Illustration: Cansu Bayrambey (famajans°)

ATÖLYE Academy’s Brief Remote Facilitation Guide

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 17 min read · July 9, 2020

How to design and run effective and inclusive digital workshops

Author: Ezgi Özdemir (ezgi özdemir) - Senior Learning Designer, ATÖLYE Editors: Özgür Arslan, Melissa Clissold In-text visuals: Aleyna Tezer

The year of 2020 was a turning point for ATÖLYE - as it has been for many design- and community-led organizations around the world. For us particularly, 2020 is special as we've added a new initiative to our organization: ATÖLYE Academy.

Our Academy is the manifestation of our Learning and Organization Design practice which spearheaded our efforts to transform individuals, teams, and as a result, organizations by equipping them with the necessary skills and capabilities in creative leadership, radical collaboration, and systemic design. One way we do this is through experiential workshops, events, and programs with facilitators to help participants grow and learn through experiential learning. Facilitation, which most of us believe to be the ultimate 21st-century skill, allows for a safe environment to be created; one where participants can ask questions, explore new methods, and work collaboratively without a fear of "making mistakes."

Through the power of facilitation, we aim to organize workshops and bring together participants from different backgrounds in order to enable cooperation, as well as allow participants to discover their own true potential through interactive activities. As we continue to adapt to the new normal, most organizations are exploring new methods of working together, mostly in the form of digital remote workshops. By effectively managing the dynamics within a digital environment, we can truly bring the remote workshop experience closer to a real-life workshop experience and ensure that its potential is fully realized.

Below are some steps to help you facilitate successful remote digital workshops. Some tips may seem irrelevant to you and your organization; as you prototype and experiment, you will be able to determine methods best suited to your needs as well as define your own criteria for a "successful remote workshop." Please share any further tips you may have in the comments section below.

Before the Workshop

🔥 Start from yourself: Getting ready as a facilitator

You might be new to the scene as a facilitator, therefore may not exactly be comfortable with the concept of remote facilitation. Remember that being a successful facilitator starts with self-love and self-confidence. Whether you are facilitating a small group or working with a large cohort, start by trusting yourself. Remember, you are designing this workshop, and nobody else will know the content better than you. Everyone attending will be there to listen to you and follow the instructions that you will provide.

As we facilitate digital workshops from our personal spaces, what we can do is try and reduce our "stage fright." We can do this through proper preparation. If you wish, keep the instructions of the workshop on your screen with a post-it note to refer back to. This can help reduce your stress of thinking about "what comes next?"

👯 ‍♂️ Know your audience/participants

Ask yourself the following questions in order to prepare an effective and dynamic agenda:

  • Who are the participants, do they know each other, do they know you and your organization?
  • How digitally literate are your participants?
  • Do the participants have access to digital tools?

Who are the participants? Do they know each other? Do they know you and your organization?

Begin with a self-introduction and an icebreaker. If the participants are new to each other, it may be useful to add a short introduction section at the beginning of the workshop. To create an initial warm interaction between everyone, it is very important that each participant briefly introduces himself in the teaming section and that everyone has a say.

If your participants already know each other, you have a great advantage. You can start with a check-in question without the need for a self-introduction and an icebreaker. You can find more about check-ins, check-outs and icebreakers further below.

What is the digital literacy level of the participants?

In a remote workshop, the digital channel/space is just as important as the space we occupy during a real-life workshop experience. While designing for your workshop, consider whether or not your participants will be able to learn the digital tools you will be using quickly. If you are going to use a tool that the participants do not know in the workshop, be sure to inform them in advance. Send them onboarding documents or tutorials to get them prepared.

Do the participants have access to digital tools?

Check if the digital tools that you hope to use for your workshop require membership. Check if they require payment, try to look for free trials. (You do not want to be organizing a brainstorming session and find out that participants cannot access this tool during the workshop!) Inform participants about the digital tools you will use. Make sure the participants' have digital accessibility to these tools prior to the workshop.

