workshop the same as if you were all in one room: keep cameras on so everyone can see and visibly gauge reactions on collaborators’ faces.
  2. Eliminate distractions. Make sure participants are in quiet, comfortable circumstances where they can focus on the workshop. Limit phone use and sidebar chats to keep everyone on task.
  3. Use digital whiteboard and collaboration tools, but go analog sometimes. Since everyone is on camera, you can do things like have participants write or draw notes, then hold them up to the camera. Screenshot the results to record findings.

After workshops

  1. Collect learnings & output generated during each session. Review any new documents generated, screenshots taken, etc. and fold them into existing workshop materials. Poll attendees to see if anything was missed, or should be called out in the next session.
  2. Assign homework. Since these are shorter sessions, make sure every participant has an offline task to complete and bring to the next session. This will help keep the workshop fresh in everyone’s minds as they complete other tasks, and provide more input for the next workshop meeting.
Meeting remotely for a product development workshop

Strategies for success when running remote discovery workshops

While the above steps are a good roadmap to follow when planning and running remote workshops, there are a few additional tips and tricks which can help ensure that the workshop remains as productive and efficient as possible. Here are some of the most important, both for workshop organizers and participants:

  1. Practice with the tools ahead of time and train users in advance so that you and everyone attending the workshop is familiar and comfortable with whatever collaboration platform(s) you are using.
  2. Warm up at the beginning of each session. Use an ice breaker activity to get everyone in “workshop mode”. Make sure everyone is logged in and has all the necessary tools for that session open.
  3. Over-communicate instructions and main points. You never know when digital distortion or something happening in an attendee’s environment could prevent important points from getting across. Organizers should repeat themselves loudly and often.
  4. Plan breaks. This might seem obvious, but like we already mentioned, sitting in front of the computer gets exhausting. Participants should have a 5-minute rest every hour, and a longer break (30-60 minutes) every two hours.
  5. Bring a helper who can do quick, on-the-spot technical assistance, and keep an eye on participants to make sure everyone is synced up on tools and main points. This might be the scribe or note-taker, or someone else whose specific task is helping run workshop tasks.
  6. Empathize with attendees. Everyone is doing their best to keep their output productive and efficient while working from home and dealing with a myriad of distractions in their environment, both good and bad. Don’t get too frustrated at challenges or issues that distract from the workshop, but do try to maintain discipline among participants if those distractions start getting out of hand.

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