Man attending virtual workshop on laptop at home

From Logistics to Best Practices and Security Here’s How to Run a Virtual Workshop

It’s no secret that many firms have been tossed off the deep end and forced into remote work. Fortunately, remote work doesn’t need to slow down your ServiceNow goals and targets.

As a “remote first” organization, Acorio has established proven methods for successful remote engagement and collaboration. In response to global client teams adjusting to this change for the first time, we wanted to share some helpful resources and tips for running successful remote meetings and virtual workshops.

Please note: These concepts represent best practices focused primarily on consumption and successful achievement of information via virtual sessions and will not apply to every situation nor scope. It’s also important to tailor this procedure based on your organization and its own procedures. Each firm has opinions and preferences on how things are conducted (no video, etc.) so use this as a starting point and customize it to fit your needs and organization’s requirements.

Planning Logistics and Best Practices:

The key to a successful remote workshop is preparing for your audience’s experience. Just because you aren’t sitting face to face with your team doesn’t mean your responsibilities or expectations for the quality of work shift. Your standard pre-workshop planning activities still apply, so approach them thoughtfully and with care, taking the same amount of time (if not more) to plan everything ahead of time. This gives you the confidence and prep to roll with any challenges that may pop up during ‘showtime.’ When it comes to planning your meeting, here are two important areas to keep in mind…

1. Attendance

  • Get a list of expected attendees’ first and last names and roles for each session for your roll call sheet.
  • Identify the groups or teams that will be represented. This is a great way to call out to the applicable teams for feedback during Session segments.
  • Prime the Sponsor and Project Manager and ask for them to share a vision statement at the beginning of the sessions. This succinctly reminds each attendee of the meeting’s value and relevance to the overarching project.
  • Limit the number of attendees and tailor your presentation content to your specific list of attendees and their knowledge base.

2. Logistics

  • If you have multiple hours’ worth of content to share, break your meetings into 2-hour sessions. This will focus the audience and allow them time to process all of the information that you are relaying.
  • Meetings taken from large conference rooms should have microphones threaded around the room (and, ideally, video) so that everyone can be seen and heard.
  • Be clear about who owns the invites for workshops and meetings to eliminate forwarding frustration and lack of control over the attendee list.
  • Follow online meetings and screen share best practices like shutting off notifications, having a clean desktop, hiding bookmarks and close non-essential browser tabs.

 Zoom-Specific Best Practices:

If you’re new to virtual meetings, you’ve most likely heard about Zoom, a remote conferencing service. If you’re still adjusting to the platform, take a look at our Zoom Quick Reference Guide to get up to speed on Zoom’s most valuable tools. Plus, here are some other helpful tips for Zoom straight from our remote-working team:

  • Ask the Project Manager to have attendees install Zoom ahead of any calls or workshops. This will expedite the start of the meeting and minimize technical setbacks.
  • Prep and test superior audio capability prior to the official meeting time. This saves time for your team by allowing wiggle room to troubleshoot any audio issues before the call is scheduled to start.
  • Always set your Zoom settings before calls. We recommend defaulting to allow whiteboard share and muting attendees upon entry to limit background news and audio feedback.

To ensure that your meeting remains safe and uninterrupted here are a few key security recommendations;

  • Also schedule meetings with a unique meeting number and URL instead of using your instant meeting ID
  • Always require a password with your meeting (but don’t worry, you can embed it right into the URL so participants don’t have to type it in)

So, it’s the day of the meeting…now what?

Before Meeting Attendees Arrive

  1. Log into the session 30 minutes prior to get organized. This gives you plenty of time to test your video, run a soundcheck, etc. Make sure to silence any popups and snooze notifications for Outlook, Slack, and any other communication platforms that could disrupt your meeting.
    • Check with presenters to make sure they have all materials open and ready to share upon joining the meeting.
    • Touch base before-hand to establish practices for seamlessly switching who is presenting at what time so you don’t lose the focus of your attendees during these transitions. Know before your meeting how you will switch back and forth between presenters.
  2. Be camera-ready! Even if you aren’t in the office, video and professional dress are still required. Be on camera whenever possible – you aren’t able to avoid speaking face to face in person; the same expectations apply for virtual meetings.
  3. Have your screens ready and be prepared for whatever comes your way. That means having multiple screens and tabs up for anything needed in the session: RIDAC/Parking lot capturing, Slack channel coordination, remote whiteboarding, and updating the daily synopsis, etc.
  4. Get your project team ready to cover all the bases. That means designating a team member to:
    • Monitor comments. If the discussion goes off track, have them read the comment along with who posted it, then use a redirection question, like “That’s a good point/question <name>, could we put it in the parking lot so we don’t forget it?”
    • Watch for Client usage of Zoom non-verbal functionality like hand raising, to ensure everyone’s input is taken into account.

