How to facilitate remote workshops effectively.

Working from home may be the new normal, but not all activities translate well from in-person to digital.

In this culture of collaboration, video conferencing alone doesn’t make an engaging and effective workshop.

We need to look at new ways to strategise, design and make together – when we can’t be together. 

From organisation strategies to co-design workshops, how can we collaborate to drive outcomes remotely.

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Samantha Wight
Samantha Wight
Mikaela Stephens
Mikaela Stephens
Want to talk more about transforming your business? Get in touch with Sam or Mikaela for a chat.

Questions and Answers

Mik: This is such a big hurdle at the moment. I'd be upfront and ask your participants how many other meetings or VC session they've had that week or day, then you know what you're working with and how fatigued your participants might be. Try to take activities off the screen and encourage pen and paper collaboration. Our team have also been implementing 'walking stand-ups' and meetings to get away from our screens and our desks. We put our headphones in and de-brief while on a 'social distancing friendly' power walk around the block.

[Sam:] Miro comes with a bunch of templates already created, which is great. We have also, as part of our sharing and feedback loop, we create our own templates and share it back to our group as part of our growing template library. [Mik:] I guess it depends on your business or teams your working with in terms of generating your own templates, saving them and making your own library. Miro has a wealth of templates available which are free to use. Sometimes we will scan and check in on other software like Mural or Metro Retro for inspiration for templates, and then we might go back into the tool we know the participants feel comfortable on, and recreating it there. It's getting some inspiration on how you might be able to set up some of those activities you ran face to face, online. But Miro has lots of templates. [Sam:] Like Mik said, all three of the tools we've explored had the ability to create your own templates within them, and add it back to your own library. We're not endorsing any of these tools, we are just sharing the tools our Agency has adopted to use, and Miro is our main use of these tools.

Mik: Introductions and name sharing is a great practice, especially if you are facilitating a group of people who are new to working with each other. Consider embedding an introduction activity with a 'warm-up or icebreaker' activity, as this will also help build some psychological safety and trust with the participants as they get to know one another. We have used a 'show and tell' style warm-up which worked a treat; we took turns to present a sentimental or fun item that meant a lot to them, it was a great time getting to know our team members stories, and the object we wouldn't normally see as it lives in their home! Sam: In addition to what Mik's said, the type of activity you choose for attendees to introduce themselves will depend on who is in the workshop, the relationship between attendees, the duration of the session and the size of the group. You'll need to take all of these into consideration when determining how you plan to facilitate introductions.

Mik: You sure can! Miro recently upgraded their platform to invite anyone to collaborate with full edit access, no signup required. Which is great, you no longer need to use your company 'day passes' if you use a paid version, or limit your guests to only have comment access. Sam: You can find this option under the 'share' menu and modify access for others to edit.

Mik: Great news, presentation mode is available in the free version of Miro!

Mik: Yes I have used this tool before. It's great accessibility wise, and it's coded quite well as a collaboration tool. I've used Microsoft Whiteboard before when we've had participants who have low vision. And they were able to use text to voice technology with that. It also has a wonderful feature where the post its that you write in real life you can take a photo of, and I've found Microsoft Whiteboard translates them better online than most other whiteboard collaboration tools. I find there are less spelling errors in translation from my handwriting, or verbal translation, as it doesn't always translate well. It's a good one.

[Sam:] What it boils down to, is psychological safety that you have built with that team so they aren't fearful that they are going to be on camera. Some people just don't like it, don't like being on camera. It's about building that rapport and nudging a little bit every time to see if someone would like to put their camera on. [Mik:] I agree with you Sam, building psychological safety is really important for a high performing team. But at the end of the day, we are in people's homes and we do need to respect their privacy, we don't always know what's going on behind the scenes or what their home environment is like. I understand it is ideal that we do have video as Sam mentioned, I would recommend just having a chat with them and how they are feeling, if there is anything you can do as a facilitator to build confidence and help them collaborate.

Sam: From what I know about Zoom, I don't think that is true. You can assign yourself to a breakout room, and pop in and out. And also if someone in the breakout room needs help, they can invite you to the room. So you can click, yes join, and then you are in that breakout room.

Sam: We use presentation mode in conjunction with share screen, and acts as a presentation and guides you through the boards and moves you so people can follow along. If you shared your screen just on Miro, it would have a similar outcome, and people could follow your cursor on the screen. I just found using presentation mode was a nicer experience. Mik: You covered that beautifully Sam. It would be as if you are merging Miro and Slides together, as one software which stops you from needing to swap screen or have multiple screen open.

[Sam]: I do have an example. We used the Brainwriting template on Miro and that essentially allowed people to write their idea or create their prototype of idea, and the next person can build on to it. We did this around 8 times, and so by the end, we had several ideas that were directed built onto. So that's one way to get around this challenge. Mik I feel you might have some experience on this challenge.

