How to Run a Remote Design Thinking Workshop

Remote Design is a relatively new but growing field, and this blog post will cover how to run a Remote Design workshop. As the name suggests, it’s for when you’re not in the same room as your team. It can be an effective way to use design thinking skills remotely that might not otherwise be possible.

Remote Design workshop

The tech tools of today, from Slack to Zoom to Jira, help us manage many aspects of our work life, but what do we do when we want to shift business strategy, to harvest the thoughts and ideas of our brightest sparks, and to start the fresh and innovative projects that’ll provide the next revenue stream?

Remote Design

Just because your team is scattered all over the globe or you’ve got people working from home, it doesn’t mean you have to put those all-important business challenges on hold. Far from it, in fact. The world of work might be changing, but technology is on our side; with the right tools and a solid plan, you can bring everybody together just as you would for an onsite workshop.

Running a Remote Design

Of course, running a remote design thinking workshop is not without its challenges—but you’ll soon see that the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks. We’ve teamed up with design thinking expert and workshop aficionado Brittni Bowering to bring you a foolproof step-by-step guide on how to run your own remote design thinking workshop. Brittni has facilitated workshops for the likes of Twitter, Procter & Gamble, and Lufthansa, so she certainly knows what makes for an awesome workshop—both in-person and remote. Ready to go remote with design thinking? Let’s do it.

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1. Why run a remote design thinking workshop?

First things first: What exactly is a design thinking workshop? If you’re familiar with the concept of design thinking, you’ll know that it’s all about solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way. The increasingly popular design thinking workshop is based on this framework, incorporating a series of creative and collaborative exercises that helps a group of people (usually from different teams across the business) to align on a certain challenge and, ultimately, to come up with testable solutions.

Design thinking is unique in its focus on user-centric problem-solving: you’re not just coming up with ideas that could benefit the business, but rather, taking a rare opportunity to really step into your users’ shoes and understand them on a deeper level.

Thanks to technology and some pretty handy tools (which we’ll get onto later), a remote design thinking workshop offers many of the same benefits as an in-person one. So what exactly are the benefits of a (remote) design thinking workshop?

  1. Focus: Everybody is in the same room or digital space together, focusing on a single task. There’s no context switching or distraction from other tasks.
  2. Alignment: Whether remote or on-site, design thinking workshops provide a rare scenario whereby people from different teams are aligned on the same problem.
  3. Collaboration: Design thinking is unique in that it allows everyone to work together creatively but in a structured way. Exercises are defined so that everybody stays on task, but there’s enough freedom for creative ideas to flow.
  4. Perspectives: Design thinking encourages people from all walks of life (and from all areas of the business) to put their heads together to solve a problem. This mix of perspectives works wonders for creativity and innovation!
  5. User-centricity: The heart of design thinking (and why it’s so effective) lies in its user-centered approach; a design thinking workshop presents a rare opportunity to step into the users’ shoes.

Another notable benefit of running a remote workshop is that you can bypass some of those tricky on-site logistics, such as finding the right space for your workshop or coordinating it so that everybody’s in the same place at the same time. The joy of remote work in general is that anyone with an internet connection can get involved—there’s no such thing as geographical boundaries!

2. How to run a remote design thinking workshop: A step-by-step guide

Now it’s time for action! In this section, we’ll show you, step by step, how to deliver an awesome design thinking workshop. In the first section, we’ll show you how to plan your remote workshop. In the second section, we’ll show you how to actually deliver it—including a breakdown of what your agenda might look like.

Phase 1: Planning your remote design thinking workshop

  1. Scope out the challenge and set objectives
  2. Plan your workshop agenda (including time slots for each activity)
  3. Gather all necessary materials
  4. Invite your participants ahead of time
  5. Have an onboarding call and assign pre-work

3. How to make sure your remote design thinking workshop runs smoothly: Tips and best practices

You’re almost ready to run your remote design thinking workshop! Before you go, there are some best practices to bear in mind—especially when it comes to facilitating remotely. Based on her own experience, Brittni highlights the following tips:

Over-prepare: The success of your remote workshop relies heavily on two things: the right digital tools and a water-tight agenda. Before the workshop, run through your workshop timings and make sure you have everything set up in advance—including templates for your chosen ice-breaker and any props you might need. If you can, practice explaining each segment of the workshop to a friend or colleague; they’ll be able to tell you if anything is unclear or needs revising.

Introduce your chosen tools ahead of time: You want to make sure that the workshop is spent focusing on the task at hand—not on showing people how to log in to use certain tools. Help your participants to prepare by sending a list of necessary tools and encouraging them to have a trial run before the workshop begins. You can also incorporate this into your onboarding session.

Keep it short: One of the main challenges associated with running a remote workshop is maintaining the energy of the group, so it’s important to keep your remote workshop shorter than you might if you were conducting it in-person. Try not to go over four hours, and consider splitting it over two days if you need to.

Create a professional environment: If you’re running a workshop from home, it’s important to maintain a certain air of professionalism. Simple things like making sure you’ve got good quality audio and camera equipment—and setting up a suitable background—will make all the difference.

Ask your participants to use a headset and to mute their mics when they’re not talking: Background noise is all part and parcel of the remote working environment, whether it’s dogs barking, kettles boiling, or babies crying. To keep noise and disruption to a minimum, ask your participants to use a headset and to mute their microphones when they’re not talking.

Plan plenty of buffer time: When conducting a remote workshop, be prepared for things to generally take longer than usual. In case of technology troubles or connection issues, it’s important to build some buffer time into your agenda so that any slight delays won’t knock you off track.

Make your participants feel valued: It’s much more difficult to build a connection with your participants and to keep people motivated when you’re not in the same room, so you’ll need to work extra hard to make them feel valued. Pay close attention to how people are responding, and make an effort to smile more than you normally would!

Incorporate energizers: It’s not unusual for people to tune out and for energy levels to dip throughout the workshop, so you’ll need to have some good energizers up your sleeve. Try the “name a color” energizer, where you pick a color and each participant has to find something of that color in the room and hold it up to the camera. This gets people up out of their chairs and moving around for an instant energy boost.

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