9 Ways to Make Remote Meetings and Workshops Better

We’ve all been in remote meetings now but what’s happening now is most likely new to you. We are all remote, all the time. That means you don’t spend time with your co-workers outside of meetings and those meetings are even worse now. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during a few years of remote work as well as facilitation, you have to be 10x intentional when communicating. This means adding ways of communicating outside of meetings and fostering the human connection as well as stepping up your game in remote meetings and workshops. Here are my learnings. Once you know and use them, I promise things will be better!

  • Ask yourself: Could this meeting have been an email?
  • Always add a purpose and an agenda to a meeting.
  • Everything takes longer virtually.
  • Remove distractions like email or Slack notifications.
  • What feels like over-communicating is usually just right.
  • Use ice breakers to introduce tools.
  • Combine online and offline work, take breaks, have fun!

It’s more important than ever to ask yourself, could this meeting be an email? When in doubt, go with the email first. If people need to have a meeting after that, there will be a meeting, don’t worry.

Take it a step further and send a Slack message, you can use some emojis to enhance your content and mark highlights. It also gives your co-workers a chance to easily and quickly react to it using their favourite emojis like 🎉 or 😌 or 😡.

Let’s assume it could not be a message and you’re sending out an invite.

Only add the people that need to be there. Add people as optional if possible. You keep them in the loop while very clearly showing that it’s not a mandatory meeting and it’s up to them if they want to attend.

Make that decision easy for them by adding a purpose or goal of the meeting as well as an agenda. What do we want to accomplish? How are we gonna get there?

I was once (in)famous for not accepting meetings without an agenda simply because I had said it so frequently. Truth be told, I never skipped a meeting because of that, I am way too curious. I would reach out to the organizer though to get an idea of what was about to happen. That’s a quick and easy way to ensure you’re needed and you can contribute. This also gives you a chance to prepare and being prepared feels good!

I cannot say 100% why this is, but I would guess that it’s due to the new environment and more distractions. In my experience, e-ve-ry-thing takes longer when you do it in a virtual setting and that has ruined some of my meticulously planned workshop outlines. Now to be fair, outlines are hard to make as it is. Humans are involved in workshops so you can count on something unforeseeable happening.

Just make sure you plan extra time for the intro, a section to get used to tooling and explaining every activity.

In-person, I prefer a strict no-devices rule. In a remote setting, that is simply impossible.

There are tons of distractions on everyone’s computer. Email, Slack, iMessage, WhatsApp, Calendar, Facebook, the list is long and notifications will show up at the top of your screen all day long. You cannot help it but look, we’re all human. While writing this, I checked my email a couple of times and have been on and off Slack even more.

I am a bad example. When you need focus time, be it for yourself only or in a workshop or meeting, turn those notifications off. Close the applications that could demand your attention. Make those red icons disappear. Be fully focused and attentive. The outcomes will be so much better.

On the other side, when you’re the facilitator, ask all participants to focus and don’t let their inbox get in the way. There might not be a no-devices-rule but there should be a no-notifications rule.

That said.

There will always be some distraction you don’t even see or hear, keep that in mind and explain things several times. It might seem tedious and border on annoying, but when you’re remote what feels like over-communication is just the right amount.

Make sure you facilitate your meeting very actively. Explain what will happen in the beginning. Have an agenda accessible on your remote collab tool of choice. Use storytelling to create the “big picture” and relate all activities to it.

When you start a new activity be sure everyone understands how it fits in with that “big picture”, how the activity works and what is expected of them. I used to only explain it, now I write down simple steps for each activity as a visual aid for the forgetful (all of us).

I change my ice breakers up depending on the crowd and what’s needed for the workshop.

Here’s an example of an intro I have used for a group that had never worked with Mural before, start slow.

Get my template here! Just create a Mural from it in your own workplace and export it as a template, et voilà!

Give people enough time to be goofy and play around, they will be grateful for the little break in their day and be more confident using your tool of choice. It’s no secret, I love Mural ❤️ It has these great facilitator superpowers and a bunch of other cool built-in stuff.

I have created a template for the intro and ice breaker, get it here.

In longer workshop sessions it makes sense to create an outline that combines online working sessions with offline focus work that everyone can do on their own. It is exhausting to be in front of a screen all day, even more than in-person full-day workshops.

In a Design Sprint, for example, the research for inspiration (or as we pros call it “Lightning Demos”) or solution sketching are great activities everyone can do on their own.

Make sure you add enough breaks and people get up. Sometimes, I will do a quick stretching activity with people. Be mindful though not everyone is comfortable with that.

Not only the participants will be exhausted, but you will also be. Facilitating is hard work, but it shouldn’t look like it is.

As a facilitator, it is your job to keep the energy up. Move people along, keep them engaged and make sure you pick up on signs of fatigue or boredom. Yup, that’s a lot. But I am sure, you can do it, plan accordingly.

Pro-tip, stay hydrated! 🚰 Make sure you always have a glass or a bottle of water near you. Incorporate it into the workshop, remind everyone.

I know this was probably a lot and it might be a little intimidating. Take it from me, it is not that crazy when you have some fun. Use energizers in between.

If you’re not in a full-day workshop but have a bunch of meetings while being completely remote, try to add a fun one into the schedule like a virtual coffee — no shop talk allowed! I have written about 5 small things to help with the human connection for this.

I hope this helps you out a little in these new and changing times. Remote work is the new black and I am here for it.

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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