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Virtual Collaboration
4 min

3 simple steps for successful virtual collaboration

by Cathy Lynk March 17, 2020

We all know collaboration is easier in person. But what if that’s not possible? Can you conduct a productive, inspiring collaboration session when some or all of the participants are remote? Luckily, in this day and age, we think the answer is yes. Whether you’re on a distributed team or temporarily shifting to a remote work environment, we have a few tips to help make virtual collaboration easy and engaging.

1). Create a Level Playing Field

Everyone is likely to have a different reaction when they see a “Workshop” invitation on their calendar. Some will eagerly grab a post-it and sharpie and jot down ideas to share; others may feel a pang of uncertainty. If you are running the workshop, it is important to keep all reactions in mind and set clear expectations that the workshop will be conducted virtually.

For example: 

  • Subject: Virtual Workshop: [Topic]
  • Location: [Web Conference Link]
  • Meeting Details: Objectives + Agenda + a reminder, such as, “If anyone joins our workshop from the same location, please bring your own computers and login to the web conference individually for optimal collaboration. We’ll be using a virtual whiteboard for this session, so no need to have markers with you. We look forward to seeing you via webcam soon!”

A simple reminder can go a long way to set a level playing field and avoid anyone feeling left in the margins if they are not “onsite.”


2). Assemble your Toolkit for Collaboration

For virtual working sessions, it is important to consider how individual participants may reflect on their own or generate ideas independently (divergent thinking) and also come together and build-upon shared concepts or themes as a group (convergent thinking).

The graphic above was inspired by Sean Van Tyne’s perspective on Design Thinking: Divergence and Convergence Cycles.

The following tools have helped us pull together both types of thinking, virtually:

Miro Board
A free-form virtual whiteboard that is designed for remote collaboration.

Login, add virtual sticky notes, cluster themes, vote on your favorite ideas, sketch solutions, build a plan, tag team members on action items – you can do all that and more on Miro. I love it!

Optimal Workshop
Suite of research tools, such as card sorting and tree-testing, that are great for gathering input remotely ahead of the workshop.

For a virtual workshop, I suggest giving all participants a deadline for when you need individual input (ex: “Please complete your card sort by 10 AM on Friday.”) You may even grab 15-minutes on their calendar as a reminder. The pre-work step will give you time to review the results and prepare for the “live” virtual workshop, where you can discuss and refine the input together.

Digital note-taking app that can run across all devices.

I am a fan of this notebook, which is available within Office 365. Since live-syncing can be slow and potentially lead to version conflicts, I suggest selecting one editor for each page. These pages work well for divergent thinking and sketching. I really like having a digital record of the “cutting room floor” in a single, shared location.

Web Conferencing
Most web conference applications work well to bring everyone together in the same virtual room, such as: Zoom or WebEx.

Key considerations:

  • Video enabled – Great to see live reactions, combat multitasking, build empathy and create stronger connections
  • Mobile accessible – A nice option depending on participants’ virtual needs
  • Global dial-in numbers – Helpful for those who cannot dial-in from their computer or do not have a headset or earphones handy
  • Chat – Useful for posing questions or providing written input during a brainstorm


3). Test out the Tech

To make sure everything goes smoothly, try running an informal dress-rehearsal a day or two in advance of the workshop. Send out a meeting invite and step through your exercises with a few virtual – though real – participants to make sure access, screen-shares, plug-ins, video, volume, etc. all work well.

If you do realize that participants need to download an app or set up login credentials for the workshop, then it will be great to send out that notice in advance.

We want to set you up for virtual workshop success, so you can spend every minute working towards your goals, rather than dealing with technical gripes. You got this!

Cathy Lynk
Manager, Digital Strategy

As Manager, Digital Strategy, Cathy partners with our clients to create and execute long-term, data-driven digital strategy programs. Her background in User Experience design drives her to stay close to the needs and behaviors of target audiences through user research and testing.

Favorite hobby: I love to run for fun. I try to run at least 3 miles in every city I visit.

Creative interests: I recently completed a full-stack design program where I had the opportunity to create functional prototypes for Chicago-based startups.

Key Takeaways
  1. Set clear expectations that the workshop will be conducted virtually.
  2. Consider how you’ll enable participants to do both divergent and convergent thinking.
  3. Run an informal dress-rehearsal ahead of the workshop to ensure everything will go smoothly.