How to run workshops virtually

How to run workshops virtually
Contents

Why it’s important to tailor workshops for remote attendees

How to run workshops virtually

Best practices for running workshops virtually

 

 

Why it’s important to tailor virtual workshops for remote attendees

Virtual workshops, a necessity when COVID-19 started, are now here to stay. Even if the worst days of the pandemic are over, for many there’s been a permanent change to the way we work.

Post-pandemic, 20% of full workdays will be from home, according to a research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), compared to 5% before COVID-19. Moreover, approximately 6 in 10 US workers who say their work can be completed at home are choosing to do so most or all of the time, according to the Pew Research Center.

Moreover, the majority of US companies are expected to spend less on travel, compared to their pre-pandemic expenditure. Deloitte reports that 68% of those with travel budget oversight say they’re likely to limit travel frequency as a cost control measure. 

Thinking about workshops, that means it’s likely that for each session, at least one of your key attendees won’t be available to attend in person from now on. Increased sophistication of – and familiarity with – virtual meeting platforms has seen to that.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Virtual workshops, or workshops featuring at least some remote participants, have many advantages. Notably, they make it easier for all the key stakeholders to attend – regardless of city, state, or even country.

Arguably, workshops are the most important meetings to attend, whether in-person or virtually. They are usually the most collaborative ones and their success depends entirely on the contributions of those present. 

For research projects in general, there are two milestones where workshops are often very important:

  • At the beginning – to align on business needs and research objectives; for example:
    • In segmentation projects, to clarify existing segment definitions – but also to brainstorm or hypothesise a potential segmentation, to understand what will or won’t work
    • For tracking projects, you can use a workshop to collaboratively evaluate the metrics that will provide the most value to track over time
  • At the end – to align on the insights, implications and next steps; for example:

Workshops are also especially important in B2B.

Why? The products you’re trying to create are more complex and expensive than in B2C – increasing the importance of an ideation workshop. The B2B customer journey is longer than in B2C, so once you have a comprehensive map of it, you need to collaborate more with key stakeholders to implement change – which calls for an implementation workshop. 

Also, B2B decision-making units are larger and key individuals are harder to reach. Again, that means more workshopping to ensure relevant staff will understand the purchase process and how to influence it.

In this article, we’ll explain how to use virtual workshops for different research project types and stages, before sharing our best practices to ensure they go smoothly. Benefits of virtual workshops include:

  • More people can attend – you can collaborate across locations and time zones
  • Easier to find large blocks of time for scheduling, due to improved access
  • Attendees can save time on travel, or reallocate offline workshop travel time to preparation time
  • Less need to write up workshop notes afterward – contributions are made digitally

How to run virtual workshops for research projects

Virtual workshops may improve accessibility and attendance, but many people’s initial reactions are that it’s harder to collaborate and achieve goals without meeting in person. That’s not true – it just requires a little more planning in advance and the right tools or platforms, to facilitate activities virtually.

There are many platforms you can use while on a Teams, Slack, Zoom, Webex, or Meet virtual workshop call, including:

  • Miro: Miro is a leading online whiteboard provider, with more than 35 million users. Its online whiteboards have no size constraints and allow users to collaborate and share ideas in real-time, more efficiently than offline. It has a wide range of templates you can use – whether for ideation, brainstorming, strategy sessions, or any other type of workshop.
  • Mural: In contrast to Miro, Mural is commonly used when you need multiple whiteboards. You can then rearrange or resize these later. This is ideal for workshops that will predominantly involve breakout groups. 
  • Lucidchart: Rather than whiteboards, Lucidchart is designed for collaborative diagrams. This is a good fit for UX or journey mapping workshops in particular.
  • Creately: Similar to Lucidchart, Creately allows you to collaborate on diagrams and it claims to offer thousands of custom-built templates.
  • Trello: Trello is a Kanban-style agile or lean project management tool, which is useful for collaboratively designing long task lists for projects.  
  • Asana: Like Trello, Asana is a collaborative project management tool, which also has the option to assign tasks and responsibilities to specific individuals.

We’ll start by running through how to run virtual workshops for different stages of a B2B research project:

  • Kick-off
  • Design
  • Analysis
  • Debriefing or implementation

Then we’ll explore how to run virtual workshops by B2B research project type:

  • Segmentation
  • Brand development
  • Buying process
  • Product development
  • Perception tracking
  • Thought leadership

First, here’s how to run virtual workshops for different stages of a project lifecycle:

A) Project kick-off

If some attendees are meeting for the first time, start with a round of camera-on introductions to replicate the experience of an in-person workshop. 

Then move on to your typical kick-off meeting agenda – discussing the context, objectives, hypotheses to test, project to-do lists, and project timelines.

