The value of workshops in a WFH environment
And why remote can be better than in-person workshops
Some people still seem to think that remote workshops aren’t worth the time. Aside from simply going wrong, it’s problematic at a time like this, where remote is likely to be your only option due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I recently wrote an article about 8 benefits of workshops, all of which apply to both in-person and remote, in Product Design and other fields alike. If you’re still looking for arguments in favor of remote workshops, please read on.
There’s no doubt they lack in certain areas though: It’s difficult to replicate the energy that comes from bringing a group of highly motivated people into a room with a shared goal and agenda. And even with a video call, you’ll miss some important facial and bodily expressions from the participants.
However, in my experience, remote workshops are better than in-person ones in certain ways. Furthermore, I will argue that a WFH environment makes workshops more important than ever.
How remote workshops are better than in-person workshops:
1. Easier to prepare
It’s not that the agenda and exercises of a remote workshop take less time and effort to plan. What will make your life easier though, is the fact that you don’t need to book a meeting room (or two), buy or find supplies, make sure you have a whiteboard and other equipment, and — perhaps the most important — prepare the snacks and beverages!
2. Faster documentation
I love having participants express themselves with pen and paper (think hand-written notes and sketches). It doesn’t come without its challenges, though. Especially after the workshop, when everything has to be made shareable. Photos need to be taken, hand-written text has to be transcribed. And it’s not like we all have impeccable handwriting and drawing skills... In a remote workshop, everything can be digital-first and easily shareable by default!
3. Better for introverts
If you follow the principles of The Workshopper Playbook, including letting participants work together, alone, and keeping it anonymous, you can make even an in-person workshop feel comfortable for your more introverted participants. In my experience though, it can still be a stressful experience.
Remote workshops let everyone work from the comforts of their own homes, without the sense of sitting directly across from the CEO and having to perform in front of a room full of people. This environment can help you get everyone to engage and participate actively, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of introversion-to-extroversion.
Depending on the situation, transportation can be one of the main costs of workshops (i.e. getting everyone together in the same place). If you’re hosting one at your own workplace, with everyone naturally on-site, this obviously isn’t a concern of yours. However, if your workshop requires some extensive traveling for yourself to get to a client, or for a distributed team to come together and participate, going remote would definitely save you, your employer, or your client some money.
5. More environmentally friendly
Cutting down on transportation isn’t just good for your wallet, of course. It’s good for the environment as well. Compared to avoiding the car, train, or plane, I honestly don’t think my recyclable sticky notes do much to save the planet. I still love them though.
Why workshops are even more valuable when working from home:
Whether you’re working remotely by choice or forced by a global pandemic, I’d argue that workshops are even more valuable than when you’re co-located with your colleagues or clients on a daily basis. While an in-person workshop is arguably the ideal in a situation like this, going remote might be your only option due to geographical limitations or a strict pandemic-induced WFH policy. Either way, the arguments listed below apply to workshops of all kinds.
For many people, not having an actual office can hurt their productivity. The home or local café comes with a long list of distractions that we don’t have in an office and simply isn’t associated with work for most people. In an environment like this, the efficiency achieved with a good workshop seems even more valuable. In a workshop, it’s much more difficult for your participants to get distracted by their surroundings because they need to be fully present in the exercises. You’ll all experience a higher level of energy and momentum, and actually, get some s*** done. It may even extend beyond the workshop.
In a WFH environment, where it’s easy to feel distanced from what colleagues and managers are deciding and working on, establishing a shared sense of ownership is worth some effort. A 1-hour workshop where key stakeholders get their say and make their impact on the project is great bang for your buck.
I love the written format, whether we’re talking async communication on Slack, project briefs, or design feedback. However, there’s no denying that misunderstandings are more prevalent in written communication vs. spoken.
What’s more, you may actually think that you and your colleagues are perfectly aligned on the prioritization or the goal of a project, while in reality, your perspectives are completely different.
A video call may be enough in most cases, but a workshop can also be a great venue for everyone to share perspectives, concerns, ideas, and to make sure you’re all aligned before a misunderstanding derails your project.
Working from home doesn’t have to mean working on your own. Yet, that’s often the easiest to default to. Aside from a daily standup and a weekly check-in, perhaps you’re mostly working by yourself?
Collaboration and team spirit come much more naturally when you’re co-located with your colleagues, whereas you have to be a little more deliberate about it when working from home. Workshops are a great tool for this!
Depending on your daily tasks and how excited you are about them, you may come to find WFH a little boring and demotivating. This is especially true for more extroverted people who thrive on other people’s energy.
A workshop is a great way to change up your regular work routine and add some excitement to the WFH situation. You can even add an ice-breaker or energizer, or schedule breaks for small talk or other fun exercises.
Remote workshops aren’t perfect, and certain things are just better in person. In other ways, however, remote are actually better than in-person workshops. Their digital nature lets you save time on preparation and follow-up, and money on materials. The environment will thank you for cutting down on traveling and introverts will thrive in the comforts of their own homes.
Furthermore, you can argue that workshops are even more important when everyone’s working from home. Efficiency, sense of ownership, stakeholder alignment, team spirit, and excitement are often some of the aspects of work that suffer the most in a WFH environment. A good workshop — remote or in-person — can help enhance all these things!