20th of May '20
Many things change in times of Corona. Those who work in IT now work in the home office - for many it is new, and we are all currently learning to deal with the changed situation. We are trying to effectively implement everything we used to do on site from home - this also applies to training and workshops. But many people ask themselves the question: How can workshops even work remotely? This article presents the most important points from my experience, so that you too can implement successful trainings and workshops remotely
Depending on where you work, you usually already have a basic set of digital tools available. These are conference tools like WebEx, Skype, teams, etc. and other tools for collaborative work like JIRA, Trello, Asana or similar. So you are already well equipped. But what you still need for a good training or workshop are tools in which all participants can work on a result in real time. - The same way you would do that in real life in a room with flipcharts and whiteboards and many markers. Here I recommend you take a look at two great tools: Miro and Mural. (Both tools are very similar - choose your favorite - there is a free trial version available) For trainings and workshops where you really want to offer your participants an added value such a tool is an absolute must.
If you have been using such a tool for some time, this does not apply to all participants of the workshop. Schedule time and also content so that everyone can familiarize themselves with the tool. You want to achieve creative results from your participants. The tool should not get in the way during the workshop. Plan warm-up exercises for this purpose, which at the same time work as ice-breakers and also teach them how to use the tool in a playful way. I have had good experience with simple exercises like "Everyone draws as many things as they can in two minutes on the topic XY" or "Everyone builds an avatar in a few minutes that they can use in the rest of the workshop."
If you have a flipchart and pens, not too much can go wrong - but with digital tools it can. The internet can break down for participants, someone can't log in, someone has compatibility problems, and so on. Plan time for this. If you've run regular workshops before, you'll need to plan more time for them as a buffer. Also a plan B if certain technical accesses don't work is helpful. Maybe an alternative conference solution when the first choice goes on strike again?
Tests all accesses and walk-though the workshop at least once under real conditions. Just as with on-site workshops, remote workshops also require the equipment to be tested once under real conditions. Instead of checking the beamer connection and the building access, you should play through virtual accesses, VPNs, invitations or preparation steps with another person to avoid unpleasant surprises.
If you have the opportunity, do not facilitate important remote workshops alone. A second person can relieve you in many situations and thus improve the workshop results. He/She can help you continue with the workshop while he/she can take care of individual problems. Assign these roles in advance or right at the beginning. Do you need a protocol? Do you need someone to keep track of the time? Having a helping person does not always mean that you have to have a second trainer, effectively doubling the cost. Often there is someone from the project environment who would like to support and gain experience. Dare to ask for that. The results will be better, believe me.
Preparing trainings and workshops is time-consuming. Preparing remote workshops is more time-consuming. Keeping the attention of all participants and actively engaging them is much more difficult remotely than on-site. Conversely, this means that you have to slice your agenda into smaller pieces much more than usual. For larger groups, you will need to work with and coordinate breakout rooms/sessions if you don't want 50% of your participants to answer emails while you do the workshop alone. A session of your workshop should never be longer than 60 minutes or you will lose many of your participants.
The more participants there are in the workshop, the closer you have to lead. This is also true for on-site workshops. But in remote trainings and workshops it is hardly possible to make a spontaneous decision with more than 3 people and to include everyone equally. Although you probably want to have an open discussion and to include everyone - You have to steer more in these cases. If you have workshops with more than 10 participants, you probably already have some tight guard-rails set for your agenda. Stick to it.
If you have the choice, workshops should always be held with active webcam (ALL) participants. A glance at another person's face makes communication much easier. Especially for strategic or controversial questions, the camera helps to de-escalate issues and to approach them with fewer problems.
Offer engaging parts regularly. Tools such as Miro or Mural already offer a lot out-of-the-box, e.g. votings. You can also use polling tools (e.g. Kahoot) to get an impression of the mood in larger groups (15+). For trainings with learning objectives you can also ask interactive questions at the end of each section and discuss the results together. There are many possibilities - if you take the time to prepare them.