Get S#!% Done: a virtual workshop guide for doers.

Change might be a constant right now but I’m amazed at how swiftly organisations have been adapting to our challenging climate. At Croomo, our teams have promptly adopted remote working models to continue serving our clients.

A challenge we’ve been actively solving in recent days has been our ability to closely consult with clients remotely. As we have a number of large projects that require dense discovery work, it became very apparent that our tried and true face-to-face workshops were simply not possible. We started asking ourselves: “How do we facilitate productive online workshops? Is that an effective way to reach the desired output? How will participants engage with an online workshop format? Will there be technical barriers that cause friction?”

The rise of collaborative cloud-based software in recent years has seen tools come and go. Most recently, we started testing an online whiteboard tool called Miro. Across the production team, it has been trialled for a myriad of purposes (e.g. project management, user experience research, team meetings, and product strategy). I was keen to trial this software for a key tool in my process: the discovery workshop.

In order to assist our software product team to prioritise their roadmaps, we decided to walk through a simple ‘problem solving’ workshop process. To prepare, I set up our virtual workspaces, lay them out as steps in the process, and allocated each participant their (colour-coded) virtual sticky notes. A group of 4 individuals then logged in to the whiteboards, greeted each other with the video conference feature, and switched their cameras off to get stuck into the work. The working group generally followed the steps well, albeit with a few fumbles as I explained each step. It quickly became apparent how much reliance we have on “reading the room” when facilitating workshops. Body language makes up the majority of our communication – something I had been taking for granted! Without it we were forced to consider the virtual workshop process itself and spend more time checking in at every step to ensure participants understood the objective, the instruction, and that we provided useful examples.

Tip: you can learn the problem solving workshop format online with these great video resources from Aj&Smart.

Our next steps are to actively improve our online workshop templates to:

  • Provide a clear journey and sense of progress to workshop participants
  • Include useful examples of good/bad workshop outputs
  • Provide ‘stop and reflect’ moments in the process – Silence is OK!
  • Explore ways to further humanise the experience (e.g. using photos of participants)
  • Test the technical barriers with our clients and partners.

Every day, the crew are supporting each other’s well being and helping to manage the inevitable technical challenges that come with this significant change. You may have read Jason Reed’s article about our daily ritual: Virtual RealiTEA? The social and mental health benefit of checking in with your colleagues informally is immeasurable in our remote working culture. Many of us regularly look forward to this brief 10 minutes of virtual office banter.

There have been wins internally as we adapt to remote working, but we acknowledge there will be technical challenges to solve with clients. Some may not hold the technical literacy we ‘digital natives’ take for granted and will require thorough onboarding or alternative approaches. There will be no ‘one size fits all’ solution and each workshop will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. We are confident. The technology works, is useful and when the focus is spent bringing participants on the journey it will be a fruitful experience for all involved. I look forward to virtually workshopping with you soon.

Taylor Hobbs

Creative Director