💻 Designing the workshop

🎯 Define the objectives & intention of the workshop

Intentions are the goals that form the basis of our workshops. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this workshop?
  • What do we hope to achieve?
  • What are the outputs we hope to see?
  • What is the impact we hope to create?

♟ Set the objectives

The answers you give to the questions above will help define the objectives and intentions of your workshop. Identify and list what you hope the participants will gain from the workshop by the end of the day. If this list is long, prioritize. Between one to three intentions are sufficient for an online workshop.

Identify key objectives to successfully achieve the intention behind your workshop. These goals will form the path that you will follow in order to achieve your intention.

🔗 Design the structure of the workshop

Evaluate the agenda of the workshop as if you are the participant. Is the structure of your workshop serving the intention and objectives that you set in the beginning? Always check if the structure helps serve the purpose that you want to achieve. If you think you can achieve your goals in a simpler way, prototype your idea quickly. Test your prototype with a few people, revise, and implement it. Designing and implementing a workshop that you have not tested by prototyping will pose a great risk. Avoid this risk. Choose the simplest digital tools you can for the activities you will carry out. We will address this issue further under "digital tools" below.

Another important issue is with regard to creating the flow of the workshop. Make sure that the output of each activity becomes the input of another activity or lands at a meaningful point of discussion. In addition to disrupting the whole workshop flow, undirected learning can negatively affect the learning process by distracting participants. For this reason, make sure that all activities are placed within a meaningful structure. If you are not doing energizers, do not push participants to do unnecessary work. Don't forget, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

📅 Create a dynamic agenda

Make sure that the working times you have set in the workshop are realistic. Remember to write down the names of the participants, the contents of the workshop, the instructions, and the requirements of the exercises. This allows you to visualize the whole flow and design the workshop experience with stronger insights. Check-ins, onboarding, and check-outs are indispensable parts of a workshop. You can also add icebreakers according to the needs of the group, energizers for long working sessions, and kanban boards* so that you can work through the day quickly.

📞 Check-ins

Check-ins are the first interactions that take place between the participants (and the hosts) before starting the session. It enables the participants who have recently met to get acquainted with each other - as well as adapt their state of mind to the workshop that they will be taking part in. On the other hand, check-ins play an important role in determining the tone and feel of the workshop. Prepare one to three open-ended check-in questions prior to the workshop.

📄 Onboarding

We may need to onboard participants to the team, to the subject, or to the digital tools we will be using. In digital workshops, where communication and interactions are more limited, sending onboarding documents before the workshop can speed up the process. You can briefly explain what you need the participants to know beforehand in your onboarding document and introduce the digital tools that you will use. Sharing tutorials for digital tools and informing the participants will save you time in the workshop, and also reduce stress.

Send participants an "Onboarding Document"A good onboarding document should address the following:

  • Why is the workshop being carried out? What is the duration of the workshop? What are its intended outcomes?
  • Participants' expectations of the workshop, and important reminders.
  • Agenda & exercises to be carried out (outline of the flow).
  • Digital tools to be used: Instructions on how to open accounts on platforms that need to be opened in advance including tutorials or instructions for using the said digital tools.

💎 Icebreakers

Icebreakers are very important for teams adapting to new digital environments. With icebreakers, we can ease participants' anxiety and help facilitate bonding. In this way, we can reduce the tension (if any) in the environment and strengthen the experience of the participants.

🚾 Breaks

During the digital workshops, breaks become more important due to limited physicality. Always take a break between activities or at least once every hour. You can divide these breaks into "needs breaks" or "activity breaks."

🔋 Energizers

Energizers are essential in workshops. Distractions and energy drops can occur throughout any workshop, especially digital ones. This may be more likely to occur during long hours of work taking place during remote workshops. For this reason, you can add 5–10 minutes of energy-boosting activities between sessions. If these activities include physical activity, then they will create more impact.


