a beginner’s guide to rocking remote team facilitation_

These days remote work often comes as a surprise and has to be set up in a limited time with little margin for error. This written piece summarizes our lessons learned having set up a three-day design sprint overnight. The first part describes the challenges of the setup, the second part our lessons learned regarding the design of digital agendas and the third part sums up our insights from digital team facilitation throughout the remote sprint. 

 

tech_setup_innovative_teams

choosing the tools to set up a remote session_

Basically, you need two main tools: a conferencing tool and a collaboration tool. Additionally, we used a messenger to share login credentials and organizational information. We highly recommend limiting the number of tools to a minimum to avoid overstraining team members in the beginning.

We were using Slack for messaging, Zoom as a conferencing tool and Miro to collaborate on a plain white canvas with post-it notes.

Messaging: https://slack.com/
Collaboration: Miro or Mural or neXboard*
Conferencing: https://zoom.us/ or neXboard
*more infos below

All of these tools are available to test for free and were sufficient for our 3-day sprint without signing a membership. Most established companies might have contracted equivalent tools (e.g. Skype for business, Microsoft teams) and should consider data security and compliance. Please feel free to get in touch when we can help you to convince an organization to use a tool.

designing a digital agenda_

After having created the technical environment for the remote sprint team we proceeded to adapt the on-site design sprint agenda for the remote setting. We realized there are five major differences to the on-site experience when it comes to remote design sprints. 

remote_agenda_innovative_teams

1. A remote team starts slowly and accelerates over time. 
In the beginning, everything is slow. Participants discover the features and functionalities of the tools and get an understanding of how to work together. It is important to establish rituals (dailies, weeklies, monthlies) to exchange knowledge about the use of tools etc. and to provide a digital workspace that feels secure to everybody. Check-ins, check-outs, warm-ups and team shenanigans are as important for remote teams as on-site.

2. Space for informal interaction is lacking and needs to be created artificially. 
Not being physically in the same working space steals all these funny little moments with your team-mates. Facilitators need to schedule dedicated informal moments for participants to unwind and be able to talk in private. This helps to build informal relations that are crucial for healthy teams. E.g. scheduled remote coffee breaks, lunch dates, remote sport sessions etc. are the means of choice.

3. Group discussions tend to take a lot longer and timing is difficult to anticipate.
Remote working lacks non-verbal communication that allows to self-organize contributions by the participants in an on-site setting. In a remote discussion, the order of contributions needs to be moderated by the facilitator, which is time consuming. Thus, remote teams develop a different vibe and pace which is difficult to estimate beforehand. Reacting to these new circumstances, we stopped strict time boxing and worked with result-based agendas instead of micro timing. “Tonight we need to have 3 prototypes” is a lot better to manage by the team facilitator than a down-to-the-minute micro time agenda.

4. Remote working requires more and scheduled breaks. 
The aforementioned group discussions require a lot of energy from the participants. For instance, if the bandwidth of your participants does not allow for streaming video (which happens oftentimes here in Germany), participants depend solely on sound. This means they need to invest a lot of energy to identify speakers. A solution can be the “pomodoro technique” (25 min work / 5 min break, after 2 hours a 20 min break). Also, we discussed a 90-minute lunch break to allow for going for groceries and cooking fresh meals. In short, make sure sufficient breaks support your process and enable participants to balance their energy according to their needs.

5. Your on-site agenda cannot be transferred one to one into a remote agenda.
Next to breaks and different team pace another factor is important to mention: Remote teams have a strength when it comes to focussed individual working. Silent brainstorming, sketching on paper, desk research, remote interviews etc. are more effective than on-site. As mentioned team discussions are more energy and time consuming and may thus be reduced. So, rather than having discussions in the plain wide open, make participants work in a small team or individually and present to each other.

scribblio_innovative_teams

Digital Warm-Ups are as funny as on-site and more necessary. 
(here skribbl.io for up to 12 participants).

guideline for remote team facilitation_

The preparation for remote design sprints comes down to the preparation of the collaboration canvas and to inform participants about the program via email / slack. We highly recommend (!!!) to introduce participants to the tools before the sprint in order to avoid delays on your first day.

preparation of a remote design sprint_

Create a seamless team experience by preparation of the collaboration board. 
It pays off to prepare workspaces and templates of the planned sessions. Show small examples to make sure the team understands the exercise and knows where to put the post-its e.g. via pre-set frames. To avoid getting lost in the indefinite board, create an easy structure with specific instructions. If the team is absolving mutual steps in a longer time frame provide micro timing with a step by step explanation they can follow. If you plan a voting session you either can implement a voting tool or just provide dots to move on post its — miro also allows to add smileys to post-its as an additional. Voting option. Also, colour coding can easily be taken care of afterwards. It’s a matter of seconds and a lot less trouble to adjust than on-site.

