Making Remote Workshops Suck Less

Our teams have been working remotely since March of 2020. Early on in the pandemic, we were concerned with how our teams would collaborate on project work and how we would run crucially important project kickoff workshops with our clients. Happily, our teams have found ways to facilitate productive project kickoffs even while everyone is […]

Our teams have been working remotely since March of 2020. Early on in the pandemic, we were concerned with how our teams would collaborate on project work and how we would run crucially important project kickoff workshops with our clients.

Happily, our teams have found ways to facilitate productive project kickoffs even while everyone is physically separate. In this post, I share tips for what has worked for us over the past year.

I reached out to three of our more senior Atoms who have run multiple collaborative workshops over the past year: Micah Alles, Kimberly Crawford, and Taylor Vanden Hoek. This post contains a lot of their helpful hints as well as my own thoughts.

Tooling

For video conferencing, we prefer to use Zoom. I find Zoom’s video and audio encoding to be the highest quality, with the lowest performance impact on my (now aging) Macbook Pro. We aren’t dogmatic about it, though. I’ve also had good luck using Microsoft Teams.

I also highly recommend using a collaborative tool, like Miro. Miro gives teams a collaborative workspace where everyone can participate and interact with a shared virtual canvas. This approach mimics an in-person whiteboard experience, and I’ve found attendees quickly adapt to the tool. Miro also offers templates out of the box for common workshops (e.g., mind mapping, project retrospectives, product roadmaps, etc.).

Tip: Setup your Miro board before the meeting. This avoids technical difficulties or time spent copying/pasting virtual post-it notes. Also, consider inviting a team member into the board to test things out ahead of time to avoid problems during the workshop.

Taylor suggested mixing up the remote experience in workshops: “I prefer to mix media more frequently for remote workshops: some work in Miro, live demos. Consider incorporating a video or some music. This helps keep the energy up.” Adding music to our Ann Arbor morning standup definitely brightened up the meeting up significantly.

Large Groups

If you’re working with a larger group, consider collecting generative input from attendees ahead of time, asynchronously. For example, with a recent client, we needed to have a broad meeting to identify upcoming high-level feature priorities on their product roadmap. Several product owners and stakeholders in different parts of the business were involved in the meeting.

Ahead of the meeting, I collected some of the major goals of each product owner so that during our meeting we could focus on synthesis of the larger plan and alignment building. This approach probably saved several “Zoom hours,” which anyone can appreciate.

Cultural Expectations

Ahead of time, set the expectation that the video feed must be on. Seeing people’s faces engenders trust, improves understanding, and signals alignment.

Build breaks into the schedule. Kim told me, “I never go more than one to one and a quarter hours without a break. I also avoid planning more than two-hour meeting chunks at a time. Zoom fatigue is real. Long blocks of Zoom time will prevent you from getting the best out of participants.” Look for ways to break up what would have been a day-long, in-person session into smaller chunks across multiple days.

Don’t worry about small interruptions. Anecdotally, kids and pets have a high approval rating. Everyone I talked to enjoyed playful interruptions — a child popping into the frame asking if they can have a snack, or a cat walking on the desk.

My theory is that these interruptions inject fun and spontaneity into remote work meetings that can often become tedious and fatiguing, especially when it feels like we’re all “on Zoom all day long.” My suggestion: if it’s not too distracting and you’re comfortable with it, consider leaving your camera on the next time these things happen. You might find they brighten everyone’s mood a little bit.


There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for how to run effective and engaging virtual meetings. I’d love to hear more about what has worked for you and your team!

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Source: Atomic Object