Why online workshops are here to stay, and the 5 advantages they give us

This article was first published in The Innovation on Medium, 14th August 2020.

The COVID Challenge

As we went into lockdown in March, we were very worried.  A large part of Paraffin’s work is delivered via face to face workshops and trainings, and like everyone else in the world we had no idea what COVID-19 would mean for us.  However, we were better set up than most.

Our team have always worked remotely, so we had the tech set up already and the online team behaviours and remote working etiquette (which is just as important as the right technology!).  We were already experts in designing and leading online workshops because many of our clients do work globally and it has increasingly become more acceptable than paying huge amounts of money for teams to travel and venue hire.

Lessons Learned

As it turns out, lockdown was busy, as all our existing projects went online, and thank goodness we were ready for it. 

We have definitely learned a few lessons along the way, for example:

  • Zoom is FAR better than Microsoft Teams for any meaningful online interaction (how hard is it for Teams to sort out grid view, does anyone know who I can talk to at Microsoft about this simple point please?!). 
  • Some clients actually asked their teams to turn off their video to save bandwidth – which is crazy because we know for a fact that the best way to truly connect as a remote team is to see each other! 
  • And the most difficult lesson – for online workshops to work, teams themselves need a culture change. Prep work has always a crucial part of any good workshop, because people need to come to creative sessions already inspired.  I’m not talking about a 60 page pre-read, but proper inspiration such as a first-hand experience pertaining to the workshop, or real reflection time in advance by every single participant.  We know that in any in-person workshop, at least a few people wouldn’t have done their prep work, but then we had the day to get them inspired.  Now that we are fully online in 2-3 hour workshops, (rather than 8 hours in person), there is no way we can get what we need to get done without every person doing proper prep and immersion beforehand. 

Here to Stay

So far so much learning, and I’m sure we have loads more to learn.

But we’re not going back to the office anytime soon.

As soon as the government started to talk about going back to the office, there was a mini pause in our workshop sign ups.  It was as if we were all taking a breath and looking to getting back in to the office before we did anything more.  I even wrote this article about people returning to work.

Unfortunately, as many retail and city-based food chains have found, companies have found to their disappointment, people are not yet going back to work.  I walked from Waterloo train station into the Tube last Wednesday at 9.30am and I was the only person there.  In central London?  At rush hour?

The truth is, people are finding out what we as a remote company have known all along – that you get more done, focus more and have a better lifestyle if you’re working remotely. 

Sure, we all want to get back to the office sometimes, and it’s great to delineate between home and work.  But I believe that we won’t be back full time for a long time, and for some people and companies, we never will be.  

And that’s why online workshops are here to stay. 

The Five Advantages

Online workshops have 5 advantages that we need to keep in mind, right now and in future.

  1. They are truly inclusive.  When everyone and anyone can join (technology access and bandwidth allowing), we can collaborate and create across borders, time zones and locations with relative ease.  This means the full participation of all team members (not just those who can afford to fly in), the ability to include global experts (without huge travel costs), talking with consumers around the world, and gathering diverse perspectives.  With everyone being remote (rather than half the team in a room together and some other joining by telecon or video), attention is even more equitable.
  2. Working in 2-3 hour blocks is easier to schedule.  Even when we do get back to the office, it’s unlikely to be all at the same time, on the same days, 9-5.  Which means the classic day long workshops will be difficult to book.  And this is ok, because we actually work better in shorter, more concentrated bursts. 
  3. They are done from the comfort of home.  You are comfortable, you are in control, and you didn’t need to face an airport, train station or overcrowded tube to get there.  You didn’t have to get up at 4am to get there.  You may have your breakfast, children, dog or delivery person with you, but you are home!  And the budget you save on booking a central London venue can go to delivering lunch or stimulus packs to the team at their homes instead….
  4. They give us the time, attention and the necessity to do proper prep.  If we are giving our workshop participants back the hours of time they would have spent travelling in, we can legitimately ask them to do some important prep.  Because we have limited workshop time, we can justify asking people to watch pre-recorded debriefs or talk to consumers beforehand.  Prep work is more important than ever, and online workshops mean that people respect the prep more than ever too.
  5. They provide certainty in these uncertain times.  As recent quarantines and lockdowns have shown us, we can’t rely on booking in-person events anytime soon.  You can wait until things become more certain, and hold back from doing the work, or you can get on with your innovation workshop, your training day, your away day or your debrief workshop now.  Booking an online workshop today is better than waiting for the uncertain tomorrow of an in-person event.

Become a Virtual Workshop Expert

I will be leading a 3-part live training course on Insight Platforms in September: Mastering Online Workshops.

Building on the lessons from The Workshop Book, the course will help you to design and run high impact virtual sessions to kick off projects, debrief results and align stakeholders.

It will be packed with practical tips, useful tools and downloadable materials you can use right away.

Mastering Online Workshops with Paraffin Featured Image - Insight Platforms
Workshop Book Mockup - Insight Platforms


Pam Hamilton

Pam is the founder of Paraffin and author of The Workshop Book and Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork. She has a background in psychology and specialises in insight, innovation and capabilities.
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