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Make your virtual design workshops awesome.


Creative teams seek human connections, and they can’t all be in person. Learn how to make virtual engagement fun with these tips.
LAST UPDATED: October 3, 2023

Key Takeaways 

  • Before a virtual workshop, prepare. Survey teams for the best meeting time, assign pre-work, provide a checklist of materials, and request video participation to simulate being in person.
  • To create meaningful connections with attendees, use breakout rooms for small group work, assign icebreakers, or host virtual socials.
  • Manage flow and feedback in real time, poll the team throughout the workshop, summarize key learning points at the end of each session, and give participants plenty of time to ask questions.

Listen: Make your virtual design workshops awesome.

In today's world, virtual workshops and meetings have become an essential part of our work routine. With the rise of remote work and distributed teams, it's more important than ever to create engaging and effective virtual workshops that can deliver the desired outcome. 

However, creating a successful virtual workshop is not as easy as it seems and requires careful planning and execution. Not to worry, our InsideOut Design Leader Community is on the case.

We have hosted three roundtables on the subject and are excited to share innovative approaches to making remote workshops work. These tips will help improve your team's experience and effectiveness as a virtual team.

Set the stage

Every good digital interaction begins with a solid plan and agenda. Workshops are no exception, and engagement can—and should—begin well before the call loads. Here are ways senior design leaders are setting teams up for success.

Survey teams for the best time to meet 

To maximize attendance and participation, send a simple survey to ask employees for their best times to collaborate. Respecting their time and learning styles reinforces the importance of having dedicated time to work together.

Assign pre-work 

Preparing in advance for the call will maximize the team's time and get them excited to dive into the work. Also, providing a checklist of what's needed in advance (paper, pencil, sticky notes, water, snacks) helps avoid those “Oops, I don't have that” distractions during the event.

Request video participation 

As much as possible, ask attendees to be on camera to replicate the feel of being in a room. Though there's debate on requiring cameras on, seeing faces helps stay “present” and builds trust.

Find the right tools

There is no shortage of tools to facilitate remote workshops. To narrow the field, every leader must first determine how their team interacts and what they hope to achieve. Tools don't replace having a well-thought-out plan for the session, but having the wrong ones creates a clunky, ineffective experience. Here are some tips and tools to consider.

Pick a collaboration tool

For design collaboration, Mural, Miro, and Figma came up a lot in our roundtables. With strong visual features, each enables real-time sharing and provides templates to structure design sprints. Here are Design Sprint Kits for each with several options (Mural, Miro, Figma). Some leaders also use a secondary device connected to the video call to sketch live during the event.

Use what you've got 

Tools like Google Slides allow facilitators to use pre-made templates and easily generate a record of what happened. Zoom has annotation features for quick discussions or voting. So don't discount your current toolset.

Enable anonymous voting 

The goal of most digital working sessions is to walk away with consensus and clear next steps. To quickly gain candid feedback, make sure participants can vote without fear of retribution. For example, Mural has a simple dot voting functionality that calculates anonymous votes on screen live.

Have a backup for when technology fails 

Hopefully, all goes smoothly, but you never know. Sending important files in advance gives attendees a chance to review them and ensures they have the critical information needed to move forward in the event of a Zoompocalypse.

Keep it moving

The fastest way to destroy interest in online collaboration is a slow pace filled with long-winded talkers or ignoring a posted agenda. Effective digital interactions need to be well scheduled, filled with variety, and delivered according to plan. Use these ideas to make sure staff don't check out midstream.

Break up activities into small sections 

Instead of a daylong parade of one-hour speakers and topics, consider booking lightning talks spread out over several days, with no more than 20 minutes for each person.

Use a timer 

Once the plan is in place and the agenda published, honor it. Choose a timekeeper armed with a timer and permission to remind the group to move along. Figma offers a collection of visual timers to keep everyone on track.

Have two facilitators 

To encourage maximum participation, have two facilitators instead of one. One on-screen, the other off-screen monitoring the group chat and using a secondary messaging tool to ping relevant voices and drive participation.

Insert fun 

Start off with icebreakers (like these 6-word memoirs) to give everyone a chance to warm up, relax, and get connected. And don't forget to get up and move. A fast scavenger hunt around the house or acting out your favorite animal are easy options.

Remember, you are humans

To ensure participants stay engaged, address their human needs. Staring at a screen, seated for hours on end while others watch your every move, requires a lot of energy and doesn't lead to open, productive communication. Try these suggestions to encourage connections and foster a space for creative thinking.

Leverage breakouts 

To ease large groups into a collaborative mood, start with smaller group activities, then gradually bring the entire team together. Those breakout sessions also help build relationships and provide a forum for less talkative staff to engage.

Clear the schedule 

Booking blocks of time, even spread out over multiple days, adds stress to already taxed schedules. To free up time for focused discussions, cancel all other non-essential meetings during the same time period.

Go off screen 

Screen fatigue drains energy and leads to lower productivity. Bake in time to go off camera and complete an activity (sketch out an idea, write ideas on Post-its, read a printed resource), then come back together to discuss and share thoughts.

Insert lots of breaks 

It's proven that focus decreases over time. Schedule ample time to step away from the meeting or bring in “mystery guests” (like senior leaders not generally involved in the day-to-day) and ask them non-work questions.

There's no way to fully replace the energy and feel of an in-person workshop through digital means. But leaders who take the time to craft engaging online experiences will deliver more creative ideas and produce better results. By setting expectations, using the right tools, and constructing a flow that appeals to human nature, remote collaboration sessions will be something your staff actually look forward to attending.

If you're a senior design, experience, or operations leader of an in-house team at a high profile brand and want to connect with others who share your unique challenges, let's talk. Our InsideOut community hosts virtual and in-person roundtables to support the learning and growth of our members, and I'm honored to facilitate those discussions.