Start Off Strong

  • Make sure to start the session on time, this sets the tone for the rest of the meeting.
  • State that the session will be recorded, hit the record button, then remind everyone again that the session will be recorded. These recordings will allow team members to quickly catch up on any meetings they have to miss, and serves as a great resource for institutional memory.
  • A leader from the project team should always provide an opener for any calls or online trainings to share the vision for the project and workstream that session is about.
  • Designate a member of your project’s leadership team to serve as the ‘Emcee’. This person should:
    • Briefly introduce themselves along with the other presenters for the session.
    • Display the session overview to quickly recap all sessions and when they will take place.
    • Display and review the current session agenda with start and end times.
    • Display a roll call list with first and last names of expected attendees and their roles (make sure to get this ahead of time) – Taking roll and checking off attendees as present is a great way to introduce everyone and keep attendees engaged from the get-go!
    • Provide any ground rules that are specific to your organization.

Establish Expectations for Communication

You’ve heard it said a million times: communication is key. It’s even more true during remote meetings and workshops where it is harder for attendees to pick up on body language and other non-verbal cues. For virtual meetings, it’s critical to communicate openly and clearly. Here are some of our team favorites to ensure everyone can be heard (literally and metaphorically):

  • All attendees and remote participants should announce their names before speaking so that all other attendees know who is speaking.
  • Mute yourself when not speaking to avoid contributing any unnecessary background noise.
  • Pause at the end of each section for feedback. Not everyone is comfortable interrupting others, pausing at the end of each section allows attendees time to bring up any comments they weren’t able to voice earlier.
  • Hold each other accountable. Remind your team that sessions are scheduled to be 2-hours or less and only with critical attendees to increase focus and effectiveness. In return, ask for attendees’ full attention – that means screens down and side conversations outside of the room.

Wrap Up with a Synopsis:

Once the sessions have concluded for the day, conduct an internal debrief with your team and review notes captured in a daily Workshop Synopsis (example provided below). Make sure to send out a thank you to all on the roster (present or not) with a hard copy of the synopsis so everyone has access to the same meeting notes.

Keep Attendees Engaged:

Engagement during virtual meetings or workshops is as important as ever. We recommend using one of these techniques every 10-15 minutes to keep your team actively involved and to ensure everyone is paying attention throughout the call.

  • Use round robins and/or mini-round robins.
  • Ask for consensus from the team or teams – document agreement throughout the call.
  • Drop a poll into Zoom. The poll could even be “move faster or slower?” or scale of happiness with content – this provides an opportunity for the presenter to adapt their presentation style during a break.
  • Have a participant share their screen.
  • Ask Process Owner to share their perspective on where they feel we are, at this point.
  • Pause and ask for feedback on the session so far to ensure everyone is staying up to speed.
  • Ask a stakeholder to share a current pain point anecdote.

Another sure-fire way to keep attendees focused during important sessions is to allow 30 second stretch breaks after every 30 minutes of uninterrupted meeting time. Even just a few short moments away from the conference room can do wonders throughout a full day of back-to-back meetings. Try to stay as active as possible, stretch when you can and keep those legs moving.

To conclude, we’ll leave you with our biggest piece of advice for successfully running remote workshops:

Slow down for coordinated planning and plan the process as well in the digital space as you would in the physical space.

While it seems counterintuitive, it’s important to ground yourself in this new routine in order to speed up with efficiency and clarity down the line. Whether it’s taking the time to re-familiarize yourself with Zoom best practices or prepping workshop deliverables, make sure you are committing time every day to staying organized and on top of your responsibilities: this is the most-effective way to guarantee effective and valuable workshops.

Have more questions? Feel free to reach out to us.