Tips & Tricks: Conducting Remote Workshops


UPDATED: September 2020 with added tips from experience

I routinely lead customer workshops as part of my profession. 100% remote work is changing things in a major way!  Workshops are not designed as remote experiences; yet here we are.  I led my first remote customer workshop this week!  As expected, it was definitely a different experience but it worked pretty well.  I learned some significant lessons  along the way and thought they'd be a valuable share (beyond this forced-quarantine time).  Delivering workshops remotely certainly isn’t the preferred method.  But there's surely things we can do to make them as effective as possible.

Tips:

  1. Energy.  Start with uptempo. music, jokes, and a high-level overview of what you're going to accomplish and how.  Have handouts that give people a strong mental model of where they are in the process.  They'll tune out and get bored otherwise.
    PRO TIP: I love to use a concept called ELMO using an Elmo plush doll.  ELMO stands for Enough, Let's Move On.  In an in-person workshop I'd bring the doll and give everyone permission to grab the doll and use it as a prop to remind the group when we're spending too much time on a topic.  It works AWESOME!
    Done remotely, we gave permission to call "ELMO" in both the Zoom room and the Slack chat.  No one had to do so in our session, but the permission to do so was liberating and the humor kept things light and engaging.


  2. Acknowledge and embrace the remote situation.  Tell folks it’s ok to step away, have background noise, etc.  Recognizing that removed some of the stress for the customer.  I fully expected to repeat things multiple times due to distractions.
  3. Split into half-day sessions instead of full-day.  It’s just too hard to ask someone to pay attention to a Zoom (or equivalent) for an entire solid day.  Two hours is the shortest time to make meaningful progress, and 4 hours is about the optimal length (not longer).
  4. Things take longer.  Deal with it!  Extend your normal workshop time by 25-50%.
  5. Breaks.  We did breaks every 60-90min.  I put a slide on screen to remind people when to return.
  6. Cameras.  I asked customers to turn cameras on ahead of time in prep materials, reminding them that a cool background and haircut is not the point so don't worry about it.  Depending on the company culture, you may only get partial compliance, but getting that personal connection is really important.  It’s also useful to see whether people are keeping up with what you’re saying.  As a presenter, get in the habit of staring into the little colored dot so you're speaking directly to the audience.
  7. Collaborative Whiteboard.  This is so important! Being able to draw effectively is key to a successful collaborative workshop.  Zoom whiteboards just didn't have the right features I was looking for.  Google Jamboard is a fantastic, free whiteboarding tool that perfectly fits this use.  I searched across a variety of options before finding Jamboards.  


    1. My requirements:
      1. simultaneous editing
      2. mobile friendly (native app that supports stylus)
      3. pinch-to-zoom for refined writing
      4. simple for everyone to figure out to use
      5. web compatibility for those without tablets
    2. PRO TIP: Share the Jamboard using your browser in your Zoom/video call.  Then edit on your tablet app without any need for connecting cables or sharing screens from the mobile device.  Edits will share automatically and use less battery than projecting the tablet directly.
    3. You don’t have to invite each user individually (saves time). The app supports join-by-link and anonymous access. You can send to your whole group without authorization challenges.
  8. Zoom breakout rooms.  You have to enable this in your Zoom settings (using the Zoom web login, not the desktop app).  If you have multiple SME’s it can be helpful to break out and have simultaneous sessions to build KPI’s or other searches so you can get some multithreading on the time.
  9. Keeping a side window (multiple machines/screens!) for internal Slack is really important. Make sure that even if you’re sharing your screen you can see what your team is saying.  If you lack a second screen, keep your phone or tablet up nearby.
  10. Don’t forget to enable do-not-disturb mode on your screen share so your messaging apps aren’t popping up.  You can also pause Slack notifications using the bell in the top corner.
  11. Zoom chat links and files do NOT show up immediately for all participants.  We experienced 5-15 min lags in pasting links and files into the Zoom chat before the customer could see them.  It may be better to use something else.  Even email isn’t great, depending on the speed and security of their inbound scanners.
    1. PRO TIP: use Slack for persistent chat.  Create a new workspace and invite your customers to join there (the plus button on the far left side of slack if you happen to already have multiple workspaces loaded).  This will also have the benefit of creating a persistent chat where you have notes from previous sessions, since your workshop will cross multiple zoom calls.
  12. A TODO list.  I’ve been thinking about using Trello with customers to frame a Kanban board of actions since this is largely an asynchronous exercise with lots of actions.  We have a few actions for the splunk team and many for the customer team to keep track of.  You could use a whiteboard or even a google doc (or email) but those aren’t as Kanban like.  Trello rocks.  I had multiple times I wanted to pin something in our task progression to come back to later (such as enabling analytics but we didn’t yet have enough historical data available).  You could also pin messages to your shared slack channel.

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