“Virtual workshops are underrated”

Working groups, meetings, round tables, workshops: Many events that can no longer take place in the real world due to the COVID-19 pandemic are being recreated online. For online collaboration to be as productive as live on site, it takes more than video telephony and chat functions. The eco expert for online work and managing director of aixvox GmbH Detlev Artelt explains the secret of successful online events in the following interview:

Detlev, what are the options for holding workshops and facilitating working groups online with up to 50 participants?

There is a broad range of options. The prerequisites are suitable technical tools and the willingness of the participants to get involved. For events in real life you need a meeting room, pens, surfaces for writing up notes or sketches, and a data projector. The online equivalents are virtual whiteboards, survey tools, and the technical possibility to split up groups for project work. This allows participants to work on a mind map with their own PC or pad and create results together – just as if they were all together in a real room. There is a wide range of software solutions that also meet high data protection requirements and that can be used to work with the same level of depth as at a real event.

How do such virtual workshops work?

After a few welcoming words, the keynote speech and presentations should be short, concise and to the point. It is difficult to keep the attention of up to 50 people in the online space with long monologues. Guided by a moderator, the participants can then divide up into small groups to work on individual topics. Afterwards, everyone comes together again and presents the results. Regular breaks should be scheduled so that the participants can briefly leave the screen and grab a coffee. The organisers should also explicitly encourage the private 1:1 exchange of participants in order to maintain the network character of such events. Many virtual collaboration tools include direct integration with social media.

What should participants bring or consider when they register for such formats?

Besides a stable Internet connection, punctuality, decent lighting and good sound are important. The participants should be able to understand and see each other well. The surroundings must be quiet so as not to disturb the other participants. Even then, the mute button should be used when you are not speaking yourself.

Do you recommend hybrid formats?

Yes, well-designed hybrid formats are very pleasant for everyone involved. Several people are in one room and can discuss with each other there – while keeping social distance. A camera can then capture the entire stage, with participants participating from home. The panel then splits up for the subject-related work and each person facilitates small groups. Many managers still underestimate the productivity of this type of workshops and events. As there is no travel time involved, it is often easier to get top-class speakers for such an event.

If there is so much to be said for it, why are many of those responsible only now looking at virtual workshops as a format?

Because this must first be preceded by the further development of the digital work culture. In Germany, we like to stick to traditional forms of cooperation, as evidenced by our experiences with working from home and virtual teamwork. Digitalisation is already much more advanced in other parts of the world, for example in Asia. Change processes are difficult, especially in small and medium-sized companies. The corona crisis now gives us a chance to convince those within the company who have reservations. The pressure to get back to productivity quickly is encouraging many decision-makers to give virtual formats a chance. If companies approach the topic strategically, this ultimately offers them the chance to emerge from the crisis stronger.

Detlev, thank you very much for the interview!

Detlev Artelt