How we held our first remote online workshop

During our T-day in the mountains we sent our application to lead a co-creation workshop during Digital Design Week Milano. We were picturing in our heads a messy yet amusing process of sticky notes battle. Little did we know that once we come back to civilization, we would be hit by the news about a new pandemic. But Thingers never give up, so we decided to hold our first remote online workshop instead! Dive in to read highlights of our experience.

So, what was it all about, again?

The workshop we held was a free generative workshop. Our goal was to leverage on our extensive research to increase awareness around privacy control & data transparency for IoT products during the Digital Design Week. It is because we need to give product owners, innovation managers, designers and consumers tools to consciously design and use IoT Products.

The workshop was split into two. We started with a quick research download, where we shared contextual information and insights. Then we moved to hands-on activities. Following a brief, participants had to come up with How Might We, which later they used for brainstorming.
It’s important to note that it wasn’t a workshop for a client but it was a public one. So some of our further observations are relevant only in that context.

Let’s say it out loud: plan ahead, to score later !

We will never be tired to say that planning is the number one key for a well executed workshop!

To plan means to have the team set, an early agenda, possible participants and objective, before even thinking of starting with the hand-on work. Once this has been done it will be crucial to divide and conquer, as there will be two major activities to fulfill.

On one end, there is the agenda consolidation and activities preparation. It means understanding precisely which bits of the research to bring. What’s more it’s about carefully identifying the best tools to achieve the workshop’s objective.
On the other end, there is the event propagation, promotion and constant engagement with the general public and ticket or participants management.
Last but not least, don’t be shy and remember to keep a constant dialogue with participants before and after the workshop! Start by sending all the information you want them to know: research they might want to do, workshop rules, tools they will use, event reminders and so on. Once the workshop is finished it will be time to wrap up the work and keep participants informed of how results will facilitate the next steps of the project.

Is it actually worthy?
Short answer is – depends.

Let’s first talk about the advantages of online remote workshops. First of all, they save time and money. You don’t need to rent a place or buy stationery. What’s more, both you and participants don’t waste time on traveling to a venue.
Secondly, they remove social weight. Sometimes during the workshops ideas of loud voices or people with higher status get more attention and votes. During remote workshops participants, on the contrary, feel more equal.

What’s more, we realized that online workshops work really great for brainstorming. Participants see and read each other’s ideas clearly and everything is already digitized, so it’s really easy to use them for further development. Voting is also a piece of cake.
At the end, any kind of exercise that demands individual silent work will be a perfect fit for an online workshop.

It’s an ideal tool then, wow!

Don’t be so fast with conclusions! Online remote workshops have their cons too. 

Firstly, if an exercise demands substantial discussion – you might opt for a physical workshop instead. That is because people are even more shy to speak up and technical problems, like voice quality, don’t help either. Finally, it’s very difficult to organize several people talking without creating a mess. As a consequence, complex tasks that usually demand discussion also don’t work well during remote workshops. 

Another issue during online workshops is participants’ dedication. Imagine you’re participating in an offline workshop. Would you feel comfortable to leave in the middle of the exercise? Very unlikely. Though, it’s easy for participants to leave and join any time they want as it’s easy for people to insult each other in YouTube videos comments section. Be aware of that and try to keep the level of engagement high as well as think in advance how to involve newcomers without distracting others.

Finally, remember that awkward silence when you ask participants to speak? It’s going to be doubled because of delay and difficulty to arrange turns. That doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t encourage them to do that! Just find the way to organise that process the best way.

…And even more tips!

To sum up, a remote online workshop is a great alternative to an offline one but it’s not a panacea. It’s an amazing format for exercises that demand a lot of individual work but has its own limitations. Here are some more tips to help you rock it!

  1. stream music during silent work
  2. encourage video sharing – that’s how you understand if participants are not involved or are lost
  3. involve at least two hosts. One will act as a facilitator to lead discussion and another – as a moderator to follow the chat and resolve technical issues.

Good luck!