View Only

Design Thinking and Remote Collaboration: Tips and Tricks

By Stephanie Wilkerson posted Mon March 15, 2021 01:41 PM

Often we hear questions about how to apply Design Thinking and its principles in an organization. "How do I get started with Design Thinking?"  "Now that we are remotely working, how do we use Design Thinking virtually?"  "What are some best practices for collaboration?" "Can I even hold a workshop virtually?"

This is the first in a series of design thinking blogs bought to you by the IBM design team, adapted from other formats.

Although the format might be a bit different for remote Design Thinking, the workshop fundamentals are the same.   

The 2 most important aspects of a design thinking workshop still hold true: the problem to be solved and the people you are bringing together to solve it.  These 2 aspects — the problem and the team — are foundational to any workshop. 

One of the most important adjustments in running a remote Design Thinking workshop is to prepare more extensively before starting the workshop.  When facilitating a workshop in a room, there is more freedom to adjust and shift. There are also way more distractions when everyone isn't in the same physical space. Preparation is the key to having a successful virtual workshop. 

When we think about preparing there are three fundamental areas to consider:
  • Tools and Technology
  • Approach and Agenda
  • Engagement

Below are some tricks and trips for each area. 

Tools and Technology
Tools can make or break a workshop. It's important to make sure you have the right tools for collaboration. If you don't have access to tooling, we have a great blog on how to creatively hold a workshop without collaboration software. 
  • Plan a brief pre-meeting to discuss expectations and onboard participants to the tools and technologies, so when your actual session starts, everyone can jump right in.
  • Use video conferencing whenever possible. It helps you engage in real conversation using non-verbal communication cues that get lost in voice-only interactions.
  • Set up all of your activities and workspaces ahead of time. Include clear, step-by-step instructions as well as illustrative examples of what to do. Assume that participants won’t remember anything you say.
  • Bring in 2 facilitators — at least. Assign 1 facilitator or leader per breakout group to help keep the team on task. Assign a “technical coordinator” to support logistics, questions, and challenges around technology.

Approach and Agenda
We discourage full day (8 hour) sessions like you would have in person, but holding a workshop in smaller sessions will give you more flexibility. Having a solid agenda before the workshop is important so participants know what is expected. 

  • Clearly distinguish between silent ideation time, group breakout discussions, and full group Playbacks. Communicate this clearly. 
  • Build in time for breaks. Don’t just assume you’ll squeeze them in.
  • Plan workshop hours with everyone’s time zone in mind.

Keeping all participants engaged is difficult in a virtual workshop. It's harder for individuals to focus for long periods of time on digital mediums. There are numerous distractions on their laptops, etc. Below are some facilitation tricks to help keep people engaged during a session. 

  • Write down how often people speak to ensure that a single voice doesn’t dominate the discussion.
  • Create a back channel where you can communicate with the other facilitators to coordinate facilitation.
  • Create a chat space for people who may not feel as comfortable speaking out loud where they can contribute to the workshop and ask questions. Assign one co-facilitator to monitor the chat and raise any relevant points to the full group.

Remote design workshops won't be perfect, but with these tips and tricks, you will be on your way to holding a successful Design Thinking session. 

This summary of holding a remote design thinking workshop is only the beginning; to read the full article, visit this link.