Enable your participants to contribute to the sprint by preparing themselves. 
Remote work can be improved by some preparations by the participants who aren’t used to work from home: they need to be ready to cook during lunch break, prepare a working place suitable to work comfortably and of course need to get a broad timeline as well as project introduction. As the facilitator, we would like to have our participants to have a healthy, light lunch and maybe buy groceries upfront. The workspace setup might include more than one option to work so that team members can change room and setting (sitting, standing) from time to time. Moreover, the choice of chair and table might be considered according to orthopaedic standards. Last but not least: ask your team members to upload a picture in their profiles — it eases communication a lot when you have a face to the voice.
 

canvas_innovative_teams

Remote boards offer the opportunity to embrace creative chaos with the team and restore order in the aftermath. It enables team-member to express themselves in greater detail than on-site — a true advantage. 

Enable your participants to contribute to the sprint by preparing themselves. 
Remote work can be improved by some preparations by the participants who aren’t used to work from home: they need to be ready to cook during lunch break, prepare a working place suitable to work comfortably and of course need to get a broad timeline as well as project introduction. As the facilitator, we would like to have our participants to have a healthy, light lunch and maybe buy groceries upfront. The workspace setup might include more than one option to work so that team members can change room and setting (sitting, standing) from time to time. Moreover, the choice of chair and table might be considered according to orthopaedic standards. Last but not least: ask your team members to upload a picture in their profiles — it eases communication a lot when you have a face to the voice.

Here again as a checklist:

1.  share broad agenda (little or no timing)
2. share info materials, links, podcasts etc.
3. ask to prepare healthy, light lunch / buy groceries
4. ask to prepare (multiple) work setting(s)
5. ask to check chair and table for orthopaedic standard
6. ask to upload a picture to the tools

Facilitate the agenda & your remote team_

There are some major differences when it comes to remote team facilitation. Since video streaming might not be possible you can’t see the reaction of the team when you introduce the next steps, so non-verbal communication is not possible. Moreover, an extroverted team member might take over the lead every now and then — which can hit you by surprise.

Additionally, it is impossible to have an overview of the working conditions your participants are in. Some might be fine sitting in front of their desk all day, others might need regular breaks. To sum it up, remote facilitation can be very energy consuming for facilitators and team members. We collected some insights on how to anticipate the hurdles and create an easy, optimistic atmosphere.

Anticipate the lack of nonverbal communication.
The first point mentioned addresses the lacking non-verbal interaction with the participants because you simply can’t see their reactions. It is crucial for the moderator to ask if the tasks/objectives are understood after an explanation of the next steps. Also, technical problems might have appeared while you were explaining e.g. a lost connection. We got used to asking regularly if everyone is still on board and realized it pays off to proactively organize requests to speak in order to get feedback. Giving space for discussion made sharing knowledge more fun.

Create a balanced conversation.
When it comes to remote work, extroverted team members might lack space to express themselves while introverted team members love to have more private time. This is a general observation and can be anticipated by the team facilitator. It is a good idea to give extroverted participants the opportunity to interact with the team and play the stage e.g. by moderating warm-ups.

In general facilitating remote teamwork means to enable everyone to express him-/herself. It means to let those speak who want and ask everybody else as well to share their statement. After a while teams will pass over the “speaking ball” to the next person by themselves. It pays off to lead by example until teams take over the habits in their discussion culture.

A subject you might not solve during your sprint…
We mentioned the different working conditions of our participants in the beginning. It is a delicate topic for us as facilitators which we wish to circuit discreetly. There are inequalities when it comes to the individual set-up: some might have a dedicated office, maybe a pool in the garden and a motorcycle in the garage. Others might share a two-room flat with their partner and struggle to make themselves comfortable. Additionally, orthopaedic standards might not be met at home. This is a topic bigger than your sprint and not solvable within our context. If the topic comes up, try to channel the discussion outside your sprint format.


