3 Recipes for Remote Workshops

*Or any other thing that involves post it notes and hand waving

With thanks to Viveka Weiley for being my #TFOM 2020 Workshop buddy

Note: this is features heavy use of the online whiteboard tool Miro. I’m not affiliated with them in anyway nor are they being endorsed by me. Use whatever you like/whatever is not blocked by your organisation’s firewall. Other suggestions have included Google’s Jamboard? Murally? Just use whatever is comfortable for you/you can explain to someone else — the same principles apply.

Global Pandemic or not, remote workshops are tricky and here’s the three scenarios I have done them in. But since we’re here, other perfectly good reasons to have a remote workshop can include (but are not limited to):

  • Travel can take a long time from different regions of (particularly) Australia and the stress increases the more timezones you cross. I imagine this is similar across many regions of the world!

Recipe 1: You’re remote, your clients are all together in another location. <10 people. (preferred)

What you will need:

  • A remote white board, I use Miro

Before you try this

  • Skip buying the post it notes, Miro has them on the system.

The recipe

  1. Welcome everyone to the workshop and briefly explain what the group is going to be accomplishing. Draw attention to the online whiteboard tool and point clearly to the person in their room that’ll have the power of being a scribe.
A screenshot of Miro with the Key: A yellow post it note with Ideas A pink post it note with Blockers A Blue Post it note with Known A Blue-Green post it note with Unknown A Green post it note with How Might We
The Key, with the usual categories that I need in a typical workshop
A miro board with 5 frames Exercise 1: Who is Our Customer Exercise 2: How will we validate our solution with the customer? Exercise 3: Blockers to the current technology Exercise 4: Proposed Customer Journey with a line, one end with START the other with END Exercise 5: Feature Prioritisation 3 columns with Essentials on the left hand side, Shrug in the middle and Nice to Have on the right hand side.
A left to right workshop board on Miro (note: this is PLENTY for one workshop, I will be worried if you have more than five frames, that’s two workshops!)

Things that require workarounds

Synthesis on the fly is going to be a bit harder as any silence in the call will feel like a long time as you organise ideas. You’re going to have to build in breaks that require participants get up and have a drink of water whilst you group everything together and maybe draw a view arrows just because the cumbersome nature of Graphic User Interfaces.

Also VOTING! This is a bit trickier in the Miro style interfaces, the best I have found is to draw circles yourself and allow participants to drag it onto the post its. Just make sure you synthesised and tidy up first so participants know what they’re doing. (Note: this is a technique I stole from Viveka Weiley)

A screenshot of a Miro frame with a long narrow rectangle with the title “Voting Stickers, please take 2” and 16 pink dots below
Voting stickers!

Recipe 2: You’re onsite, some of your clients are onsite, but others are in another location. <10 people. (preferred)

Here it gets a little tricky. Ultimately if the bulk of people are in person, it’s better to have them use physical post it notes. It’s quicker, easier, and generally gets people doing more. However, sometimes VC equipment doesn’t show a particular wall of a room — or the camera cannot focus. In this case…

You will need

  1. An assistant, probably 2, on site with you. A scribe to write up physical post it notes and probably another to answer questions in slack from remote participants and clarify what is going on if the connection drops out.

The recipe

  1. Get a laptop trained on the wall that has your post it notes, spend some time getting it in focus as much as possible.
A screenshot of Miro with 2 frames and on the left the Key: A yellow post it note with Ideas A pink post it note with Blockers A Blue Post it note with Known A Blue-Green post it note with Unknown A Green post it note with How Might We 2 frames 1st frame: Post It Notes to Post with one yellow (idea) post it note “we need a business model that’s flexible” 2nd frame Written Up Post its with a green How Might We: find new customer segments.
Encourage participants to use the colours of the key you’re using to make this easier on your scribe

Recipe 3: Everyone is remote

Many people have requested that if there are some people remote then everyone should be remote as a means of equality of experience. I would counter and say that having everyone on the same foot in a workshop is a bit of pipe dream — there’s always going to be issues with lag or telecommunications systems that are going to benefit people with faster modem speeds or maybe not sharing a network with someone who has had enough of paying for geo-blocked streaming services and has decided pirating Netflix’s entire back catalog is worth a shot during work hours (1000% hypothetical). There’s been multiple times of remote meetings where we have waited maybe 15 minutes or so for multiple people to get back online if there’s a drop out. This is all completely normal for it to fall apart at some point, or for the really key person to just not be there at an opportune moment because of life and Murphy’s law. I have been trying this for about 18 months and these are my learnings:

The recipe

  1. Follow the principles of Recipe 1 — set clear expectations of who is a scribe (one per location seems to work OK) and who is not, and set a “worksheet” of activities to confine everyone to stay on topic and use the right colour post it notes.

How to Miro, set up a board like this so everyone can have a play

Good luck and I’m sure you’ll do well in any (or all!) of these formats!

If you would like more articles from me, follow me on Twitter @lizzeran

Originally published at https://lizgilleran.com.

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