Check-outs allow participants to reflect and share on everything that they have experienced. This is the most frequently skipped part of a workshop, however, it has a huge impact on what the participants leave with. Provide the participants with an opportunity to evaluate their group work as well as their individual work; allow them to reflect upon the awareness and skills that they have gained throughout.

💾 Choose the right tools

🎥 Video calls

Video conferencing tools offer great possibilities for remote workshops. With Zoom, for example, you can organize workshops with high quality connection. You can work together by diving into groups with breakout rooms; all participants can be heard thanks to the "raise hand" feature. You can get quick reactions from participants by using the "annotate" feature, and you can make quick decisions as a team with the "voting" feature. There are of course many video conferencing tools out there; choose what best fits your needs as a company. If you are concerned about the security issues that come with Zoom, consider alternatives such as Jitsi. Fore more on Zoom's privacy issues, take a look at Aral Balkan's CreativeMornings Istanbul talk on issues of technology and privacy at this link.

👫 Collaboration tools

Mural, Miro, Milanote, and Google Jamboard offer an effective experience for working simultaneously and collaboratively. You can work as a team on the canvases, boards, and templates that you have created.

Increase your mastery of the tools that you will be using before working as facilitators and make sure you can answer all relevant questions.

Make sure everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time on the project board. You can also share your screen to clarify if needed. You can also use a timer to stay focused and on schedule.

*Kanban boards

A Kanban board is a "To-Do List." It is a simple way to keep track of "what is to be done," "what is in progress," and "what is done." There are many benefits of using a Kanban board, such as facilitating the follow-up of activities, overseeing the work being carried out, and providing a feeling of satisfaction when moving an item to the "done" list.

If there is work to skip during the workshop, you can remove the work from the Kanban board by shaking hands with the participants.

Tip: You can pre-prepare your digital Kanban board in tools such as Miro, Mural, or Google Jamboard.

🔥 Prepare your environment

In addition to your program preparations, your personal preparations are also important for a successful remote workshop. Make sure that all the digital tools you will use are working before the workshop, and if possible, ensure that you have a membership account. You must be a role model during the workshop. Try and work from an environment that is quiet and from distractions, and ensure that your phone or computer is charged. Make sure to bring your headphones to avoid unnecessary sound problems from occurring. Try not to deal with these things during the workshop.

Finally, remember to turn up at least 5–10 minutes before the workshop as some participants may drop in early - and always have a "Plan B" for all of the above. Now you are good to go!

During the workshop

👀 Introduce Yourself

If you do not know the participants, briefly introduce yourself as soon as the workshop begins. Share with them why you are there, and what your role will be during the workshop.

📣 Announce the Agenda & Objectives (Set the expectations)

  • Indicate how long the workshop will last and what digital tools you will use.
  • Explain the intentions and the agenda of the workshop.
  • Briefly state the exercises you will carry out in the workshop (a Kanban board can help.)
  • Specify what the outcomes of the workshop will be.
  • Begin with your icebreakers and check-in questions.

🤼 Communicate without Hierarchy

The tone you set with the participants will affect the whole flow of the workshop. Follow the experiential learning method and try not to create a hierarchy within the group. Make everyone feel like an equal; this will reduce the stress of the workshop. Listen more, and do not judge. Create a space in the workshop where participants can feel safe and not be afraid to try new things. Make them feel comfortable yet empowered.

Your motivation and energy will be felt by the participants, even within a digital environment. Remember that you are the role model, and you are the person who will determine the tone of the workshop. Low physical interaction in digital workshops pushes us to be more sensitive about communication, and place more importance to the issues at hand. Make everyone feel as if they are heard and are able to express themselves.

🎤 Set the tone

Make your instructions as short as possible. This helps participants understand easily. The best instructions are those with the least amount of information. In this way you can avoid confusion and unnecessary questions, and you will have more time to work together. After giving instructions, ask the participants if they have any questions and make sure that everything is understood. There may be participants who are afraid to ask what they do not understand and may expect the first move to come from you. Tell participants that they can send you a private message with their questions if necessary.