Focus on factors the team can influence
In contrast to this topic, there are actionable aspects for us. We can nudge participants to adopt healthy work habits. As you might have asked the participants in the intro email, you can follow up with healthy lunch recipes, host a remote healthy lunch cooking session or let everybody share their food pics after lunch. Also shared sport exercises, walks in the fresh air or small breaks on the balcony do help to cultivate a happy, healthy and productive team.

Finalizing facilitation subject it can be stated that it pays off to adopt team rituals, healthy food and working habits. If you lead by example the team will follow and sustains a great working culture that benefits of the advantages of working remotely.

Which functions can I use to facilitate the teams?
The features of the conferencing, collaboration and messaging tool (we recommended in the beginning) offer some tricks to navigate the team through teamwork. Therefore we emphasize protection of the private sphere, collaboration on eye-level and to enable and protect focused teamwork. As a facilitator, we intend to circuit rough edges and make our team members look good to build up creative confidence and great results.

The most useful function is the mute button. 
As host of a session, you are capable to mute or unmute all participants. It helps to quickly mute a participant before the end of the phrase “Honey, the workshop with the new team was (…)” is heard by the whole team. The other way round: a speaking but muted participant thanks you for a swift unmute. The same applies to the use of the camera. It is important to protect participants private sphere and enable their seamless participation. Nobody likes to be the non-tech-eligible or being perceived as such. Another function to be mentioned is “sharing screens”. Delicate information can come to be known when the function is used unintentionally stay alert to help out.

bestpractices_remote_sprint_innovative_teams

The collaboration tool holds some nice function as well. Are you looking for a specific post-it and don’t find it anymore? Use the advanced search function in miro and you jump directly to this post-it. It comes quite handy in the facilitation process where things should go fast. The use of frames with a precise title describing the content helps to sustain an overview over the board. The presentation function is structured by the frames, which enable as well the export of the results in pdf format. For the presentation of theory, it helps to visualize the theory on the board in a step by step logic. Moreover, we recommend using the screen-sharing function to channel the attention of the team members. Otherwise, they might get lost on your board.

Efficient teamwork is well organized in mutual virtual break out rooms e.g. with zoom. The work in small, self-organized teams is more efficient than in the plenum situation. Especially teams of 2–3 participants develop a well-paced drive. After the working sessions, it is easy to rearrange the board, even out the scale and align colour codes of the working session. Make sure to export important outcomes as pdfs.

It pays off to become familiar with the functionalities before the team is exploring the tools itself. Facilitation means to always be on the spot to support team members and protect their private sphere.

 

documentation of remote sprints_

Let’s be honest: Documenting on-site workshops is painful.
In on-site design sprints, documentation can become a painful and tricky additional task for the design team that tends to be unpopular. The facilitator normally holds this responsibility of documentation. They shouldn’t forget to take pictures of all boards and results at the end of the workshop day, otherwise the information could be gone forever. In advanced teams, the facilitator can choose team members for this task. If a team runs on its own, it is paramount that they understand the importance of this task, even if it is one that is disliked. Documentation can be fun for teams and it can run smoothly by itself once the agile team has learned about the importance of the topic and recognizes the possibilities that a great documentation can possess.

Remote sprints capture results more reliable.
Working remotely makes documentation easier. At on-site workshops, if information from a Post-it note is gone, it’s gone. But every thought recorded on a virtual Post-it note in our tool “Miro” is already digital and saved in the Cloud from the very start. When you facilitate your workshop with Miro, you don’t need to take pictures after every bit of information is displayed as it is done automatically.

Implement a refined documentation within the process.
Documentation stays work in the digital world. It isn’t just about saving data but also about distilling the most important synthesis. There will be a lot of data saved but most of it will not be nicely prepared. So let the team do the work! If the team does a presentation, they can make slides on Miro and synthesize the most important information. You can name the slides and afterwards it’s easy to just convert them to PDF for your documentation. Miro also offers the option of archiving a board. This comes handy at the end of a project. Always use milestones and wrap up phrases in the workshop for the team to help you with the documentation.

