Facilitating Remote UX Workshops

Having been cynical of working remotely, I’m converted.

Below I explain my experience of being forced to work remotely, I talk about some of the tools I use, my tips, and why waiting for things to return to “normal” before starting your project is a mistake.

At Adaptive we start our projects with a discovery phase run by the design team and core client team. Our discovery phases primarily consist of workshop and prototyping exercises and ensure that each team member’s vision is aligned and that we have a shared understanding of what we’re setting out to do. When this initial phase is completed, each team member will have a shared understanding of what success looks like, and what it will take to successfully deliver this.

During my most recent project, the Coronavirus caused the UK to go into lockdown during the early stages of our discovery phase. In the past I’d never felt it would be very practical to run a workshop remotely, I’d felt running workshops in person would deliver a more personal, energetic and engaging experience.

So how do you retain this energy using a remote setup? A few virtual coffee breaks and a little banter can be a great start. While you’ll want to stay focused, if you’re going to be a remote team, you’ll want to get to know one another a little and generate some humanity.

Zoom video calls gave me a glimpse into just how many of my colleagues and clients have beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Yosemite national park. Some even work from tropical beaches and yachts! I’d presumed they mostly lived in Slough. But in all seriousness when the whole team is working remotely, and with a little effort I expect you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to start building rapport.

Zoom video calls gave me a glimpse into just how many of my colleagues and clients have beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Yosemite national park. Some even work from tropical beaches and yachts! I’d presumed they mostly lived in Slough. But in all seriousness when the whole team is working remotely, and with a little effort I expect you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to start building rapport.

My tips: There are few obstacles to a remote setup that will perform under pressure and surprisingly few technical hurdles. The recipe for success remains good preparation:

  • Tune your workshop exercises: As with any workshop, it takes prep, prep, and more prep to deliver good workshops. In a remote setup, you’ll need to consider if your usual ‘toolbox’ of exercises will work remotely, and adjust them accordingly.
  • “If you’re speaking, you’re on mute”: A virtual meet and greet will help to make sure everyone can connect and hear one another, and are able to use the tools that you want them to use. Any technical issues can then be dealt with in advance so that the main workshop can run smoothly. This meeting can also help develop some initial rapport between the team.
  • The team: Just like in person, getting the right people for the workshop is key: If you have a video conference with the wrong or too many people then it will likely prove difficult and unsuccessful. We try to aim for a team of 5–6 split between the client team and Adaptive’s team. Your core team needs the time and space to be involved throughout the project and to focus on the workshop: You don’t want the team’s attention dipping in and out at this critical stage.
  • Breakout rooms: If you want to divide the team into smaller groups for specific workshop exercises, you may want to explore Zoom’s breakout rooms.
  • Access: You’ll need to make sure the project team is up to speed with any software you plan to use (and if they’re using a VPN that they can access the tools and sites you plan to use).

While some exercises will be easier to run in person, the last few years have seen online collaboration tools getting better and better. As somebody that has a passion for the latest tech, I’ve been amazed at just how well these tools enable remote working and perform under pressure.

What we’re using:

Zoom video conferencing: It’s easy and good quality (as long as each user has a good microphone and broadband connection).

  • Screen sharing allows the use of more traditional desktop applications, while others verbally participate.
  • The ability to record meetings makes it easy to go back and check any details.

Google Sheets, Docs & Slides: Having a single source of truth that the whole team can simultaneously edit is invaluable.

  • Having real data in designs makes them that much more tangible, and Google Sheets makes quickly compiling, vetting and referencing data so much easier than a chain of emails.

Miro: A fantastic sticky note/whiteboarding tool allowing you to collaborate across a vast range of creative tasks.

  • We used Miro for How Might We exercises, high-level persona generation, and a few other bits.
  • Be aware though, participants can see one another’s input as the exercise is running, which may influence their own input sooner than you may wish.

InVision: For prototyping, feedback and more:

  • I find InVision prototypes one of the best methods for taking feedback, as the notes are in context. It allows the wider team to see what’s going on and comment during or after meetings.
  • InVision Freehand also works nicely for multiple users to whiteboard at the same time.

Instant remote working wins:

  • Workshops are digitized as they are produced, saving a lot of time translating & deciphering sticky notes after an in-person workshop.
  • As content is shared digitally, it’s easy to make sure you keep the whole team in the loop with rapid iteration cycles.
  • It’s easier to get people’s time, and there’s no lack of meeting rooms!
  • There are fewer disturbances and more productivity.
  • Less time commuting, means you have more time to work, exercise or relax.
  • Sticky notes actually stay stuck to Miro for as long as you want, without even having to peel them sideways.

So how did it go?

As a team of “doers”, there’s no reason that a remote team shouldn’t deliver as much or more than a traditional centralized team. Our client has commented on how impressed they’ve been with our remote working setup, as well as putting their money where their mouth is and having a budget for the next round of the project signed off in advance. The riskiest thing to do is nothing! While it would be fantastic to have an in-person meeting to kickoff and build relationships, you’re still going to build rapport when working remotely (especially when the whole team is remote). “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”, and certainly don’t let it stop you from moving forward. Discover phases allow for validation through relatively quick iteration, ultimately reducing your longer-term risk. The riskiest thing to do is nothing, so get in touch and let us help you get your project moving.

David Marks

UX Consultant,
Adaptive Financial Consulting Ltd

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