🚿 Do not underestimate the effectiveness of communication

The overlapping of voices in a digital channel, as well as interruptions and echos, are the things that disrupt the natural flow of communication the most. When you give instructions, remind participants to mute themselves when they are not speaking. Allowing everyone to feel involved, heard and cared for, is an important source of motivation.

🕖 Manage time

Time management is important in workshops. Although time may be more easily managed in digital workshops, while creating the agenda remember to consider connection problems and the time that it will take to onboard the participants regarding the digital tools that will be used.

Remind the participants of the time left during activities, and try to give the same time to everyone when having an open conversation. If you are going to use breakout rooms, provide the participants with clear directions and explain the exercise before dispersing. If necessary, send the instructions once more in the chat box.

🤞🏼 Be spontaneous

Remember that workshops are dynamic structures that can be influenced by many factors such as type of work, the content of the subject, the ages of the participants, and the time of day. As a result of these variables, unexpected elongations can occur in workshops. Be prepared for these situations.

For this reason, take 5-minute breaks between the exercises and be open to change throughout the duration of the exercises. Be aware of your participants during the workshop and observe your participants. You can change the agenda if you feel that it is needed. Instead of trying to implement your plan word for word, focus on the needs of the participants and change the flow accordingly with back-up ideas (or perhaps even the ideas of the participants!) It all depends on the context of the workshop.

Note: Remember to utilize icebreakers, check-ins, energizers, check-outs mentioned above.

After the workshop

💬 Collect feedback

Remote workshops have just started becoming more and more popular, and they are still under development. For this reason, it may be useful to create a pre-event questionnaire for the participants, as well as a feedback form with a few questions about the workshop (so that you continue to develop your workshops!) A questionnaire with a maximum of 5 questions via Typeform is enough to get some valuable feedback.

🆘 Be aware of the risks

  • In a remote workshop with several participants, you may not be able to see all participants, making communication a little more difficult. As the facilitator, use the "gallery format" during video calls to see all participants at once; this way you will feel more under control.
  • Participants may face connection issues, or their batteries may die. If necessary, you can advise them to open hotspots, and keep their videos off.
  • There is a higher risk of distraction and boredom during remote workshops. Use your creativity. By adding some surprises you can increase the level of entertainment a bit. Strengthen the visual aspects of your content to make it more appealing.

🌞 Look on the bright side

One of the greatest advantages of remote workshops is that they can be recorded (remember to get permission from your participants during registration). Make sure to save all documentation (video recording, chat messages, collaboration boards) provided from the tools that you use during the workshop so that you can refer back to them at a later date.

Working on different platforms and channels is an interesting experience for everyone. You all have the chance to discover new things together. Facilitating such "first-time experiences" can definitely help increase the satisfaction of participants and leave them excited for the next workshops that you may host.

As a facilitator, you hold all the power in these digital remote workshops. You can help lead participants easily through the use of digital tools and platforms. There are plenty of opportunities, so try not to be afraid of making mistakes. As you continue to explore options, you will start to gain more confidence and thus allow your participants to feel at ease as well. Look on the bright side - remote workshops aren't so bad!

Closing remarks

We hope that this guide will help you and your organization to organize remote digital workshops more efficiently. Remember, as you continue to explore new methods and attend other workshops online, you will start to create your own culture of remote work. Finally, we've added some resources that may be helpful to carry out during your workshop.

We are curious:

  • What methods have worked for you and your organization so far?
  • How have you overcome some of the challenges mentioned above?

Feel free to leave questions and examples in the comments section below and please do not hesitate to contact if you would like to collaborate in developing your organization's remote collaboration skills.


Check-in Exercises


Team Building Exercises

Energizer examples;

Below are seven great remote energizers to boost your team remote meeting:

Fun Fact

Your North

Zip Zap Zoom

Isn't that crazy?

Guess my favorite song

Human Rock Paper Scissors

One two ping four pong

Check-out Examples