When you hear the term "creative workshop," many people certainly have a very specific image in mind: a room full of animatedly discussing people, colorful Eddings, Post-It chaos, electrified air and flying ideas. Not really what many people experience in the home office during the pandemic. At least at first glance, working from home, on the other hand, seems monotonous and uninspiring. These two, quite contrary images often lead to the assumption that creativity is missing out in the home office.
Does remote limit us?
For some years now, workshops have become increasingly popular as creativity boosters in a wide variety of industries - if only in the wake of design thinking and agile sprints. Does this trend suffer because of the physical separation of the contributors? Yep.
Basically, remote working doesn't affect creativity or mutual collaboration. That's because the necessary conditions are still in place: All we need to be successfully creative is a clear objective, an open exchange within the team, the right methods, inner motivation and mutual trust. Consequently, it makes no difference to the "space for creativity" whether it takes place physically on site or virtually via a video conference.
Remote working therefore essentially does not affect the creative process. And yet, for many companies, establishing a collaborative culture in virtual collaboration is a major challenge.
Why? Because the necessary changes and new methods are often underestimated. And because a collaborative culture requires a certain level of knowledge among all employees - a mindset that creative work remotely with the right processes, framework conditions and management methods works just as well as the alternative on site.
New working method - new advantages
In fact, the shift of communication to the virtual world also brings with it a number of advantages: In a digital meeting, for example, everyone can share their ideas. Let's take classic brainstorming as an example: Too often, only the "loud ones" get a word in edgewise brainstorming. The ideas of those who (want to) hold back more remain unheard. Brainwriting, on the other hand, is much more efficient here and can easily be done in a 10-minute zoom call. Here, everyone silently writes down their ideas and after the time has elapsed, all ideas are read out collectively. In addition, we have already digitized all documents during the virtual workshop - and can even use recordings to track every detail at a later date. Often, remote workshops are even better organized, since an even clearer structure is needed here.
The path to collaborative remote culture
The right mindset through communication, structure and trust.
Virtual collaboration requires particularly clear preparation, clear onboarding of participants as to what to expect, and a lead to guide them. If these conditions are not met, a virtual workshop can quickly lead to uncertainty and a poorer outcome. An email in advance explaining the tools used and sending links and access data, clear date blockers in the calendar, and ideally a second "we're looking forward to it" message do wonders for the attunement and readiness to engage with what is about to happen.
In the workshop itself, the rule of thumb is: everyone should be available and visible. Turn on the camera and stay in the meeting for the entire workshop, regardless of whether people are talking or silently brainstorming. And above all, don't neglect small talk. Take virtual coffee breaks. Be sensitive to feelings and encourage participants to talk about all the things that are on their minds. After all, the emotional level is much more difficult to grasp digitally than in person. Any ambiguities and discrepancies can only be clarified by consciously talking things out. In addition, the lead, who is challenged more virtually and is more often called upon here, should make sure that each participant gets a chance to speak.
Another credo that has proven useful for us is "working alone together". While it is possible to discuss with all participants on site without any problems, this is virtually impossible digitally, depending on the size of the workshop. That's exactly why it's important to give virtual time for silent brainstorming alone before sharing all ideas in the big group afterwards. A good balance between a clear agenda and "free flow" together alone is key to achieving the defined goal.
The right tools for creativity
Of course, in addition to your own methods, you also need the right channels that make collaborative work easy, intuitive and fun. Here, thanks to modern technology and numerous real-time collaboration tools, we are faced with numerous possibilities to create a "playground" for creative hours. At Format D, we have pre-selected the following for our remote workshops:
Our classic when it comes to UX/ UI is also ideal for workshops thanks to its collaborative approach. With the new Figma Community, templates for any creative session can be found here in no time at all. For after-work or coffee breaks, there are fun games like Uno or Figma Tetris.
We turn to Miro when collaborative editing in the tool itself makes sense, for example, when each participant should write their own post. The free tool, like Figma, is like an infinite whiteboard. With a variety of templates (e.g. "Meetings & Workshops", "Ideation & Brainstorming", "Strategy and Planning"), there really is something for every occasion and a digital workshop is prepared and structured in no time.
Google Slides / PowerPoint
Google Slides or PowerPoint can also be used to conduct remote workshops flawlessly. The good thing about these tools: Most users know them and know how to use them. However, depending on the objective, detailed preparation of the slides is required so that you can get through the workshop well, since there are no prefabricated Post-Its here, for example.
When things need to be less complex, we turn to the Google Jamboard.
The idea behind the Jamboard is actually a physical, interactive board that companies can purchase. But the app behind it works on its own, too - and has everything you need for creative sharing: Digital Post-Its, a pen and eraser, blocks of text, and even a laser to set focus while discussing.
For those who want to start as if on a blank sheet: Excalidraw is reminiscent of a collaborative "paint" on which everyone can be creative. Even prefabricated shapes such as rectangles or arrows look like they were drawn freehand - and thus give initial ideas and concepts an always creative character.
Working from home in no way means that our creativity suffers. Online workshops work at least as well as the on-site alternative. Thanks to numerous online tools and templates, digital meetings can even boost the creative process. However, prejudices and insecurities about virtual collaboration must first be eliminated - and a collaborative culture created through clear leadership, modern processes and interpersonal communication across different channels. Once this is in place, the (virtual) space for creativity is suddenly infinite.