When COVID-19 first burst onto the scene, many of us were forced to leave our office spaces and work from the comfort of our own homes. We thought this would last for a few weeks — a month at most — but here we are, several months later, and the virtual workforce has become the new norm.
Fortunately, many companies have refused to let this major and unexpected occurrence steal their momentum and have found themselves using a virtual environment to continue forward, conducting collaborative meetings and workshops on platforms like Zoom and Lifesize.
Though membership on these apps has only grown out of necessity, we think it’s safe to say that, even as millions of people return to their offices and regular work routines, virtual meetings and workshops will remain.
Why, you ask? There are several benefits to gathering online, but perhaps the biggest and most relevant is its convenience. You can join a virtual meeting or workshop from anywhere without the added worry of travel costs or other expenses, and there tends to be less small talk, which means the ever-valuable resource of time is rarely wasted.
Online gatherings will continue, even post-pandemic, and we’re embracing their presence. And, thanks to a few helpful tips for successfully running virtual workshops, you can, too.
How to Run Virtual Workshops
1. Find the right collaboration tool.
Obviously, when multiple people are involved, collaboration is key. That’s where finding a collaboration tool that works for you comes into play. A 2015 article by eLearning Industry proves that collaboration tools have long been sound investments for companies, even pre-COVID-19. The benefits of using a web collaboration tool go beyond allowing employees to work remotely and reach into the financial sphere, saving you money in areas like travel and communication costs.
A collaboration tool also offers the gift of speed – fast access to expert advice and information – which saves your company time, the most valuable resource there is.
As you consider investing in a good collaboration tool, look for one that helps manage group communication, task management, and allows for task creation among multiple people. You’ll want it to be user-friendly and meet both your individual and industry needs, so it’s worth doing the thorough research needed to find one that works for your business.
An example of a collaboration tool is Mural. This digital platform boasts shared and individual workspaces, remote facilitation features, and more, all while using online “sticky notes” and other organization templates to make the most of your time with your team of employees.
2. Focus on shorter, more specific sessions.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the mild annoyance of sitting in a conference room meeting that seems to have no end in sight, listening to information that does not exactly concern you. Fortunately, during these months of working from home, many have found relief in meeting online. This is because meeting on a digital platform boasts perks that face-to-face gatherings do not, like increased inclusivity and being recordable so no one has to worry about meeting minutes.
Despite the positives, however, holding a meeting or workshop session comes with an unwelcome companion you will need to be wary of: distractions. It’s no secret that the digital space can easily make way for distractions. We’ve probably all been there, sitting down at a computer for a specific purpose, then all too quickly going down a rabbit hole littered with dozens of other websites and apps.
The digital space offers a world of possibilities right at your fingertips, and because of that, it’s far too easy to become distracted from the task at hand. That’s why, as far as virtual workshops are concerned, shorter sessions are vital to success.
Rather than risking a loss of interest with an open-ended meeting, it’s best to intentionally plan short, time-blocked sessions with a specific topic. This way, everyone in attendance can focus on the task at hand and the risk of anyone zoning out is decreased.
3. Incorporate opportunities for participant engagement.
Just because your meeting or workshop has moved online doesn’t mean all opportunities for interaction have become null and void. Not only does time-blocking help keep participants focused on the task at hand, but planning some kind of engaging activity also keeps participants’ interest piqued.
The good news is, regardless of the tone and overall focus of your workshop, there are numerous options to choose from, as many face-to-face meeting activities can easily be altered to fit an online setting.
Try, for example, to bring virtual card sorting or a virtual mood board to your next strategy meeting, or if you’re looking for a way to eliminate awkwardness in a workshop’s introductory session, incorporate an easy icebreaker that allows each participant to contribute. This could be something as simple as asking everyone to turn their camera on and state their name, or you might choose something a bit more collaborative that requires teamwork, like collectively coming up with a set of norms for that particular meeting or workshop session.
When planning your virtual get-together, it may also be helpful to assign participants to different roles (i.e., facilitator, timekeeper, etc.) to be certain everyone has a chance to be involved. This is especially helpful for a meeting or workshop session that repeats, as everyone can then rotate through each of the assigned roles.
Facilitating a virtual workshop isn’t necessarily an easy feat. It requires thorough planning and careful consideration, but if that is done correctly, you and your business will reap the fruits of your labor. And now, in a world where millions of people work from home, adapting to the current reality is more important than ever if you want your business or service to thrive.
Besides, the discovery of the success so many have experienced with their own virtual events is proof enough that they’re effective, so learning how to host them well will be worth the effort in the long run.