6 tips on how to create your own digital workshop system

6 tips on how to create your own digital workshop system

In volatile times like these, businesses have to adapt. 

Last year, colleagues and I at B+A took a look at the way we do our consultancy work. It involves a lot of travelling around—so much that we talk about it on our website, and even published a book about it. With all this travelling and all this research, it would have been remiss of us not to notice that world around us was becoming increasingly unpredictable.
We saw this volatility affecting every part of our society, including business. So both for our clients, and for the people we met, we decided we needed to prepare to adapt, so, if times changed, we would be agile enough to change ourselves.

We felt our fundamental research method (to meet people and create face-to-face communities) was vulnerable, so the question we needed to answer was: how can we continue to help our clients move forward with research (because life and work must go on) if we were ever unable to travel or even meet in person?

Last year, we started creating a digital research workshop system. Using what we’ve learned face to face, and how we’ve maintained one culture between our London, Shanghai and Portland operations, we adapted the basic principles of video-calling to develop a two-to-three-hour research workshop approach, which, facilitated by B+A, can work for groups of up to ten people. It brings together quantitative and qualitative methods and can be deployed anywhere in the world.

If you’d like to do the same, and to give you a helping hand, here are half a dozen tips we can share about what we’ve learned: 

1. Pilot in China
After an alpha MVP produced last summer for work we were doing with Google, we decided to develop our method so it could work in China from the start. We did this not only because with Amanda and the team, it’s where we do a lot of our work, but because of the differences of language, culture and restrictions in online tools we rely on in the West. To paraphrase a song that should have really been about Shanghai, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. 

2. Get the “quant-lite” in first
To speed up the flow towards real, in-depth, spontaneous human conversations (which we’ve found are often the source of the most actionable insights), we’d recommend doing like us and sending out a pre-survey that’s “qualy-quant”—a conversational survey which (if you’re doing multiple workshops for the same client, or on the same project), will paint a data-backed picture, speed up progress towards deeper, in-workshop conversations and enhance the synthesis process complementing what you discover in your digital workshops.

3. Take the time to have conversations
Digital communication has protocols for multi-voice conversations that are different from face-to-face interaction. At B+A we say “listen with all 5 senses”, but remotely, this is more difficult. Therefore, great facilitation that compensates for this, and actively encourages and takes time for all conversation and the contribution of all voices, is essential.

4. Over-invest in translators
If you’re workshopping in another language, we operate with three translators (at least). We operate with one translating written answers live, in online and shared documents, one translating spoken dialogue, and one listening and translating transcriptions of the conversations

5. Keep the same rules as face-to-face
At B+A we have 3 rules:“You are the experts”. We’re not, we’re the facilitators, and our job is to get our participants to share what they know, most honestly;”Trust the Process”. From what people tell us, we’re good at what we do. We spend a load of time honing what we do, and, oftentimes, the bumps in the road have been built in by us, to provoke deeper conversation. So go along for the (bumpy) ride; and”Be Here Now”. As counterintuitive as it sounds, a rule that we express live as phones off, no laptops is arguably even more important to adhere to in the workshop. Unless they’re using them for the workshop itself, we ask participants to turn off their mobile phones at the beginning of the workshop, disable notifications, and, if they have a wearable, turn off the bluetooth connection. We’ve found that, if we police these politely but firmly, they’ll become our participants’ most cherished habits. 

6. Keep it interactive
With video calling, it’s easy to set up “break-out spaces” (separate sub-conferences), that can focus on tasks or exercises and rejoin the plenary conversation to share what they have done in pairs or smaller groups. This is central to our method, and shares what we’ve learned working in face-to-face workshops. 

This is a project that we began long before the coronavirus outbreak. And we’re certainly glad we have. It means that we’re able to keep working and serving our clients in changing circumstances while providing them with the same standard of work that they deserve. And here’s the kicker: Nicola in our team is leading our work towards B-Corp certification. The amount of travel we’ve done in the past has been one of our weaknesses in our environmental responsibility. Our digital workshop system makes it easier for us to offer clients an alternative solution that improves our carbon footprint. 

It’s certain that the current disruption that COVID-19 is causing the world will cause major economic and societal disruption. But it’s also just as certain that: a) it will pass and b) there will be another (different) disruptor waiting in the wings to enter in the future. 

When I graduated from Middlesex Polytechnic way back in 1987 there were close to 4 million people unemployed in the UK. I’ve lived and worked through Black Wednesday, Black Monday, 9/11, two Gulf Wars, the Credit Crunch of 2007, the Global Financial Crash of 2008, Brexit and more. What I know is, even when the wheels of business slow, they never stop. But that said, I’ve never known a time where building a business adaptable for change has been more vital. 

If you’d like to pick our brains about how you can do this, drop us a line or give us a call. We’d love to talk (even if it is remotely)…