Remote Workshop Facilitation: Lessons from Lockdown


Remote Workshop 5 Facilitation: Lessons from Lockdown

A central part of our work here at Itad is facilitating workshops and creative thinking of all kinds. From putting together theories of change to data analysis and synthesis to co-creating recommendations, a lot of our work takes place with whiteboards, flipcharts, and sticky notes, with groups of people working together in close contact to problem solve and share learning. With countries in lockdown to help control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, this area of our work has come under increased pressure.

While we started from a relatively good position, having already invested in some of the tech and processes to cut back on our carbon footprint, we’ve been on a steep curve. We have reflected on what we’ve learned and compiled our top tips for remote facilitation based on our experience of running some full-day workshops with external partners, as well as an internal learning and development module.

  1. Experiment with Tech

There are many apps and platforms that support virtual workshopping. Finding the right one(s) should be guided by the workshop objectives and structure, but we have found a few that work for us and enable the level of collaboration and control we need.

Finding the space – Microsoft Teams has lots of helpful features that has made it our ‘go-to’ workshop space. Simultaneous ‘rooms’ for main and breakout spaces, the option to record, an intuitive chat function, and the ability to share screens have all helped us bring people together. Importantly, Teams also adjust audio and visual quality according to each user’s bandwidth – crucial for global workshops and varying internet infrastructures – but be aware it will prioritize audio over visual if necessary.

Enabling virtual collaboration –The Mural versus Miro debate has rippled through Itad, and we’ve been using both successfully. Both are virtual whiteboards, complete with sticky notes, markers and other features that no online workshop should be

Practice makes (almost) perfect – as with most new tech, these apps can seem intimidating at first. For all of our workshops so far, the facilitators and a couple of volunteers practiced beforehand to make sure everything ran smoothly. No amount of practice can prevent internet dropouts and screen freezes – often the tech resolves itself, but always helpful to have a back-up plan just in case!

  1. Prep, Prep, Prep 

Once we had all our tech-enabled, we found that substantial time was required upfront to get everything in order for the participants to really make the most of the time and space.

Prep the team – the facilitators need to know who is doing what and when. Spending time working out who is leading what sessions, and who is monitoring, keeping time, and lining up resources will save confusion and build confidence.

Participant prep is needed too – everyone was asked to download apps and sign up for accounts if necessary and try to familiarise themselves as much as possible with the new platforms. Handouts were sent in advance too, to help enable richer discussions when everyone came together.


  1. Adapt and Engage 

One of the biggest challenges for remote facilitation is keeping everyone engaged – the temptation to check emails is hard to resist when everyone is together in a room, let alone meeting remotely! Using new tech, days spent staring at a screen, and contributing to discussions can be long and draining – acknowledging this and adapting to it are crucial for remote success.

Start off on the right foot – familiarizing everyone with the tech first thing helps to build confidence and minimize confusion; walk everyone through the features of Teams, demonstrate the whiteboard, trouble-shoot, and give everyone some time to practice with the tools upfront.

Build atmosphere – workshops generally rely on teamwork to really get the most out of them. Building camaraderie remotely can be difficult but we’ve found that online ice-breakers and active exercises help to build a sense of togetherness in the absence of face to face contact.

Break up the time – both in terms of workshop logistics and during the sessions themselves. Workshops taking place across multiple time zones might mean some participants join in the morning and others in the

Interact as much as possible – encouraging participants to leave their cameras on brings a bit of personality to the workshop (and helps prevent distraction!), as does having the chat box open so people can ask questions or comment when they need to. We’ve also found that playing music in the background of group sessions helps maintain momentum (and fun!) and reminds everyone there’s still something going on. The sudden absence of music at the end of breaks can also prompt participants back into the room, and of their emails.