Getting the best out of online workshops

    A workshop is the ideal setting for defining goals, developing ideas or team building. But is this also true when the event takes place online?

    Exchanging ideas via Zoom, MS Teams or other conference tools has become part of everyday life in many companies. However, when it comes to working on a topic over several hours and in larger groups, the virtual alternative is not always trusted. But our experience over the past few months shows that some of the doubts are unjustified: Online workshops will work very well if you prepare them in detail and implement all elements properly. Here’s what you should keep in mind:

    1. Time limit
    The maximum duration of an online workshop is four hours – including one or two breaks. If this is not enough time, you should schedule several dates and split the topics.

    2. Variety
    You will create the best working atmosphere utilizing diverse media and interactive tools. For example, a film sequence, a poll (e.g. Mentimeter) or a Q&A session in chat.

    3. Mastering the tools
    You can virtualize traditional workshop formats amazingly well with the help of special software. For example, small group discussions can be implemented using the "Breakout Sessions" feature. Visual methods such as the Future Timeline are also feasible, technically based on digital whiteboards (e.g. Miro-Board) – especially now at the beginning of the year, this is a very good way to define team goals.

    4. Meticulous preparation
    Be careful about spontaneous actions such as brainstorming sessions or surveys to prioritize topics. They are much more difficult online than face to face and can easily go wrong. As a host you will do best if you plan every detail in advance and do a rehearsal before the actual meeting. If you still choose an unplanned activity, e.g. a Mentimeter survey, take an extra break to prepare for it.

    5. Shared work
    It is definitely an advantage to accompany an online workshop in pairs, as many things have to happen simultaneously: moderation, control of interactive tools, documentation, keeping an eye on speaking requests and chat contributions. It is therefore better to split up the tasks. 

    Under these preconditions, an estimated 80 percent of the common workshop formats will work very well online. But as mentioned before, there are limits to spontaneous and creative activities. This applies to warm-up exercises in which employees quickly change their conversation partners, such as people bingo. Joint video shoots, photo collages or role plays are also very difficult to implement. However, this shortcoming can be remedied with a mixed format: If contact restrictions allow, small groups can meet in different locations and get connected with the other participants via conference.

    One finding really amazed us: Within certain limits, even team building is possible. Employees who had never seen each other before reported that they were able to get to know each other quite well during the online workshop. Of course, this is no substitute for face-to-face exchanges during a dinner event; nor does it have the bonding character of other activities that strengthen team spirit, such as a playful competition. Nevertheless, meeting on-screen is much better than doing without workshops altogether.