Be mindful to record smart statements during long meetings and conferences.
In theory everything important that happens in the workshops is digital but information that is only received via audio in a Zoom meeting will get lost. Make sure to use methods in discussions that ensure the use of Post-its. Alternatively, delegate someone to takeover this task. Also, be aware that information in the Zoom chat window is not saved.

vision_innovative_teams


Three new opportunities for data analysis in remote sprints_

1. You can search through all the unvoted post-it clutters.
You will have access to all the unsorted data. It is still searchable, but take care to draw a line between unorganized and organized data. This makes it very easy in the design process to go back to see insights or ideas you didn’t follow and to conceive new iterations. In the future, integrated AI team member and further function for data analysis will offer additional possibilities of data analysis.

2. Swiftly integrate experts or present results to stakeholders.
In general, collaboration boards offer great possibilities in sharing results and questions of the workshop with experts and stakeholders. They can be onboarded in the tool as participants for short sessions without any travelling effort. Thus, it is easier to integrate the newly generated information in the information flow of the company.

3. Team members that miss a day or new team members can easily be brought on-board.
And last but not least when you do a remote sprint and your documentation is great, you can easily bring a member onboard who hasn’t been there before. This is because the whole design process is easy to see live on the miro board from everywhere. It’s even much easier to change coaches during an ongoing workshop.

***Update: There is a compliant & web based collaboration tool suitable for German data-security requirements***

security_innovative_teams

After publishing the result, the neXboard team was reaching out (as well as other collaboration board providers) to demonstrate their tool. The team located in Berlin offers the only product addressing the German market requirements regarding data security and compliance. We identified three main criteria that put the neXboard in front of their competitors:

1. Functionality — it’s designed to suit Hasso Plattner Institute Design Thinking team collaboration standards.

As a facilitator, the tool you are providing is a crucial factor to create an environment of trust and foster creative confidence. 
The neXboard is designed to fit into business context as well as for education and schools. The infinite canvas with coloured post-its, integrated time-timer and available templates to structure teamwork (Kanban, SCRUM, DT, etc.) is seamlessly adopted by experienced workshoppers and intuitive to learn for beginners. Neither an account nor the download of software is required to join a session. Also, the conferencing tool is integrated. No need to run multiple tools at the same time. After having tested a few tools now, neXboard comes as the Swiss army knife for facilitators with the most handsome combination of features.

Integration of online and offline. 
As you might have experienced painfully, documentation and the conversion of post-it walls into a digital documentation is a time-consuming task. Since we all are waiting to workshop in person again: there is a scan function that breaks down pictures of post-it-walls into pictures of single post its. Thus, we are able to continue offline workshops online more seamless and save a lot of post-workshop time.

2. Security — it’s designed by security specialists.

The neXboard team is associated with the aforementioned Hasso Plattner Institute, Freie Universtität Berlin and the Bundesdruckerei GmbH. They have a reliable expertise when it comes to IT and especially IT security. Bundesdruckerei GmbH is printing notes, driver licenses and passports — a convincing fact to be mentioned if credibility needs to be built.
When facilitating a session you should make sure that the browser of your participants confirm the confidentiality of the page, e.g. with a green lock symbolizing a secure connection → HTTPS (“Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure”). 
Additionally, security is provided by the constant monitoring and testing of data streams to identify irregularities, by up-to-date end-to-end security and the use of industry-standard encryption methods such as TLS (“Transport Layer Security”) or SSL (“Secure Socket Layer”).

3. (German) Compliance — it’s made with love in Berlin and suits German data protection requirements.

In case you have to convince a compliance officer or data security officer we prepared some more data security specific background on how the tool operates: 
User data is stored exclusively on servers of the Open Telekom Cloud in Germany. This data is backed up daily in encrypted backups to prevent data loss. The stored data is not shared with any other third party and can only be recovered by a limited number of authorized and trained employees.
If you are dealing with a huge organisation they might ask for individual terms. It is also possible to run local neXboardon-premise instances, since the infrastructure is virtualized. The neXboard team relies on the experience, security standards and certifications of established data centers to ensure the physical security and availability of the neXboardplatform. This ensures not only a logical but also a physical separation between different enterprises and their user data.
Finally there is to mention: the neXboard does not require to install any additional software as it runs as a web application in the selected browser.

The implementation of the neXboard for corporate organization requires 1–8 weeks depending on the complexity of the onboarding process. Feel free to reach out for a tool demonstration.

innovative teams_

gemacht mit Herz & Hirn
in Bern, Frankfurt & Berlin.

impressum

dein persönlicher kontakt_

mara_kontakt_innovative_teams

newsletter_

aber nur dann,
wenn wir wirklich was
zu schreiben haben.