Making Online Workshops work

6 April 2020
Danny Weston

Danny Weston

Spotless Alum

Balancing home working and schooling...

Planning and running a remote workshop poses a number of challenges. How do you get value from these sessions, keep it fun and stay energised?

It’s no secret that remote workshops can be more complicated to run than gathering people in a room, taking them through insights or a journey and adding input or ideas as you go.

Casual conversation happens more naturally, we can move around the room, read body language and check in with participants who seem disengaged or may be naturally quieter or reserved.

On a positive note, when running remote workshops you can:

  • Easily invite people from all over the world, no plane ticket needed!
  • Get instant digital outputs to share with attendees straight after the workshop.
  • Make it just as fun, collaborative and effective as in-person.

Here are some tips and reflections from running remote workshops at Spotless over the last few years.


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Before the workshop (Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!)

  • Pull together a workshop etiquette, so everyone knows how to interact with each other (e.g. mute yourself, thumbs up if you agree, etc).
  • Save time (and energy) during the workshop by sending out advance material (background material and ‘workshop etiquette’ that you can briefly reference and recap in the workshop if need be).
  • Run an internal test of the setup, to make sure everything is running smoothly.
  • Run an external test with some (or all) of the participants prior to the workshop day and avoid wasting time on ‘Can you hear me ok..? Can you hear me now..?’
  • For work that you usually do via whiteboards and post-it notes, think through the exercise thoroughly, and rather than starting with a blank whiteboard, try creating templates that provide clear guidance as to what’s required. Keep it simple and use imagery to stimulate thoughts where possible.


During the workshop

  • Separate out your team roles. One of you keeps time, one updates materials, another facilitates and so on. These roles can be fluid and (with proper planning) can be swapped back and forth between your team members. Don’t try and participate and facilitate – you’ll come unstuck!
  • Go round the attendees by name once in a while and directly ask whether they have anything to add. This can help with engagement, especially if some of your attendees are naturally more quiet.


Icebreakers and energizers

Get to know your fellow attendees with a simple question.

“Tell us one thing your colleagues don’t know about you” or, “Show us one item currently within arms reach”. For instance, I once met Voldemort in a London lift on the way to a client meeting. True story!

Don’t be tempted to omit these energizers. In an online workshop, they become even more important because they replace the casual coffee break chats you’d have in a physical setting.

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Remote tool warm-up exercise

If you’re using an online tool (e.g. Miro, Mural or Google slides), make an exercise where you draw each other or answer a question like ‘what TV series are you binging at the moment?’ or ‘what was your first job?’

It allows people to play around with the tool and get familiar with different features. Try and incorporate features that you know you will be using in the workshop, e.g. post-its, adding images and voting.


Breaks, breaks, breaks!

Let there be breaks. Our minds and bodies need breaks and while we might be tempted to skip them (especially when running late), the breaks are the fuel that keeps us going.


At the end of the workshop

Go around each attendee one at a time, and get their final thoughts.  Again, with some people who may have been quieter earlier on, it gives them a chance to have their voice heard.


After the workshop

As opposed to working with post-its, you can instantly share an output with your team, and get them excited on immediate progress. It allows them to feedback whilst the workshop is still fresh in their minds.


Small hacks that the Spotless team have found really useful

  • Hide your self-view (in Zoom you do it by clicking the three small dots on your own video) – what a difference, right? (or was I the only one being distracted looking at myself all the time?)
  • Allow people to switch off their camera – consider doing it for certain exercises, like switch off your camera when doing individual tasks. It‘s hard work to keep up an engaged listening face for hours.
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