[Mik:] I suppose it depends on which tool you might be using when you are prototyping. Another idea we've been trialling is creating individual desk spaces online, on Miro or on Slides. So, everyone is given the same template or framework example, copied and pasted, and they have their name assigned to the desk and everyone can ideate and collaborate in their own desk space. Then people aren't copying and pasting or moving their concept around while they're working on it. We then have a few examples where we give them the opportunity to ideate on other people concepts for 2 minutes, and then move onto the next one. It does depend on the tool. Some tools, like Figma (I think), you can have multiple people working on the same thing (this is called Multiplayer Editing), which is also a great tool for user testing. So might depend on the tool or how you structure it I think.

(Q cont) "... Creative teams need to be able to share their thoughts not only verbally but visually and physically as well. I am not at my best writing memos. Instead, put me in a room where somebody is sketching on a whiteboard, a couple of others are writing notes on Post-its or sticking Polaroid photos on the wall, and somebody is sitting on the floor putting together a quick prototype. I haven’t yet heard of a remote collaboration tool that can substitute for the give-and-take of sharing ideas in real time. so far, efforts to innovate around the topic of remote groups have suffered from a lack of understanding about what motivates creative teams and supports group collaboration. Too much has been focused on mechanical tasks such as storing and sharing data or running a structured meeting and not enough on the far messier tasks of generating ideas and building a consensus around them"

Mik: Absolutely agree with this. As a facilitator you should be enabling your participants to create and share in whatever way feels most comfortable to them. Allowing for free form discussion, play time, and experimentation is crucial to this. There are hiccups and constraints with online facilitation to enable this freedom. I've found if you've using tools the participants are really comfortable with, you'll get way more creativity and expression. Using the physical objects in front of you should be encouraged, however I have yet to find an online tool that let's teams literally build and experiment in such an organic way... a software idea for any developers out there to consider!

Mik: There are a few tools and activities that you could consider implementing, depending on how long your workshop is going for. You could ask your participants to use a service such as Mentimetre or Participoll, and they can send you pulse checks throughout the workshop on their emotions, or how engaged they are. Additionally, you could run an exercise called 'fist to 5'. After an activity, everyone holds up a hand and on the count of three, holds up their fingers as a rating score from 0 up to 5 (unless you're missing any fingers/thumb... or maybe you have extra!). We will then take turns and talk about why we scored the session that number. It's a quick way to get a gauge on how the activity went and how people are feeling. Sam: We've also heard of teams using collaboration cards throughout remote workshops/meetings to provide a quick check on how attendees are feeling.

Mik: That's a tough one, I think the best resource for you might be the Remote High Performing Teams webinar, which could give you tips on how to support your team members remotely. Participants who might be a bit challenging to collaborate with often have other factors going on in their lives, or at work, which is impacting their frame of mind or collaborative spirit. Focus on activities that build safety, trust, and fun within the team, and see if that changes their 'energy'. Sam: To add to what Mik has said, I also suggest speaking directly to anyone who displays negative behaviour in sessions in a radically candid way. Find out what's going on, and if you are comfortable, provide them with situational, behaviour, impact (SBI) feedback so that they know how their actions are impacting the rest of the team. If you learn that there is something personal going for this individual, provide them with support and encourage them to reach out to your company's EAP program if there is one in place.

[Sam:] Mik touched on a few of those elements in our preparation checklist, so give that a look. Anything you want to add or run through there Mik? [Mik:] Yeah, for good user experience to prepare before and after, I think there's an element of sending welcoming invitations as well. When you are sending an Agenda, you're kind of giving people of taste of what to expect within the workshop itself. That's a really good opportunity to develop a welcoming touchpoint. The other element, we touched on a bit in the presentation, but we have been setting up nice welcome spaces online. In Miro you can set up what we will be the defined view or entry point when people enter via the link onto Miro, that's their opening screen. We have been creating welcome pages. There are opportunities to create a touchpoint that makes things bit more welcoming online. Those are some of the ideas that come to mind.

[Mik:] Miro or previously known as 'Realtime Board' has been a collaborative tool used by Isobar Australia for a while now. We have a big web development team which loved it's wireframing and kanban capabilities, and simultaneous collaboration. No worries about only one person working on the tool. It also allowed for separate project spaces that we could collaborate freely within Isobar, and with our clients. Personally, I think it's got a really easy onboarding experience, and it's interface feels quite intuitive.

[Mik:] I agree, the quality isn't the best when played through speakers and then fed through the microphone into the stream. Microsoft teams has the capacity to play audio directly as a facilitator. You can find out more about it here: Sam: When you are sharing your screen on a video call, using Microsoft teams, there is an option to 'include system audio'. Once you select the option, participants can hear the audio directly from your computer. This is helpful if you need to show videos or want to play music to help fill the 'dead air'. You can also continue to talk to your participants during the silence, re-iterating the objective of the activity and letting them know how much time is left to complete the activity. However, silence isn't always a bad thing, and sometimes it can offer moments for participants to focus or reflect. Try a mix and see what works for you.

Mik: That's a really big topic, and it really depends on what you're wanting to achieve with your learning management system (outcomes first, right?). If you reach out to our Capability Specialist, Julia Birks, she may be able to help you out. Her email is