Mathieu Halkes
Written by Mathieu Halkes
Product Lead, Niche Media Stockholm
Published 2020-04-06

How we did a full-day remote workshop with 24 people

In our Product & Tech organization in Schibsted, we have explored new ways to keep creative workshops ongoing while all work from home. Here are learnings from how we have set up and facilitated our remote workshop. 

Early February this year we planned to have a meetup in Kraków with niche teams in Schibsted Product & Tech and our key stakeholders from the editorial and business side. It had been a long time since we had seen each other in person. Most of us work in Kraków so that was the best location. On top of that: we aimed to host a full-day workshop with almost 30 people. That we could obviously never properly pull off in a video call..….right?

….Fast forward 3 weeks to the beginning of March: Everyone in our teams was working from home, and we could not physically travel to Kraków even if we wanted to. We quickly decided to shift our plan and prepare for a remote workshop…. As that would be a learning experience for everyone, we also kept some track of what we did differently and have learned. The result is this article. We are sure many readers have tips to add, please do so using comments!

Digital whiteboard in a remote workshop

This is how big a digital whiteboard in a remote workshop can get….

 

How is a remote workshop different from a physical one?

First of all, it’s important to realize that doing a workshop where you all sit in your own space and use video conferencing requires even more disciplined preparation than you would normally need. 

You need a super-clear picture upfront of the desired outcome of the remote workshop, and your scope should be smaller than normal. 

Here are some of the things we did to ensure the remote workshop would run smoothly

  • We started to prepare the workshop with a short brainstorm across UX, product & tech to define clearly what problems needed solving and how we could get there in a workshop. Mostly cutting out ideas from what we originally planned to do…
  • We reduced the scope of our workshop to only idea generation and selection.
  • We put in extra time to start the day with an hour of information sharing / presenting by all involved, to warm up the crowd and get people into the topic and engaged from the comfort of their homes.
  • We co-hosted the remote workshop, so there would always be someone available for sticking to a clear process, keeping an eye on time, facilitating the Slack-channel + help out in case of technical issues. 
  • We set up a dedicated Slack channel for early information sharing and agenda-setting.
  • We established very clear ‘rules of engagement’ for the video conferencing, especially as we were with 20+ people… All muted and had to digitally “raise their hand” when they wanted to speak. However, during the parts where we were organizing ideas and collaborating in smaller groups it was important to keep all mics open for more informal interaction!
  • We did a lot of research upfront on available tooling (big kudos for our product designer Paula Kreuger!) and quickly tested several: Jamboard, Miro, Mural, Ideaflip, Paper… After that assessment, we thought that Mural was absolutely the best for our purpose of idea generation. It has the best workshop templates, easy to use sticky notes, endless whiteboard with easy zooming in and zooming out, and even voting options built-in. Another nice feature which more tools seem to have: you see mouse-arrows move in realtime, including names of participants so it really feels more interactive.
  • There are many more tips we could give here, but this overview I found posted in some Slack-channels already also gives a great deal of them in one picture!

 

Here’s the agenda of our remote workshop:

We decided not to stay on video all day together, but split up the agenda like this:

    • 1 hour of joint presentation to clarify the topic, set the stage for the remote workshop and Q&A
    • 1 hour of joint idea generation on a shared digital whiteboard (using Mural).
      • Here we planned 15 minutes of brainstorming in an organized way, but the rest of the hour was kept open so there would be enough time for people to join/leave and to organize the ideas on the board.
      • For organizing the digital whiteboard it was especially helpful to be two facilitators, as we ended up with over 200 sticky notes 🙂
    • 30 minutes of ‘idea conversion time’ where we voted on ideas 
    • Lunchbreak
    • Working in teams or alone (offline) focused on the one idea on the board you liked most. We also facilitated in teaming up people, but it was fun to see this was hardly needed as people teamed up around ideas quickly!
    • We ended the day with 1 hour of presentations of refined ideas.
    • As we ran out of time and did not want to keep people, we moved the voting on refined ideas out of the workshop and let people do that in their own time.

As a result, we now have prioritized four clear concepts to validate around how we can create more engaging communities on the different niche sites we have in our portfolio (like Tek.no, Wellobe.se and Godt.no) & have 200+ more ideas in our back pocket 🙂

 

More thoughts on how it is to run remote workshops

Last but not least: we were for sure not the only team that has been running remote workshops in Schibsted the past two weeks  Here are some quotes from Omni, Inventory and the Insights team with their experiences!

Johan Lundquist, UX Lead Inventory:

Johan Lundquist about running a remote workshop‘My first go-to insight from the workshop we held is the general realization that online workshopping really can be done as efficiently as IRL (In Real Life). It’s about getting over the psychological barrier of thinking it can’t’

Djeiran Amini Björklund, Senior PM Omni:

Djeiran Amini Björklund about running a remote workshop‘We had a remote design studio and tested Jamboard. In many ways it worked well for drawing purposes, but the fact that you couldn’t write and explain did annoy some of us. The Jamboard mobile app has letter recognition if you draw words, but it’s still quite messy.

We tried Miro a couple of days later and found it much easier to handle and co-ideate with. A tip from us: make sure to prepare titles, topics and things like that on your digital whiteboard if you need them for facilitation purposes. It’s tricky to write those on the fly when on video chat and without the ease of pen and post-it on paper.’

Josefin Loggert, Product Designer Inventory:

Josefin Loggert ‘I think that it was in a way easier to prepare because you have a canvas that is bigger than any walls in a room, so you can “set up” all the different steps/tasks in advance and visualize it in a better way.’

Paula Kreuger, Product Designer Niche Destinations:

Paula Kreuger about running a remote workshopYou don’t have the work of removing post-its from the wall, cleaning up the room and hoping that you got all of them in a somewhat organized way.

Ludwig Krokstedt, head of media Insights

Ludwig Krokstedt about running a remote workshopWe tried using Mural during OKR planning yesterday. It was a great tool to use both for our retrospective part and planning future OKR’s!

Wojciech Iskra, tech lead, Niche Destinations:

Wojciech Iskra ‘Sticky notes have no more chance to fall off the whiteboard, hurray!’

Conclusion

With the right amount of preparation and some good tooling, there are advantages everywhere! I don’t think it will permanently replace the need of gathering in person, but for sure we will apply this more from now on even ‘post-Corona’ and it will reduce the need to travel in some cases for our very distributed teams. 

Irreplaceable however is the social part of a meetup that you usually have afterwards when meeting up in one location. Being on video and focused on the workshop all day makes you quite tired, so people will gladly hang up at the end of the day and don’t stay around for a virtual drink together..… 

I hope we will get more remote workshop tips from all of you on this topic through the comments field here. Perhaps also including some deep insights about holding the best remote ‘fika’ or after-work party? I challenge you!

Written by Mathieu Halkes
Product Lead, Niche Media Stockholm
Published 2020-04-06