In a virtual kick-off meeting, a good way to collaborate when agreeing on the required project tasks and timelines is to use a work management platform. For example, use Asana as an interactive tool to organize workflows, assign individual tasks, then track and manage them after the workshop. 

Similarly, you can use Trello’s detailed cards to collaborate on more granular task details.

B) Design

To make sure all key questions are included and asked the right way in fieldwork, it’s a good idea to collaborate on the questionnaire for quant research or discussion guide for qual

These documents are usually long, so it helps meeting attendees if they can visualize the structure and flow of the survey or conversation. That’s particularly important if including different segments – some respondents will be asked some questions, but not others.

In person, if the question order is complicated. you would sometimes need to draw a diagram on a whiteboard to work out the logic. You can replicate this in a virtual workshop by using highly visual, drag-and-drop digital diagrams instead.

For example, you could use Lucidchart’s diagram or Creately’s flowchart templates to collaboratively design the logic you need to base the questions around.

C) Analysis 

The best way to find insights from a wealth of data is to run a collaborative analysis brainstorm. Working together, you extract the key insights and identify the overall narrative.

Traditionally, researchers would often meet in a big room, go through the results and cover the walls in post-it notes, to group insights together into themes and find the story. Then, someone has the long task of writing up everything afterward, essentially duplicating the process. 

In a virtual workshop, you can make this process more efficient by gathering digital notes on key findings and capturing input on the narrative. For example, Miro has several templates for analysis brainstorming.

Running a virtual workshop for analysis also makes it easier to include the client to join in. That allows them to guide the story’s direction and point out what’s most useful to them.

D) Debriefing or implementation 

As a key part of a truly consultative research project, to turn insights into action, you need to make sure the right stakeholders are receiving the insights and agreeing on the next steps.

For example, with the aid of the final research results and recommendations, you can work towards the best product launch strategy or marketing campaign

If a decision is needed on the best path to take, out of several options, Mural has an anonymous voting feature, making it easier to reach an objective consensus on an idea without worrying about some participants swaying others.

A virtual workshop makes it easier to include remote attendees who can’t be there in person. For implementation to succeed, it’s crucial that after the research is done, key decision-makers have access to easily-digestible action plans that they can spread and embed across the business.

There are several virtual tools to support this – for example, here’s an implementation timeline template from Miro for SaaS companies.

Now, here’s how to use virtual workshops to help achieve different projects’ objectives. 

#1 Segmentation

Some best practices for a successful segmentation project include:

  • Staying flexible – be prepared to adapt the approach as the project evolves
  • Engaging internal stakeholders throughout
  • Sense-checking draft segmentation models
  • Making segmentation projects as much about change management as research

A market segmentation impacts many departments – including strategy, marketing, sales, product development, R&D, UX, and customer service, plus more.

Therefore key decision-makers need to be included in key parts of the process. You can use workshops to:

  • Let stakeholders share segmentation hypotheses, guide scoping decisions, and keep track of upcoming milestones
  • Review interim data or models: again, flexibility is key – you may be aiming for a needs-based segmentation, but after workshopping, realize a behavioral one fits better
  • Share the final results and work out how to use the segments across the business, to begin an implementation process and change how colleagues view customers

When holding workshops virtually, it’s vital to make segment information easy to share and bring the personas to life. 

Use visual tools to do this – for example, Creately has templates for making buyer personas

#2 Brand development

Whether to develop an existing or new brand or improve existing brand architecture, there is a common starting point.

You need to look inside-out and make sure brand development is built on something that everyone has bought into internally. That will ensure existing knowledge and expertise are incorporated, but also that any changes can be embraced credibly.

For this, workshops should include senior management, marketing, key customer-facing staff, and relevant external partners. After workshopping your desired brand attributes and stance, audit your competitors.

Together, you can collaborate on an initial brand or vision statement, detailing the central anchoring idea to build around plus main points of differentiation from the competition. 

#3 Buying process

Similar to segmentation projects, the final outputs in a buying process project need a lot of careful thought. They should be very visual yet also easy to share.

Whether you’re looking to map out in detail a buying process or customer journey, it must be comprehensive to include all the touchpoints but also easily understood.

So, it’s good to start the project with a diagram based on hypotheses, update it throughout, then finalize it with key stakeholders at the end.

Again, the maps affect several departments in the business, so a collaborative process is best and a workshop is an effective medium for making progress. Lucidchart has templates for mapping out the customer journey, procurement process, or sales process.

#4 Product development 

Several parts of a product development project lend themselves to a workshop – such as ideation, concept generation, and insights implementation.

To set up a new product development project for success, it’s important to map out the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) early on. For this, online whiteboards such as Miro can save you a lot of time with a pre-built JTBD template

Virtual workshops are great spaces for ideation sessions too. There are many creative digital exercises designed to stimulate creativity and everyone’s contributions are captured without anyone needing to write them up afterward.

