Making Creative Workshops Work While Quarantined
Shared By Felicia Constantine
Creative Strategist at Britelite Immersive
Planning workshops that spark novel ideas while instigating brand and business objectives is a key part of my job as a Creative Strategist at Britelite Immersive. In the past, getting a group of five to twelve people together in a conference room (along with gratuitous quantities of post-it notes and a whiteboard) to carry it out has been my bread and butter. Alas, among the countless professional and existential quandaries that “WFQ” (work from quarantine) has sparked, is the need to evolve and reconsider this practice. In doing so, I’ve come up with three essential categories of reconsideration which can help to inform or guide any creative who seeks to recreate the magic of an “IRL” workshop within a fully remote and digital stratosphere—they are: Materials, Structure, and Planning.
I would recommend starting with Materials first, this is where the proverbial rubber hits the road—your whiteboard, sharpies, color-coded post-it notes, voting stickers—basically any tangible item you might leverage during a workshop falls under this category for reconsideration.
Naturally, the digital platforms and features you call upon as stand-ins for these tangible items will play a pretty big role in the possibilities, or limitations, that your digital workshop must abide by. Conveniently, this is also the easiest category to redefine. Start by making a list of all of the items you typically use, then investigate the webosphere to find their digital counterparts! A favorite of ours at Britelite is called Miro. Miro is a free platform that allows multiple teammates to collaborate simultaneously, and spontaneously, in an online whiteboard and comes fully loaded with digital post-its, writing tools, and flow-charts galore. If you’re looking to keep your whiteboard and your computer screen totally separate, and are open to making a larger investment, Google’s Jamboard provides a robust suite of digital features attached to a physical whiteboard so intuitively designed you can almost smell that signature Expo dry-erase scent.
Start by making a list of all of the items you typically use, then investigate the webosphere to find their digital counterparts!
Next, let’s take a look at Structure. In many ways, this category boils down to the fact that traditional workshop etiquette—i.e. the inherent social contracts that we unconsciously rely on, and defer to, while in the physical presence of others—are no longer available to us when collaborating across a disparate network of home offices. In considering and redefining this dynamic, it’s important to recognize that the host will need to play an active role in reinstating a sense of etiquette and norms which help to guide social interaction and manage expectations. In her novel, The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker refers to this structure wielding onus as generous authority, and we’ve found that applying a healthy dose of it is sure to help coax free-flowing participation and generative energy from a sundry of sweatpants clad professionals sitting at home.
For example, your generous authority as host might begin long before the workshop does, with an expectation setting email that answers questions such as:
Are there any homework questions that participants can answer ahead of time to get everyone in the right frame of mind?
What topics can everyone come prepared to discuss?
Should participants plan to have their front-facing cameras on during the session?
During the workshop, generous authority might look like making statements such as: “Now let’s all take some time to introduce ourselves and say hello”—or even requesting that everyone on the call stand up, shake it out, and try a silly hand gesture. In the physical world, directions like these could make your conference table feel more like a kindergarten classroom, but in the digital realm they can significantly strengthen the emotional wellbeing and mental productivity of your workshop cohorts.
The inherent social contracts that we unconsciously rely on, and defer to, while in the physical presence of others are no longer available to us when collaborating across a disparate network of home offices.
Our third category for reconsideration is Planning, this is the strategic meat and potatoes, the gestalt, the blueprint, even the essence if you will, of the whole shebang! In my experience, this category takes the most sensitivity and thoughtfulness to recreate in a manner that traverses the digital divide. Here, traditional considerations such as the number of transitions, amount of topics covered, client mindset, project agenda, and physical needs (aka bio breaks) are now combined with new external and technological impediments such as crayon-wielding toddlers running through the background screaming, screen fatigue, and the game of chicken that ensues when multiple people start talking at once in digital conferencing platforms.
This category is also the one which will vary the most in accordance with each unique client and project—so I won’t pretend to have a “one size fits all” solution up my sleeve. Instead, here are a few examples that we can share from our experience to use as thought starters:
Pace yourself and support participant stamina by building time for independent thinking and screen breaks into your agenda. One method we’ve used is to assign a lower effort task for participants to do individually, and then giving them more time than they needed to complete said task. In a recent workshop, for example, we let participants know they’d have 20 minutes (10 minutes more than they actually needed) to simply select a few pre-populated post-its from the Miro board and prepare to present their selections upon reconvening. This gave participants some quiet time to think while completing the ask, as well as the opportunity to gracefully step away from their screens and recharge—using the extra moments for a bio break, coffee refill, or otherwise.
The ability to leverage our digital conferencing platform’s built-in features in unconventional and strategic ways has been another useful nugget. For example, one could utilize Zoom reactions as voting mechanisms in order to gain group consensus, or put them to work in combating the chaos of “who's going to talk next?” by framing them as a hand raising mechanism. Alternatively, simple suggestions such as encouraging participants to turn their video feed off while working in a Miro board—so that they only have to focus on one shared screen at a time—can also go a long way.
Build time for independent thinking and screen breaks into your agenda.
Though we are still learning new things every day at Britelite, I can say with confidence that broadening our horizons to include robust remote workshop sessions has been well worth the time and effort. Finding digital versions of our favorite studio supplies, practicing generous authority, and actively training in ways to mitigate creative fatigue has evolved our practice and led to a more rewarding understanding of workshops as a whole.