As a remote-first company, virtual workshops has been a natural part of Flexiana’s culture for a while. It’s how we invite participation and ensure people feel engaged while learning. For us, online workshops have been key in building successful services. We organize workshops regularly where we employ best practices in Service Design and invite participants from the whole organization depending on the topic or project; Developers, Human Resources, Scrum Masters, Designers, Marketers, and even our CEO. As an example, when we developed our internal Human Resources tool Frankie, we did our Service Blueprinting workshops virtually. These are the steps we take to ensure we have engaging workshops:

Preparation

Preparation is essential. Having the workshop virtually requires checking the technology and choosing digital tools that suit the needs of your workshop. Always do a test run before starting. Some tools we usually use at Flexiana are Google Hangouts and for our Service Design sessions we frequently use Miro as it’s been a great tool for engagement and helped us visualize the things we are talking about.  

Furthermore, be selective about who attends the workshop. There are over a 100 people in Flexiana, many of them being Clojure developers. Naturally, inviting every single Clojure developer to every workshop would not be productive, instead we select the participants that are more likely to be able to contribute to the topic with a variety of different expertise. 

Sometimes it can be necessary to divide the workshop into several parts to keep the engagement and the participants’ attention span. It happens that we do two weekly sessions on the same topic with a day in between for reflection. 

During the virtual workshop

Most people don’t like uncertainty, so presenting an agenda before a longer session will be a great way to start. As a second step, you should try to encourage participants to have the video on. This will create a sense of presence and make it easier for you to get feedback. It’s great to ask for feedback when you need it as it can be stressful to lead a workshop remotely where you miss out on social cues and interaction that you’d normally get in an in-person workshop.

In addition, by using multiple screens you can have the participants’ video windows visible at all times, even when you’re presenting something on your own screen. This is important for your own motivation as a facilitator, to get immediate feedback from participants’ body language and reactions. Remember though that a person who is actively listening does not always smile or nod as they would do in-person, so do not let it discourage you as a facilitator. By exaggerating your own body language for clearer effect it will encourage the participants to also be more expressive. 

Activating the audience

Ensure to present opportunities for interactivity. Encourage participants to engage via chat or if you’re using another platform for collaboration. This can also be done by giving out tasks to participants. One person can be taking notes, another keeping time, and a third person being a chat moderator. In addition, you can split the audience into breakout groups and give them different roles or questions to discuss. 

If you’re changing presentations, technology, or doing something else that takes time, give the participants a coffee break so it’s less stressful for you as a facilitator and they will come back more energised too. 

Before the workshop finishes, take the opportunity to ask the participants for feedback, by having them answer a few questions as they log out of the call.  

After the virtual workshop

After the workshop, it’s valuable to go over the feedback that you have received from the participants and consider whether it’s something you want to address directly. It is also beneficial to the participants if you share the presentation materials, recordings, and any joint materials produced. In addition, you can send reflection notes on how the workshop went and anything you’d like to highlight, as well as the next steps. 

With this guide in mind, we hope that it will make you more prepared in arranging your first virtual workshops of 2022. Get in touch with us if you want to know more about how we work with Service Design as a remote team.

Ado is a marketer at Flexiana. He is a multilingual with passion for digital and has worked for global corporations as well as run his own impact start-up. When he is not connected you’ll likely find him hiking in the mountains or swimming in the mediterranean sea.