Author: Olena Nikolova, UX Researcher, Ciklum. Olena Nikolova is a UX Researcher with a background in UX design. She has led and participated in numerous remote discovery workshops with Ciklum clients in the last five years. Together with her colleagues from the product team, Olena works with Ciklum’s clients to help them identify challenges and discover ideas and solutions that will revolutionise the way they do business.
Ciklum, like most companies and organisations, as a result of the pandemic, has been forced to adapt to the remote-first meeting environment and to rethink our approach to collaboration. As a global technology company with clients across the world, one might say we’ve had an advantage since leading remote meetings is not an entirely new experience for us.
The past year has given us the opportunity to review and enhance our remote discovery workshops. In this article, I’m sharing some of the key hacks and tips that have helped Ciklum to collaborate online with clients.
Establish personal connections
One of the key elements to hosting a successful online workshop is establishing a strong personal rapport. Fostering connections among participants is often a natural part of real-world, face-to-face workshops, but making the same type of connection in the virtual world can prove challenging.
Ultimately, all participants involved in a workshop share common goals. Even with the best possible preparation and experience, a lack of mutual understanding, trust, empathy, comfort, or basic human connection can greatly stall a team’s long-term success. A webcam can never fully replace the experience of an in-person meeting, but here are some tips on how to connect, collaborate, and also have fun with your fellow workshop participants online.
It’s a good idea to check your camera, mic, lighting and internet connection are all in good order before your workshop. Don’t be afraid to let others know if you’re having trouble hearing or seeing them either – we’re in this together after all. In most cases, no one will expect you to wear a full business suit, but do make sure you maintain a professional appearance.
Show a human face.
When working from home, it’s a good idea to let others know about your environment. Is there a chance your pet will interrupt the meeting? Are you expecting a parcel delivery? The likelihood is that other people in the meeting have similar challenges – sharing yours at the beginning of a session will help you connect on a personal level and break the ice.
Incorporate activities into your workshop that will allow participants to connect on a personal level. This isn’t about sharing your innermost thoughts or the content of your journal. Identify a light-hearted and accessible activity that the group can take part in.
Adding a few personal facts about yourself helps others get to know you, enjoy a laugh, and connect on a different level. Starting a workshop in this way can certainly put a smile on your teammates’ faces.
Here are a few activities that we have found to improve collaboration between participants in the online space:
Icebreakers. Ask your participants easy and fun questions that allow them to showcase their personality. Good examples could include dream holiday destinations, a favourite book or an interesting hobby or hidden talent.
Workshop check-ins and check-outs.
Allow space and time for participants to share how they feel at the start and end of the day. We all have our good and bad days — allowing participants to share when they’re feeling energetic, tired, or in another state of mind, can help set the tone for your workshop.
Have fun together during break times.
Time away from the screen is much-needed, but you can also offer your participants fun, curated entertainment that you can enjoy together in your downtime – this could be a quiz or challenge, or even a great music video.
Attitude can play a major role in the success of an online workshop – both that of your workshop leader and your participants. Here are some of the best ways of approaching the audience to keep things fun, personal, and yet professional:
Be open and honest. Not sharing a physical space with another person can occasionally make your online meeting feel tense. It is important to voice your opinions and work to come to mutual agreements.
Reduce the level of formality. In an era where many people work from home, it’s okay to let your hair down and foster a more informal tone than you might normally expect from an in-person meeting. Have a laugh! Good humour can help set the tone of the event, improve personal rapport, and boost group dynamics. Ensure that you keep in mind cultural differences to avoid quite the opposite effect.
Pay special attention to facial expressions and body language. What may come naturally in person can be a lot harder when you’re doing it through a screen. Look for signs that participants are confused, tense, or distracted, and find ways to address their disengagement.
Some of the above may seem straightforward enough – but it’s really important to get your fundamentals right and set the tone of your workshop from the start. Going through the steps outlined above will really help you to foster a warm and welcoming online environment that is conducive to collaboration.
In the second part of this article, we’ll explore ways in which you can create a supportive team dynamic in the online space.