How we learned to stop worrying and love workshopping from home

A look at how we approached the challenge of collaborating with our clients in a locked down world, from Dare Experience Lead Andy Bell. 

Creating a collective vision

One of the biggest challenges with any project is aligning all of the parties involved. We’re a user-focused agency but the internal needs and ambitions of the businesses we work with still have to underpin the work we do. Making sure everyone is on the same page before we start to design an experience is an essential step for the overall success of the project. At Dare we utilise our Experience Definition Workshop to do this. 


This brings the different disciplines from within Dare and members from across our client’s team together in the early stages of a project to draw up a collective vision for the project. 


Ordinarily this an opportunity to lock ourselves away together for a day and go through endless amounts of post-it notes and sharpies, suggesting ideas which we can then use to build out the direction of the project.


Earlier this year we had a workshop pencilled in with an exciting new client, but then along came COVID-19...


The UK lockdown was announced in March, and with our client team spread across the UK and unable to attend the Dare offices for our key workshop, this presented us with a huge challenge:


How do we recreate the buzz and effectiveness of our Experience Definition Workshop virtually?


Video conferencing apps such as Zoom or Teams have provided us with an amazing way to keep in touch this year. However there’s still no substitute for face to face collaboration. Discussions don’t build or flourish naturally and we’ve all experienced the stuttering interruptions of a slow connection speed. 


Any virtual solution which we developed would have to work with these limitations, while still giving the sense of freedom to input visually or vocally whenever an idea comes to mind. As we headed into slightly more unknown territory we used learnings from our offlines to help develop a plan that could look to achieve this.

Step 1: Ensure everyone is prepped coming into the session

The King said “only fools rush in”, so when venturing into this brave new virtual world preparation was going to be crucial. 


We don’t usually tend to give out homework before our workshops but pulling together prep documents to send ahead of time meant that everyone could join the workshop knowing what to expect and how they’d be able to participate. This would give everyone the opportunity to go off and think of suggestions ahead of the session.

Step 2. Create our shared virtual workshop space

The space in which a workshop is held really can’t be understated. We’re so used to having whiteboard walls to write or sketch ideas, as well as having the key research outputs to hand to help inform our suggestions.


A virtual whiteboard tool made the most sense to help create a similar level of freedom and InVision Freehand was chosen for the workshop.


The overall layout of the space was carefully designed to create a workspace which was clear and easy to navigate. Areas were separated out for each of the main activities throughout the day, with a large marker giving everyone a clear indication of which section we were focusing on at the time.


Each activity area was built around our Experience Loop. This is our visualisation of a customer’s decision making process and is central to Dare workshops so it made sense for this to be prominent throughout.


A reference library was also included to the side of the workspace to allow everyone to refresh their memories on the research or customer insights if needed.

Step 3: Make the experience participatory

Our typical offline workshops focus around building an overall picture of the experience. Pain points for both the customer and the business are plotted around the Experience loop and from this opportunities can be identified and ideas formed to address the needs. 


This typically involves a lot of coloured post-it notes for each. Freehand’s virtual post-it notes meant that we could stay close to our tactile offline experience, and still create a virtual mountain of sticky notes to rival our previous workshops.

Step 4: Keep everyone engaged

This was always going to be a big challenge with a larger group dialled in. Even in offline workshops, not all participants are the same and there’s always a risk that the more extrovert or influential team members can sometimes take over. Because of this it was really important to reiterate the intentions of the session before we entered the workspace, making it clear that all ideas would be valuable. 


Creating a safe space for ideas often leads to more creative suggestions. Something that can seem trivial can often lead to a much bigger idea that helps to transform the experience so allowing everyone to feel comfortable was essential.


Fatigue was also a worry. We therefore chunked our activities into shorter bursts and separated these out across the workspace to make each more manageable. We also encouraged short breaks between each activity because, let’s face it, nobody wants to spend that long on Zoom!

Step 5: Don’t be afraid to adapt

There’s only so much you can prepare for, there can always be a surprise waiting for you. The varying connection strengths of the participants meant that screen sharing and using our shared workspace was pushing some of their computers to the brink. After working collaboratively for the first couple of activities, we switched to lead the workshop and filter the input from the rest of the group in order to address this and stop their laptops sounding like they were trying to take off. 


Staying flexible and being prepared to switch approaches if needed is important because no two workshops are ever the same. Each audience or situation is different and workshopping together should be about shaping things to get the very best creative output from those taking part.

So how did it go?

The first virtual Dare Experience Definition Workshop was definitely a success. The “new normal” meant that nobody was camera shy and were more than happy to get involved. There may have been a couple of technical issues along the way but we came out of the session with a clear set of principles to draw our overarching vision, as well as a mountain of virtual post-it notes with insights and ideas to take forward.

Ready to workshop?

If you’re looking to reshape or refresh your experience, Dare can work with you to build this around your customer. Workshopping together provides us with an effective way to quickly get to the root of your customer’s genuine needs and then collaboratively create ideas that meet or exceed them. Drop us a message and our Experience Planning team can help you to build a new future-facing experience for your customers.

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