How to Facilitate Kick @#! Collaboration While WFH

Strategy UX
Ross Abplanalp

The GearLab team loves to walk teams through the process of defining measurable goals and setting priorities for new projects. We’ve fine-tuned our in-person workshop methods, strategically moving sticky notes, closely timing activities and choreographing voting exercises.

Part of my job is facilitating these workshops for clients as well as internal workshops, like retrospectives or brainstorming sessions between departments. These collaborative sessions transform empty whiteboards and sticky notes ideas into strategy, process and design.

Enter Covid-19 and an urgency to explore digital tools and strategies that can help our team facilitate workshops that garner in-person workshop results. Here’s how we’ve pivoted our process to adjust the workshop format, incorporate new tools and find different ways to engage participants.

Planning and Designing a Remote Collaborative Session

A little preparation goes a long way when designing a collaborative session. Follow these steps before you send out that calendar invite:

  • Identify the activity you want to run. I recommend keeping it simple to start. Remember that your participants will be adjusting to using a new tool and communicating with the team differently. Don’t worry, more in-depth workshops will happen with time and experience. 
  • Set goals and share them with the team. Be sure to identify the main goal of your workshop. Do you need a specific set of deliverables? Does the team need to come to a consensus? Sharing these goals at the beginning of the workshop ensures everyone is on the same page. 
  • Empower your participants. Define any work the team needs to do prior to the workshop, like review meeting notes. You can also provide high-level prompts, like: 
    • Think of your pain points with the current website
    • Come to the meeting with a few ideas about what’s missing from the website.

Being prepared means that you and the participants can make the most of your time together and will help you quickly extract key insights from the workshop. 

  • Share the workshop agenda that breaks out each section. Include any resources such as personas, high-level activity sheets, research and other documentation that may be helpful. 
  • Figure out which tool will work best for the session. Our favorite collaboration tool is Mural, because of its flexibility and many features. Other options include Miro, Trello, and Whimsical. Regardless of the tool, you’ll want to design your workshop board to include vertical sections for each activity that align with your agenda. Be sure to include the title and time estimates which help with setting expectations. 

Set Yourself and Your Participants up for Success

You picked your tool, you got your digital sticky notes and whiteboard, and you’ve got a plan. Now, there are a few more considerations to plan for before starting a remote workshop:

  • What is the level of familiarity your participants have with the tool? If they haven’t used the tool before, set time aside in your agenda to walk through how to use the features.
  • Are you using a pre-built template or does your workshop fully translate from in person to remote? Mural comes with pre-built templates, making it easy to quickly start a workshop. Take some time to make sure you have all the appropriate sections for your activities.
  • How do you read an individual’s body language without being in the same room as them? We encourage participants to share their cameras during workshops to help provide additional context.
  • Don’t wing it. Rehearse ahead of time. You’ll be able to identify a variety of oversights by giving it a simple run through before the real deal. If you’re trying a new tool, try running a practice workshop with a small internal team to work out any wrinkles.

Bonus Tip

  • I’ve read that some individuals have been experiencing Zoom fatigue and that affording participants a break from video can be a good thing. Make sure that you’re keeping track of the voices you’re hearing. Listen for tones and keep an eye on collaborative cursors.

And there you have it! These tactics will help prepare you for facilitating some kick @#! collaborative workshops while working from home. Our work environments may have changed but we can adapt to meet these new challenges with creative tools that will also enhance our capabilities once we return to the office.

Now, if anyone has tips on how to keep my 2-year-old and 4-year-old from crashing said workshops, I’m all ears.