The importance of many good meeting practices is highlighted when we do not see each other. However, many of us work remotely on a daily basis. Project teams are scattered over multiple locations, and there are not many meetings where all the participants are physically present in the same room. An exception to this is workshops, where the participants get together in one location whenever possible. There is a reason for this: some things come more naturally when we meet face to face. That does not mean, however, that remote workshops could not work equally well online – certain aspects just require more attention. The facilitator leading the workshop has an important role when it comes to achieving the targets set for the event. Facilitation means leading the process and making interaction easier. It helps harness the competence required and release the full potential of the participants. Facilitation is about mastering various collaborative methods and tools, but more importantly, it is about guiding, supporting and removing barriers – enabling collaboration.
Careful preparation guarantees efficiency and results
With careful preparation, a workshop is very likely to deliver the desired results. It is worth reserving even more time to prepare for an online workshop, because there are more variables and the different work platforms and instructions for them must be prepared beforehand. On the other hand, no time is wasted getting to the workshop, so you should put the time saved to good use. In practice, every minute spent preparing will pay itself back because the workshop will be more efficient – so do not compromise on it. In addition to the actual script, you should devise a plan B if technology fails to deliver. Reserve a couple of minutes for technical tests at the beginning of the event to be able to start with the actual agenda at the agreed time.
A safe atmosphere is essential for innovation
One of the major differences between remote and on-site work lies in the possibility to influence the feeling of psychological safety. Studies have revealed that a feeling of psychological safety is essential for achieving successful team work. It makes it easier to take risks when ideating – we all can voice our true opinions and our craziest ideas without the fear of being rejected. Especially with innovation and development, it is important for us to feel that we are on safe ground, i.e. that we know who will hear our thoughts and where they will be used and that our views genuinely make a difference for the end result.
When working without seeing each other, a large part of non-verbal communication is lost. We do not see each other’s reactions, expressions or gestures, and for this reason, we may feel less comfortable speaking. In addition to encouraging people to use the video connection, attention should be paid to getting into the right headspace, which starts with the content of the sent invitation. So make sure in advance that everybody is aware of the nature and schedule of the event and has a common understanding of its goals.
Focus on the start of the actual workshop in order to create a safe and laid-back atmosphere. It is important to describe the roles of the participants and the facilitator, i.e. what is expected from each person. Expectation management in general is a good idea, meaning that you should sound out the participants’ expectations for the meeting right at the start to avoid any disappointments. In addition, it is a good idea to agree beforehand on the ground rules for requests to speak and breaks, for example.
High-quality end result through participation, commitment and presence
One of the most important goals of workshops is to give everyone the chance to be heard. This ensures commitment to the end results and the best possible end result. High-quality participation strongly involves mental presence and concentration. These are often identified as being the greatest challenges of remote meetings: how to get the participants to concentrate, participate and commit to a shared goal. Some workshop methods are also well suited to remote work, but chat sessions, direct questions, queries and votes should be used in other remote meetings as well throughout the meeting. This keeps the participants engaged and gives everyone the chance to be heard. Share your screen all the time and indicate where each piece of information can be found afterwards. Give clear instructions on what will happen next. This will allow the participants to focus on the actual content.
Working in small groups is often productive and the foundation of successful workshops. Each of the meeting tools provides means for building groups and the various digital whiteboard tools are very useful. However, it is good to remember that a shared Word or Excel file will often do the trick, and there is no need to learn how to use new tools as an end in itself. The tool that the facilitator is comfortable with usually works best. When working remotely, we get more easily distracted, so it is more advisable to schedule two shorter workshops instead of one longer one. It is also worth considering whether part of the work to be carried out during the workshop could be done independently before the workshop or between two workshops.
A successful meeting ends with a summary and agreed measures
Each successful meeting or workshop ends with the agreed follow-up measures and a summary of its content. That also applies to remote events. This leads us to another positive aspect of remote workshops in addition to the saved travel time: in remote workshops, the documentation is largely created in a digital form during the workshop, so there is no need to digitalize it afterwards. To wrap up the meeting, it is good to review what has been done and agreed on – and how the agreed measures will be followed up.
Wishing you successful remote meetings and productive collaboration!