Getting the most out of our participants
Set an agenda with timings and stick to it.
Now this one wasn’t an obvious choice for me. Anyone who’s been involved with workshops in the past will know that they rarely run exactly to the planned time. New subjects are raised, discussions get sidetracked and we have to bring the focus back to the task at hand. Two important skills needed for an effective workshop are managing people’s focus and the ability to be flexible in the room when necessary. With this in mind, alongside all prior workshop experience and my expectation that we would progress slower in virtual format, I didn’t allocate specific timings in the first post lockdown workshop we ran. Instead, I had personal notes with a rough idea and took it from there. This turned out to be a mistake.
The nature of virtual workshops being well virtual, it’s easier and more socially acceptable to dip in and out, rather than committing to the entire time. Add to that the nuance of people working from home and the inevitable distractions that can bring, alongside intense workloads and evermore virtual meetings… It’s pretty certain that one or more workshop attendees won’t be able to make all of the exercises. And without clear timings, this can be an issue. If people are going to have to duck out and join other calls or commitments, strict timings can allow you to keep on track and let them know the critical times that you want them back for. Particularly if they’re the key decision maker or stakeholder in the virtual room. Without this, the workshop is destined to run inefficiently and over time.
We could have used the time better and been more efficient.
Take two and I had times in place, which were made visible to everyone and we stuck to. People dropped in and out but we didn’t run overtime and covered the exercises and deliverables needed. Everyone was happy and we received no feedback suggesting a better use of time.
Break it up.
I knew screen fatigue was going to get us nowhere fast, so we needed plenty of breaks. Even with workshop attendees dipping in and out, regular breaks are very necessary. I certainly don’t want to contribute to people feeling they haven’t moved in the day or like they’re tied to their screen. Breaks that allow for movement and time away from not just the workshop, but also the screen is highly important for our collaboration and creativity.
I have an exercise class between 12pm and 1pm that I need to make
To my surprise, additional breaks didn’t cause the workshop to run much slower in real time. When attendees returned, they were focussed and ready to crack on.
In a traditional workshop environment, the outputs from previous exercises are left up on the walls in clear sight. In a virtual environment, you lose the benefit of people being able to glance back at a previous exercise for reference or in a break. This calls for more recapping throughout the day to bring everyone back on the same page and get us in the best possible position to progress. This was something I hadn’t planned for the first time around.
It would have been useful to have more visual references to the previous exercises and recaps of what we’d done in the morning.
The next time around we worked much harder to refresh on what had gone before and remind everyone with visual recaps. Lesson learned.
Break the virtual ice and connect.
We all know that it’s far harder to make connections and feel at ease on a virtual call. Tech issues, awkward silences and people speaking over each other all work against the attempts to bring people to ease (another reason why delivering the workshop from the same room is key). There’s something more intense about the constant visual reminder of how you’re coming across and the virtual perception you’re portraying on screen. Critically though, a feeling of being at ease and enjoyment is conducive to creative thought, problem solving and confidence in sharing ideas. It’s this very reason that I don’t want to skimp on the small talk or skip the icebreakers (no eye rolls please) when it comes to virtual workshops. If anything, I prioritise these more highly now and jump on opportunities to build a rapport.
The introductions, icebreakers and early content did a great job of setting the scene.
Onwards and screenwards...
I’m continuing to learn and add to these virtual considerations alongside my fab colleagues. One positive from this is that we’ve uncovered some virtual ways of working that we’ll keep in place when we’re back in the office together, both to improve ongoing collaboration with clients and our own efficiencies. All of these elements feed into our ability to tackle the myriad of challenges our clients are facing. This was vocalised at the end of our last workshop, “thank you so much for approaching our complex offering in a logical and clear way”. Well, we are in the business of distilling complex digital problems into simple solutions, so that’s always reassuring to hear.
I’ve shared this in the hope that we can be honest about the challenges we face, learn together and move towards the ways of working that provide the best outcomes for all involved.
Happy workshopping to you.