#5 Perception tracking 

Workshops are more important at the start of B2B perception tracking projects than in B2C. In short, there are multiple types of loyalty in B2B, meaning that NPS may not be the best main metric to track in perception studies.

For example, there’s plenty of preferential loyalty in B2B. This is where a buyer’s spend is distributed among several suppliers, but more is attributed to one in particular. NPS is not a good perception tracking metric to use in this case, whereas it usually will be for most B2C brands.

So, in B2B, it’s better to create a ‘hero metric’ or ‘North Star’ measure that’s tailored to your business. This should be workshopped at the start of the project, to inform questionnaire design.

Also, too often, perception tracking projects produce endless dashboards and a data dump. By ending the research with an implementation workshop instead, you can align internally on how to take action based on the findings. Again, a virtual workshop lets everyone attend wherever they are in the world and all contributions can be captured automatically. 

#6 Thought leadership 

To be a true thought leader, your content needs to be clear and compelling. Yet too often, thought leadership content is not relevant enough or if it is, then it’s retreading old ground.

Therefore, to run a successful thought leadership project, you need to find a unique angle right at the start. Hosting a virtual workshop with key stakeholders from sales and marketing will help a lot.

There are many potential objectives for a thought leadership kick-off workshop, including:

  • Identifying content goals
  • Agreeing on the content’s target audience – perhaps using Miro personas
  • Collaborating on the ideal narrative you want to tell (if the data supports the story)

Miro also has several templates to support ideal story mapping.

Best practices for running workshops virtually

 

#1 Encourage attendees to keep their cameras on

Workshops are much more interactive sessions than standard meetings – keeping cameras on as much as possible will keep the energy levels up.

Not everyone may be able to, for a variety of fair reasons. Where possible though, it will make the workshop much more engaging.

It’s more efficient to advise attendees that camera-on participation is encouraged in good time before the workshop takes place. It gives them more time to prepare, by finding a suitable room for example.

#2 Don’t let participants sit in silence 

Another good way to encourage engaging and interactive collaboration is to show attendees that anyone could be asked a question at any moment.

Of course, the questions need to be pertinent ones, aimed at relevant people. The aim is to avoid a common trap in remote meetings, where if people aren’t contributing, then they may mentally ‘switch off’ or continue with other work in the background.

The aim is not to catch people out or embarrass anyone, by checking whether they’re listening. Disengaged participants can also be a sign of the workshop host owning too much of the speaking responsibility, or the overall format not being collaborative enough.

Again, if needed, set expectations in advance of the meeting – a workshop is not a webinar, and attendees will be expected to engage throughout, to achieve the session’s objectives.

#3 Begin with an icebreaker or energizer

With remote attendees not given as much chance to feed off the energy of being in a room together, start with an energizer task if people are meeting each other for the first time.

It’s a good way to get everyone thinking and talking at the start of the workshop – and Miro, for example, has several options to make things more interactive. 

There will be an option for every audience type – so don’t use a cheesy icebreaker if you know it will fall flat.

#4 Schedule some breakout group sessions

Quieter participants in particular may do their best work in smaller groups. Without any planning ahead to encourage them to participate, they may struggle to make their voice heard in a virtual workshop where you can’t see everyone at the same time.

It can also be a more effective use of time. More people have a chance to speak at the same time, in different rooms – whereas with everyone in the same room, it’s usually one speaker at a time only.

Most virtual workshop platforms have a built-in function to split the workshop into small virtual rooms quickly and easily. Mural has good breakout team templates, making it easy to capture groups’ work and then combine all the contributions later on.

#5 Make time for breaks – for rest, networking, or both

In-person workshops can be tiring, as they’re usually longer than a standard meeting. 

Factor in ‘screen fatigue’ to a virtual workshop and attendees may tire even quicker, so make sure you work in breaks at key intervals.

Not every break has to be to rest or to focus on other work. If lots of attendees are meeting each other for the first time, consider scheduling networking breaks for them.

Summary

Why it’s important to tailor workshops for remote attendees

By running a virtual workshop: more people can attend – you can collaborate across locations and time zones; it’s easier to find large blocks of time for scheduling, due to improved access; attendees can save time on travel, or reallocate offline workshop travel time to preparation time; there’s less need to write up workshop notes afterward – contributions are made digitally.

How to run virtual workshops for research projects

You can run virtual workshops for different stages of a project lifecycle: kick-off; design; analysis; debriefing or implementation.

You can also use virtual workshops to work towards different projects’ objectives: segmentation; brand development; buying process; product development; perception tracking; thought leadership.

Best practices for running workshops virtually

When running a virtual workshop, we recommend that you: encourage attendees to keep their cameras on; don’t let participants sit in silence; begin with an icebreaker or energizer; schedule some breakout group sessions; make time for breaks – for rest, networking, or both.

Chris Wells
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