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28 April 2020 5 min read

Covid-19: How to deliver a three-day workshop for 150 people from your kitchen table

Andrew Wilkie

Andrew Wilkie
Manager | Financial services | London

Laurent Lemberger

Laurent Lemberger
Senior Manager | People and process excellence | London

Organisations are facing unprecedented pressures to continue to run and evolve their businesses in response to the impact of Covid-19. Whilst the shift to remote working presents behavioural and technical hurdles, it also creates new opportunities to innovate and challenge ways of interacting that were previously regarded as unworkable. The workplace as we know it has been disrupted, and operating in a virtual world will become part of the norm. Businesses that can adapt and collaborate most effectively now will thrive in this environment in the future. Continuous delivery of business outcomes to customers and clients during the pandemic could establish a competitive advantage. Businesses that do not adjust to new ways of working face being left behind.

With relatively short notice Baringa recently supported a large financial services client with the delivery of a series of virtual training sessions, followed by the largest virtual workshop ever run across their business. An average of 150 people attended a 3-day event, covering 11 different platform teams, and a variety of business and technical SMEs who were present from across the organisation.  

Delivering a virtual event of this size requires an extended set of skills - consideration, planning and communication - to ensure the event is a success and the intended outcomes are achieved. You may be thinking:  

  1. How do I plan and communicate effectively to create a virtual workshop experience that is as good (or better) than face-to-face?

  1. How do I identify the tools to enable the session to run smoothly, and create personal connections amongst participants?

  1. How do I work with people to maintain engagement, create personable conversations and ensure quality outputs?

We have captured our lessons learned to help answer these questions and provided some hints and tips for success, below:

1. Planning & Communication  

Detailed planning of the agenda, technical logistics, execution and facilitation is extremely important, much more than in a ‘normal’ workshop. Plan to over-communicate, transcribe instructions wherever possible and conduct dry runs to ensure maximum preparation. You should:

  • Focus extremely hard on the agenda and timings. Don’t be afraid to take the agenda through multiple iterations before the event. Make time at the end of each workshop day to review and adapt the next day’s agenda based on feedback. Ensure there are regular signposted breaks to help attendees maintain focus; we found that every 45-50 minutes works best

  • Consider extending the workshop over more days - things naturally take longer when working virtually – and be mindful of personal commitments. We extended the session to three days from two, but shortened each working day to ensure individuals could support other commitments that are ever-present when working from home

  • Plan each agenda item in detail. Understand exactly how each part of the agenda is going to be executed; who will introduce each topic; who will time keep; what content will be covered; how will you guide groups of people to move virtually ‘between rooms’. There is no space for improvisation in a virtual training session

  • Rigorously prepare the event facilitators. Consider different versions of facilitation e.g. individual team or technical facilitation. Utilise facilitator-guides to provide detailed guidance on the workshop outcomes, how these will be achieved and how each part of the agenda will be executed. Meet regularly with this group in advance of the event to familiarise the team with both content and expectations 

  • Over-communicate with attendees. Manage attendee expectations early and allow time for attendees to review material ahead of the event

  • Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate the material supporting the event. Focus on the key messages, making sure they are clear and precise

  • Encourage open-mindedness and positivity. Technology challenges will occur and unknown challenges will arise. Thanking attendees for their patience is helpful; ensuring facilitators and leaders maintain and convey positive messaging is essential.

2. Tools 

Identify the available tools early, utilise multiple communication channels to support facilitation and test the tools multiple times to increase execution confidence. Work to:

  • Quickly identify the available tools. Ensure you use the approved set of internal tools. In most situations, you will not have the time to introduce new tools into the organisation and therefore will have to make do with what is available. We favoured tooling options that enabled us to use virtual breakout functionality to manage the orchestration of the event

  • Clarify how the available tools will be utilised to support the workshop. We identified how we wanted to recreate the personal workshop touch. For example, we utilised video conferencing during plenary and virtual breakout rooms and encouraged users to remain online at all times. Webex Training Centre plenary and breakout room functionality helped recreate the feeling of central and dispersed working sessions. Templated Atlassian Confluence wiki pages created ‘flip chart alternatives’ (remember to think about access rights pre-event). We used Menti to gather live feedback from participants at the end of each day. Finally, Microsoft Teams Channels and WhatsApp were utilised as communication channels between facilitators in the background during the sessions

  • Test, test and keep calm. The tooling you use may not be your first choice as you default to the existing approved Group IT software. To help mitigate the risk of failure, we completed multiple rounds of testing – testing at scale by increasing participant volume from 25 to 65 to 100+ people – and stayed calm when overcoming technical glitches. 

3. People 

Prepare to reiterate messaging frequently to attendees to support the creation of personable interactions; gather feedback regularly to maintain engagement; encourage positive behaviour; and be prescriptive on the data capture. 

  • Remember people have different levels of technical operating skills. Be prepared to continuously reiterate ways of working-instructions and guidance to attendees. This will reduce as people become more familiar with the tools

  • Provide virtual etiquette guidance to attendees pre and during the event. Provide pre-joining instructions, which include consistent naming for Webex logons; encouraging individuals to announce themselves when entering a virtual room; muting microphones when not speaking; and keeping webcams switched on

  • Heavily template and document instructions. Clear guidance and instructions will ensure that a standard and consistent level of data is captured. All the content produced is electronic—therefore requiring limited write-up—but the former will help with consolidation, and developing quality deliverables faster

  • Maintain engagement. Keep individuals engaged with the session by encouraging participants to virtually raise their hands, participate in virtual polls e.g. ice breakers and present back their outputs to the group

  • Gather support from the Exec team. If required, having an Exec team present to support throughout and virtually walk the floor helps with providing confidence to attendees. It will increase the perception on the level of support available to those attending the event

  • Create an opportunity to engage personally. Consider arranging ‘virtual socials’ to create an opportunity for attendees to get to know each other better on a personal level. 

Delivering virtual training and workshops at scale requires an increased level of effort in planning, co-ordination and facilitation, all of which extend beyond the skill set required to deliver face-to-face workshops. We at Baringa are working hard to support our clients with the challenges they are currently facing. All of our consultants are set up to work remotely, and our collaboration tools allow us to partner with our clients and help them overcome any challenge. Let us make your next virtual training and workshop event a success.

If you would like to discuss how we can support you, please contact Andrew WilkieLaurent Lemberger or David Harris for more information.