Circumstances mean I've had to get more involved in the day to day at work, dusting off my IC muscles and giving them a little flex. To aid with some deliverables on that front, I ran a workshop last week with the added complication of 100% remote attendance.
The team have long been using Miro to capture thoughts and brainstorm. Whilst I'd not had cause to use it, I knew of a good friend who had recently been involved in running a workshop, using Miro, with around 40 participants. My workshop only had eight, so I figured it would be the right tool.
Two issues: i) I'd never used Miro; and ii) despite working remotely for five years at the start of the last decade, I'd not run a distributed workshop before.
Thankfully Miro is not a complex tool and a brief bit of research – as in I watched Miro's own tutorial on running a workshop – proved reassuring.
The workshop was really enjoyable and, as with most things, some parts worked well, some didn't. Below are a few thoughts from either side of the fence.
What worked well…
- Generally speaking, the workshop. Which was a relief. The outputs were the same quality we'd have gotten if we'd been in a room together, things that informed the wider piece of work. Granted, we didn't get as much of that output – more on that below.
- The preparation… to a degree. Given other commitments, I couldn't do as much as I'd have liked, however I followed a lot of what the Miro video says in terms of set up and it worked reasonably well – again, more on that below.
- An unlimited canvas. How often do you run out of whiteboard space in colocated workshop? All. The. Damn. Time. Replacing that with, "what, you mean I can put it all the way over there?" is quite liberating.
- Miro not being a design tool. In the same way one reaches an epiphany when one lets go of trying to design in Powerpoint – insert own “You must unlearn what you have learned” gag – the same applies to Miro and it's all the better for it.
- It was fun. An oft overlooked part of work is actually, you know, enjoying yourself. Watching people's cursors flitter about and thoughts forming on sticky notes in real time was somehow better than when you see it in a room. Perhaps attributable to the novelty, it never-the-less raised a smile. More importantly the participants all enjoyed it, though those jumping ahead an exercise had to be informed that there was no gold star for being Teacher's pet…
- Not worrying about capturing the whiteboards properly. At the end of the session I didn't have to worry about:
- finding later that I couldn't read the writing in my blurred photographs of the whiteboard;
- the cleaners binning the sticky notes; or
- the next group in the room not respecting my entitled “Do Not Erase” messages.
- The absence of the monotonous erase and remove clean-up. The worst part of any workshop: cleaning the board, removing, and disposing of, the sticky notes. I will forever hate thee and it wasn't missed.
What didn't work so well…
- Sticking to timings. Facilitating a room of people in person means that naturally you are the focal point and can command people's attention. Not, it should be said, in a “respect my authoritah” way, but when the session needs to be moved along, or a debate needs to be cut short for time purposes, interjecting is straightforward. When you are one of several small thumbnails on a video call, this somehow feels rude. Perhaps it's just a weird social etiquette thing I have, but it definitely felt more difficult. Timings inevitably suffered.
- Expecting too much. Alongside the above we were, classically for a workshop, too ambitious in what we wanted as outputs. We knew it would be tight, and that we might have to take stock halfway through. Sure enough that's what happened.
- Not giving people time to get used to Miro. The board notes provided a tutorial link, but people are busy and don't always have time for prep beforehand. I mean, how often do you get people to prep before a colocated workshop successfully? Never, and I didn't account for people needing more than a minute or two to get familiar with Miro. In future, even with a tight schedule, I'd box off some time to do a fun exercise at the start – and we all know there's nothing more fun than enforced fun – to help people get used to things.
- Lack of in board instructions. When you're facilitating in person, you're easily available to answer individual queries as you wander around the room. In an online session some people may not want to speak up for fear of looking foolish. Yes, instructions were in the board notes, but that's an additional tap away. Crystallising this I'd say, as with all other online communications, favour verbosity and have clear instructions next to the work areas. There's probably also a way of making use of the in-call messaging, but… one step at a time.
- Not accounting for latecomers. People joining the call really late – whilst unavoidable given the group of senior stakeholders – isn't as noticeable on a video call, especially if you're screen sharing. This in turn means they can be unsure what to do, or what's going on, for a while. Explicit instructions around the board would have been helpful here too.
- Screen sharing too soon. As everyone was a newbie to Miro, at least one participant thought that my shared screen showing the Miro board was interactive. The rest of us thought this person was in their browser and gave help accordingly. It took a fair chunk of time to realise what was going on and in a tightly scheduled workshop that wasn't great. Most of this confusion could have been avoided had I not shared my screen from the get go, before explaining what Miro was and emphasising that people needed to access the link in the invite.
- Miro's sense of scale versus my own. It's difficult to get a sense of how much space people will need in a virtual whiteboard. For a six person workshop I badly, badly, over estimated how much space we'd need for consolidating and grouping sticky notes versus how much we'd need for capturing the outcome of that.
- Separate spaces for grouping and capturing. Because our workshop involved people writing sticky notes, grouping them and then capturing those groupings, it would have been much, much, easier to have the second two parts of that process happen in the same space. I originally prepared a dedicated space for the grouping and one for capturing, temporarily forgetting that I had a near infinite canvas to work with. So midway through the workshop I switched to using the grouping space (yeah, the one I'd prepared was that big).
- Horizontal panning. Maybe it's the medium, decades of scroll wheels on mice, or just muscle memory. Either way it felt more comfortable going up and down versus left and right.
- Miro's sense of scale versus my own, redux. We did dot voting, however the dots I'd lovingly prepared were twice as big as the sticky notes…