As reality kicks in and changes our world, remote working becomes the interaction of choice for many organisations. We believe that successful organisations look beyond remote meetings but enable their talent by allowing for all types of interactions to happen remotely.
Most recently, we have seen an increased need to run collaborative workshops as well as interviews remotely. And we think we are doing this well. So we want to share our experiences and learnings.
In this post, we’ll be sharing the challenges we find, and approaches we take when running remote interviews. This builds on our remote working playbook, which contains hints and tips for running a remote team in general.
One remote – all remote
We follow the paradigm that if one person is remote, everyone is remote. This means that even if two out of the three people are in the same physical location, behave as if you are remote. Open your own laptop, and turn on your video. This creates the best overall experience. This provides a more inclusive environment for those who are remote and levels the playing field for all participants, especially in interviews.
In fact, candidates have given us feedback that suggests that they prefer the “all remote” scenario as it makes for better interactions and more natural communication (compared to a ‘half-way house’).
Remember, as we will be working remotely more frequently, be this with colleagues or with clients, a remote interview can be a good indication of a candidate’s ability to work in this manner.
How we interview
For non-coding roles, the interviews consist of open conversations and case studies. For the case study, the candidate and their interviewers play through the scenario collaboratively, and most candidates will want to draw or otherwise visualise their ideas.
This means that we not only want to hear and see each other, but share drawings and visualisations remotely and allow collaboratively exploring and changing these.
Tools we use
Communication and screen sharing – Zoom
Use a high-quality and easily accessible communication tool, and we’ve found Zoom currently has the best quality. Ensure you have high-quality headphones with a good boom microphone.
General visual idea sharing and collaboration – G Suite or Miro
Use an easy-to-use real-time collaboration tool (or any other reasonable tool the candidate may suggest). Candidates in the past have successfully scribbled on paper or a wall and pointed the camera. It is not ideal, but it works.
Make it easy for the candidate
- Share the conference details well in advance.
- Manage candidate expectations: Make the candidate aware of the need for good connectivity and conducive set-up and surroundings. Explain how the interview will unfold and what the various remote tools will be used for.
- Test the technology: Provide guidelines for the candidate to test their set-up beforehand and familiarise themselves with the collaboration tool. We have seen interviews get cancelled because one party couldn’t get their audio to work.
- Provide exercise materials: Share case study-based exercises either a day before for the candidate to have a quick read or at the start of the interview, and then allow the candidate some prep time as part of the interview.
- Put your candidate at ease: Interviewing is hard; remote interviewing is harder. Be mindful of the stress a candidate is under. Put them at ease and cut them some slack. Form a connection, similarly to as you normally would.
- Pre-meet to align with your co-interviewer: As we always co-interview, briefly meet your interview partner prior to an interview to align procedures and tools.
- Kick off earlier: Connect with your co-interviewer at least 15 minutes prior to the actual interview to ensure you are set up. The remote call should be “live” when the candidate joins.
- Get your set-up right: Find a quiet and low-echo space. Make sure that everyone can see and hear each other and that any scribbles (digital or otherwise) can be seen and read by everyone.
- Have a headset: Make sure your headphone and microphone work well. We prefer this over conference call speakers.
Run it well
- Introduce yourselves: With remote interviews, it is easy to “jump into it”. Don’t forget to introduce yourselves, explain what’s going to happen, and make a bit of chit-chat to lighten the mood. This is even more important should only one person be remote.
- Preparation time: Stay online during the time we give to the candidate to prep, so the candidate has a feedback line in case they need support. You may wish to turn off your video and mute your microphone.
- Keep time: Set clear expectations with all parties in regards to timekeeping, especially if you go mute or offline during preparation time.
- Bad connectivity: Do introductions via video, then turn the video off.
- No Audio: Have a fallback solution if the candidate cannot get their audio to work (it has happened before)
We hope you found this information useful and are able to put it to good use. And as mentioned above, feel free to check out our remote working playbook which is full of further suggestions. If you would like a short consultation on running remote workshops or want help and advice about running remote teams, get in touch with us at email@example.com
If you want to learn some of the techniques we use to build high-performing remote-first teams watch this webinar.
We have been running increasingly more workshops remotely – from pre-mortems and retrospectives to inceptions and design sprints. We have found (so far!) that all workshop activities can be effectively run with a remote, distributed team. All we need to do is adjust how we design and run a remote-first approach.
This is critical because co-located teams think with their environment (this is called distributed cognition), and working remotely disrupts a team’s environment. In a remote setup, teams are no longer able to read subtle social cues as easily, can miss nuances in discussions and can struggle to leverage their colleagues’ energy levels to stay motivated and focused.
As a consequence of these factors, we need to adjust activities and amplify how and what we communicate in remote workshops. Creating a virtual environment for collaboration becomes critical.
