Facilitating a virtual workshop
I am used to organizing and facilitating virtual meetings and I have done many trainings and workshops before. Still a virtual workshop seemed like quite a challenge. The reasons behind were saving travel cost and time, reducing the CO2 footprint and also gaining and making a new experience.
My biggest challenges:
Normally some of the best parts of a workshop are the informal conversations before and during the breaks. During this time you can catch up with old friends, meet new ones and have the really important conversations. How could we do this virtually?
Another challenge was ensuring that all participants stay present and active. Even in “normal” workshops some participants check their messages, etc. It is much easier to do this when communicating virtually.
We worked for three half days.
There were 15 participants plus 5 guest speakers.
Total time difference was 10 hours (Australia to UK).
We used S4B and Office 365 to share documents and notes
I prepared more and started with it earlier than usually and this really paid off. I had a checklist with the most To Dos:
- Familiarize yourself with the systems.
- Make sure that all participants (and guest speakers) have the necessary infrastructure (internet connection, camera, etc.) and know how to use it.
- Define roles and communicate expectations (we had facilitator, sub groups facilitators, expert users, and presenters).
- Agree on agenda and ways of working.
- Invite guest speakers and double check with them a few days before.
- Make all necessary documents (presentations) available.
- Make sure IT support is available.
- Put together an etiquette* and discuss this with all participants.
Every workshop needs rules especially when the participants have different backgrounds. Virtual workshops need even more.
One example is the chat box that S4B offers. I like to use it before the call to welcome everyone and for organizational purposes (e.g. to clarify if someone needs to leave the meeting and when they are rejoining). I would not recommend using it during discussions, otherwise some people talk while others write and there are two discussions happening at the same time. Another function that needs to be clarified is the mute function. On one hand it is very good that everyone who is listing is on mute to avoid background noises. On the other hand this makes it even easier to get off track and do something different.
What worked really well:
- Virtual workshops are very tiring therefore half days are definitely enough.
- I opened the call one hour before the start and participants who joined earlier started to small talk.
- Everyone used the camera and seeing each other makes a big difference.
- The participants very much enjoyed the discussions in small groups (3-4 people).
- We used the notes function in Office 365 to take and share notes.
- We started every day with a check-in.
- During these interactions I had them line up by “years with the organization” and “from east to west”. This was a lot of fun, as nobody knew if South Africa or Austria is further east. In addition we did not only discuss where participants worked but also where they came from.
- At the end of every day we discussed what had gone well and what we could do even better the next day.
- We had very good IT support.
We viewed the workshop as an opportunity to learn and develop which helped to deal with problems in a more relaxed and solution-focused way.
The feedback was that this was even better than a normal workshop and we will definitely do it again.