Many of us lucky enough to be able to work from home during this pandemic are discovering a whole layer of hidden communication that used to happen when we were in our offices. Gone are the cubicle drop-ins, the lunches, the water cooler chats. Of more concern, gone are the whiteboard and conference room collaborations – planned and impromptu.
The loss of those sessions can cause immeasurable damage as we can fail to be strategic, gain internal alignment, and coordinate. There is so much business value to gathering key stakeholders in a room to work something out – so what do we do now?
Drew discussed remote innovation workshops in his latest webinar, watch the video here:
Remote Meetings Aren’t the Same
The good news is that we can overcome this loss through remote workshops. But, we need to consider that these meetings will be inherently different. Unlike conference room meetings, remote meetings differ in some critical – and often detrimental – ways:
- Unseen distractions of people in the meeting: Slack messages, emails, web, home life.
- Lack of non-verbal cues.
- Difficulty setting up easy give-and-take environment.
- Trouble generating excitement remotely.
- Screen fatigue, including reluctance to get up and move around or take breaks.
- I have had people completely derail a meeting, something that would never be done in person.
- Waving? I’ve never waved goodbye leaving a conference room.
Simply put: “regular” meetings delivered remotely lack the real human interaction that makes for a good collaborative environment. The good news is that we can come close to recreating this environment remotely, we just need a little planning time and the right tools. We do this through remote workshops.
The New Way: Remote Workshops
The new way to collaborate is through remote workshops. Yes, “remote workshops” sounds more formal and planned, and yes, they are. But by adding some structure, we can ensure people are focused at working toward the same goal. By having a clear agenda, a dedicated facilitator or lead, and an activity that is focused around our objectives, we can get participants engaged and interacting. As a result, we get more value than we would in a “regular” online meeting, by being intentional about our time and outcomes.
At Modus, we have found that we can use these workshops at critical moments of engagement to get alignment, collaboration and information as we need it. This can include goal setting, mapping out the user journey after a round of user research, and even doing scrum ceremonies in a more interactive and engaging way.
Plan in Advance
To be more intentional, take the time to think about strategy. Take a break from the home office. Go for a walk and think about how to best collaborate, what we need to move the needle on a goal, and what we need to do for our business in the coming days, weeks, months and years.
Be Aware of Shift from Inclusive to Personal
There is a tendency when working at home to do things ourselves. To work in our own silos, only including people when we need their help or coordinating to advance our issues. This can be very different from what happens in an office where the default is inclusion and team coordination. Be aware of this and look for key moments to bring others in. It’s not all on you.
Focus on Outcomes
When you think about having a meeting, take a minute beforehand to clarify what you really need. It is easy in an office environment to realize you need inputs and buy-in, but not be fully clear what you really need. For a successful remote workshop, this needs to be clear: we need a goal, a vision, an idea, a plan, consensus. Whatever it is, think about it and structure the workshop to that end.
Include the Right People
This is key – having too many people with mis-aligned perspectives can make an online workshop difficult if not impossible. Not having all the right people to align on a plan or objective means you will just have to do it all over again when they are present. Have you ever had a meeting to make a decision without a key decision maker? Guess what, you will need to meet again later with them. Or have you ever been to a meeting with too many people and nothing gets accomplished? It’s critical to ask who absolutely needs to be there? If you want to be more inclusive, think about doing some pre-work with secondary stakeholders to get their input before going into the workshop.
How To Do It Right
Once you have decided on an outcome and attendees, the next step is getting the right tool and setting up the right workshop to carry it out.
There are only a couple of key tools you need: stable internet, good video conferencing, and a whiteboard app. I won’t go over the pros/cons of all these tools. Just this: your video conferencing tool should be unobtrusive (the kind that runs in a browser window is not ideal for this as everyone will be collaborating real-time in the whiteboard software). Your whiteboard tool should accommodate as many people as you will have in the session, and be easy to configure for the workshop you are running. At Modus, we prefer Miro, though Mural and Invision Freehand are other decent choices for mid-level to enterprise companies.
There are a myriad of workshops created for solving all kinds of business problems. Books like The Invincible Company can offer strategic workshops. Sites like Session Lab have catalogs of workshops for design thinking, for project planning, for goal alignment, and more. There are tons of templates available in Miro’s Miroverse catalog, not to mention the templates included in Miro’s software. Business Model Canvas, structured brainstorms, SWOT exercises, the possibilities are endless.
Some key tips to remember:
- Focus on your key outcome(s) and design your workshop around that/those. If you need to do a couple different workshops within a single session, set them all up on a single board.
- Prepare your whiteboard beforehand and take the time to really think through how it can be facilitated to maximize your outcomes.
- Two hours is about as long as anyone can sit in an online meeting without becoming distracted and getting “zoom fatigue”. Even then you should take regular breaks. At Modus, we typically don’t do more than one 2-hour session in the morning and another in the afternoon.
- Try teaming people up. Some people are better at that. Use chat tools or breakout rooms (if your video conferencing software supports it – Zoom does) for each “team” or pair.
- Find ways for people to share their work. So, 10 minutes for brainstorming, then 20 minutes to go around the room for explanations. This ensures everyone gets to talk.
- Look for ways to break up a single workshop into multiple steps. Consider doing 10 minutes on each box in a business model canvas, for example.
- Time boxing helps keep people focused. The facilitator should be clear with time allotted and time remaining.
- Use voting for group alignment. If you don’t have voting tools in your online whiteboard, have everyone put a dot on the item(s) they like. This can help weigh ideas and concepts.
- Have fun! Part of the value of workshops and collaboration is to have fun and keep an atmosphere where people feel willing to speak. And if people are having fun they will talk more, be more engaged, and ultimately want to do this again.
The bottom line is that with the “new normal” and people working at home more, we all need the ability to collaborate, strategize, and get aligned on our business initiatives. There is no better way to do this than through remote workshops. In some ways, remote workshops can help us be even more focused and on point with our meetings, as long as we take the time to prepare and focus on what we want to get out of each one.
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