In-person vs remote: insights from my latest workshop

Emma Davis
Image shows a table with sheets of paper, post-it notes with workshop notes written on them. You can see the arms of four people sitting round the table and two people passing a post-it across the table that says 'user need?' on it.

I recently left the comfort of my home office to facilitate a workshop in-person, for the first time since 2020. 

The journey mapping workshop was similar to ones I’ve regularly run online, and it reminded me of how I wasn’t sure how well a remote workshop would work when I facilitated my first one. 

I ended up pleasantly surprised by how much we were able to get out of those first few online workshops and, since then, we’ve further iterated our remote workshops to make them even more effective.  

So, as I was digging out the real post-it notes, and calculating how long the journey would take through rush hour, I started to wonder how much additional benefit we’d be getting for being in the room together. 

There were some noticeable differences. Even aside from the travel time, overall it took a bit longer. Breaks were extended because people got stuck in the coffee shop queue, and, unlike when we use breakout rooms online, there’s no hard stop to discussions where you bring everyone together at the click of a button. You have to work harder as a facilitator to draw group conversations to an end and bring everyone to focus on the next activity.

But it was also notable that discussion between groups, during the feedback parts of the workshop, flowed much more freely and went to places we might not have got to on Zoom. 

As one group presented back their journey map, others added further detail to it, sticking additional post-it notes to the map that further expanded on the points being made and the end result was a much fuller picture than what we might have got remotely.

Image shows the paper journey map created in the workshop pinned on the wall, made up of post-its notes, emotion stickers and written notes.
The full journey map with detail added by each group.

This particular workshop involved two teams that were in the process of merging together. I think all being present in the same room, in this case, helped everybody to feel like they had a chance to be heard by the ‘other’ team and realise they were working together towards a common goal. 

Of course, sometimes the accessibility of online workshops will be the deciding factor, especially when you have participants with limited time, spread across different locations. And with skilled facilitation it is possible to get equally useful and rich insights remotely. 

But, despite having to set my alarm clock much earlier than normal to beat the traffic on the A14, I do think this workshop was better for being in person. 

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