In this blog, we’ll be sharing some specific challenges and approaches we take to running remote workshops. This builds on our remote working playbook which contains hints and tips for running a remote team.
If you want to learn some of the techniques we use to build high-performing remote-first teams watch this webinar.
When running a remote workshop, the facilitator’s role changes. There is more emphasis on the pre-workshop preparation when compared to physically co-located workshops. On the flip side, there is less to write up at the end as the team creates the digital boards, diagrams and maps throughout the workshop.
We recommend having one facilitator (rather than multiple), as we have found that with two people tag-teaming, it is harder to pick up on some of the visual clues to stop, start and hand over the conversation. You can still have other people lead sessions, but overall we recommend one facilitator.
Set up the space
One of the biggest enablers for a remote workshop is to have an effective virtual space that replaces the usual walls/whiteboards we use in person.
We tend to use www.miro.com as it offers a large canvas to work on, and it is built for collaboration. It also has very low friction for inviting participants to collaborate.
- On a single canvas, create a different section on the board for each activity you are planning to run. For example, if you were running an inception, you might include a section for Vision and Goals and a separate section for the Business Model Canvas.
- Label each section clearly and provide a description of the objectives of the activity and detailed instructions on how to complete the activity. If the section has a template, add this in as well, e.g., Business Model Canvas. Add these in order of the agenda so that there is a clear flow across the canvas, e.g., left to right.
- Add sections for capturing questions and ideas like a Parking Lot or somewhere to capture risks and issues as they are raised.
- Add the running sheet (agenda) down the left-hand side with a clear narrative on why these activities have been included.
Setting this up will make it easier for participants to understand the context as they go and has the added benefit of being set up beforehand, allowing people to work ahead of time and think about how they’ll contribute to the board. People will often start filling things in before the session starts (which is useful for certain activities).
Split the sessions
It is often much harder to stay focused and process what’s happening in remote workshops than in person.
Therefore, instead of running a single long workshop, look to break it up into smaller chunks. For example, if the workshop takes four hours when co-located, split this down into two one-hour sessions on the same day (morning then afternoon) followed by one two-hour session the next day.
With a split session, leave five minutes at the end to wrap up and prepare as a team for the next session. The facilitator needs to be explicit about when the next session starts and what is on the agenda as it’s harder to maintain momentum with split sessions.
Another activity which is harder to do remotely is to have breakout sessions; however, some tools (like Zoom) have a great breakout feature. Make sure you assign people to groups before the workshop as it’s pretty chaotic trying to get teams to form over a video conference.
Before the workshop
- Prepare the board and create the visual narrative of the overall workshop. Then provide access to the participants!
- Get everyone to test their access to the virtual tools before the meeting starts, e.g., the virtual board (above), video conference tool and task management tool (if you are using one). We often get teams to join the call five minutes early to make sure we can start on time.
During the workshop
- As a participant, to avoid distractions, take yourself away from your day job. Turn off notifications on your devices and consider removing yourself physically from your usual environment (e.g., find a private room or work from home).
- Make sure people attend on time as it’s hard to get people up to speed.
- Although it feels counter-intuitive, using the 1-remote-all-remote rule equalises the power imbalances we often see in remote-friendly teams. An alternative approach is to have one facilitator in each room of attendees however this approach has different challenges e.g., requiring the facilitators to have an ongoing private conversation throughout the workshop.
- Enforce basic remote-first working etiquette: mute by default, turn the video on etc . . .
- Focus on being efficient with the digital board: rather than raising duplicate post-its, either enhance or upvote an existing post-it.
After the workshop
- Get individual team members to playback directly to their stakeholder groups using digital boards, maps, and documents that were created during the workshop. No need to wait for a playback deck!
Challenges of running a remote workshop
- The biggest challenges are often around working with people who are not used to working together remotely. If needed, take regular timeouts to remind the team about remote working etiquette and agree to some practices as a team. Explaining the rationale behind practices and activities, and allowing time for the team to familiarise themselves with the online tools has generally resulted in greater buy-in, in our experience.
- It can be harder to know whether the attendees have understood and internalised discussions, therefore regularly stress-testing the team’s collective buyin and understanding is very helpful. We achieve this by updating the digital board and asking open questions to confirm we are aligned.
- Some find it hard because they like to talk (read: ramble), and there is less tolerance for this in remote sessions. Acknowledge this and allow for break-out sessions or “discussion time” between workshop sessions.
- Secondary objectives, such as building trust and bonding as a team, are more difficult to achieve during these sessions. Acknowledge this upfront and optionally plan the time for remote-friendly ice-breakers and trust-building exercises.
- Given it is harder to have casual “side conversations”, set up an open and/or anonymous chat channel so attendees can raise thoughts and concerns as they are going through workshop sessions.
If you would like a short consultation on running remote workshops or want help and advice about running remote teams get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org