Our team coordinates lean inception workshops and in mid-March, we were supposed to travel and organize one. So as the facilitator, I re-read all the books, made the schedule for 3 days (yes, you can do it in 3), packed the felt pens, post-its, papers, posters, the whole shebang. And then COVID-19 took the world by storm. So we decided to have a remote workshop, with two co-located teams.
Recommended reading material
A few days later, half of RUBICON’s team was in self-isolation. The day before the workshop, our clients were in #stayhome mode as well. So the final plan was for everyone to check in from home. That meant 11 participants in a 7-hour call for 3 days, each with their own set of special circumstances due to the pandemic. So not quite as planned.
For those of you unfamiliar with the process behind lean inception, it heavily relies on individual and group exercises. They involve writing, walking, presenting - a lot of things that are generally connected with being physically present in a room. So there were quite a few things that could go wrong if you decide to apply the same recipe in a virtual environment. The thing is, our team already knows the recipe is never the same, even in fully co-located workshops. There is always improvisation. So we adapt. We remove some of the activities and add others based on the type of issue we’re facing.
Since most of us around the world are in #stayhome mode during COVID-19 and will be left with no choice but to work remotely, here are some tips for facilitating, regardless of the type of workshop:
Adopt a digital-first mindset.
This guide to facilitating remote workshops by the MURAL team is excellent, which is why I will not go into a lot of detail - they say it all. Read it and then read it again. It might seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that not everything will be applicable to your workshop. You need to adjust your activities depending on the type of your workshop. For example, for lean inception, you want to abandon all activities that break into small groups. Make them an individual effort instead.
Pay attention to the audio setup.
All the participants need to have a quality headset and/or microphone. Keep in mind that if your audio fails, everything fails - we cannot stress this enough.
Choose your means of communication.
Some companies have strict rules about the communication tools they use. You need to check with your clients and find one that suits everyone. Pro tip? Try to choose one that offers live captions. Google Hangouts Meet, Skype, and Microsoft Teams all have that option. We tested them on Google Meet and they work like a charm. Even if a participant’s audio comes back scrambled, the captions have a high degree of accuracy. It decreases the amount of times you need to say “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
Record the sessions.
This has proven to be very useful for us in the past. Sometimes the discussions get very technical and it is difficult to keep track of everything. Later on, you can go back to the recording and check. Most of the communication tools have a built-in option to record the session. If yours doesn’t, you can always use an external app to do it.
Choose a visual collaboration tool.
In a co-located meeting, you use a wall, a flipchart and post-its to visualize your progress. Visual output is powerful and there is no replacing it - so how do we do it digitally?
Tool overload is a real issue. We use so many tools on a daily basis that having to learn how to use a new one can be overwhelming, especially for your clients. Our choice? Miro online whiteboard for visual collaboration. We chose it because it has a short learning curve, a simple UX/UI, and a set of powerful features to help you facilitate. You can integrate it with a lot of the tools you’re already using (Google Drive, Jira, Slack, InVision etc.). And it’s actually fun to use.
Miro whiteboard for visual collaboration
Feel free to check out our Miro board here.
Test, test, test.
Before you begin with the workshop, you need to test everything. Set up a call with your team to test how the collaboration will work and see if there are any unknowns. You cannot start your workshop without being aware of how your tools work and interact. Make sure you’ve given access to all tools for all participants.
Once you have chosen all your tools, you need to walk your participants through the ins and outs. Send them an email a couple of days before the workshop with all the necessary information:
Set the rules
Let everyone know that respectful communication is key. There will be interruptions because of a lack of visual cues. You all need to accept that without being annoyed. Body language accounts for a lot in co-located meetings. Work together to bridge that impediment.
Some basic rules are:
Get to know each other
I’m not a fan of ice breakers. It’s a subjective attitude, but they all seem to be designed to make people uncomfortable. That being said, it is necessary for everyone to turn on their camera and introduce themselves. It creates a connection between participants and puts a face to a voice. It would be great to keep the cameras on during the workshop, but sometimes it creates technical issues. You can try to turn them on and decide whether to keep them on when you see how it works.
This is where you start with the first activity. Regardless of the type of workshop you’re running, here are some things to keep in mind during remote facilitating:
Hopefully, this gives you some idea about all the bases you need to cover. The process is demanding, but you can get excellent results as long as everyone is respectful - and as long as your audio works. Cannot stress that enough.
Best of luck!