Tips and tricks for remote facilitation

Kaisa Ruotsalainen & Liisa Benmergui24.4.2020DesignReading time 6 min

During this spring, jobs and important meetings have moved online for many of us. Organizing successful meetings now requires adjusting our usual ways or working, especially our ways of involving and being involved, to our new remote circumstances.

We gathered some questions that came up in our Tips and tricks for remote facilitation and Näin onnistut etäfasilitoinnissa webinars. We hope the answers are of help to you when organizing your next remote meeting or workshop!

How can I create the right kind of atmosphere for ideation in a remote meeting?

Creative collaboration is about being open to new ideas, which requires a feeling of trust and psychological safety. For ideation to be successful, it’s especially important to foster this kind of relaxed, non-judgemental and inspiring atmosphere in a remote meeting.

Predictability enhances the sense of safety and makes the meeting run more smoothly. Send the description and agenda of the meeting to participants beforehand. At the start of the workshop, agree on the framework for co-operation – how to ask for a turn to speak, for example.

When it comes to warm-up exercises, choose something that helps the participants learn something new about each other. Sometimes it’s a good idea to pay attention as a group to how different remote working circumstances can affect working together, and address the expectations and worries the participants might have regarding the session. 

If technology and the number of participants allow it, we recommend that all participants keep their cameras on. Even when we’re meeting remotely, body language, facial expressions and gestures speak volumes. Being able to see the other participants also helps with creating a sense of shared space.

Create a suitable energy by setting time frames and a non-threatening sense of time pressure. Reserve time for independent work and note-taking when doing exercises to support the ideation that happens in the group.

Remote working also means you don’t have to do everything simultaneously. Consider whether you could get started more efficiently by gathering ideas from the participants before the workshop, so that the meeting can be used for building on the existing ideas. This can also help the group conquer the fear of the blank page. 

How to facilitate a brainstorming session when people find it difficult to experiment with new tools?

You can always run an ideation meeting using traditional tools the participants are already familiar with. This can mean something as simple as a pen, paper and the camera on your smartphone. We’ve often done just that, and participants have written down their ideas on post-it notes or scraps of paper, and shared photos of them via Slack or Teams.

Sometimes we’ve sent out ideation exercises as PDFs, discussing the ideas after people have written them down using the PDF template. The facilitator can also gather the participants’ photos and notes into a PowerPoint or other slideshow, and share it through the video call. 

However, it’s definitely worth it to give new digital tools a try, and experiment with incorporating them little by little. By doing this, the whole organization gets to see whether new tools might give rise to new ways of working and new ways of thinking! 

How many exercises should I include in a workshop? What’s a good length for the workshop, and how many participants should it ideally have?

 A workshop should always include

  • a warm-up exercise and/or a check-in exercise

  • 1–2 topical exercises, more if the workshop is longer (producing ideas, choosing the best ones, and working on them)

  • a concluding section

A workshop like this, with about four exercises, takes at least 2–2.5 hours, especially if you’re working with a group where the members haven’t met each other before. Remember that the more participants you have, the more time things like introductions and feedback will take. When planning the exercises, factor in the time it takes to go through the results, as well as time for breaks.

When it comes to facilitation, the best group size can be anything from three to eight people. If you have a bigger group, we recommend dividing it up into smaller groups who gather together at the beginning and again at the end. Remember that you’ll need assistant facilitators to facilitate work in the small groups! If the workshop combines discussions in smaller groups with everyone working together, moving between the two also takes extra time. 

Small groups are great for efficiency and quick decision-making. Bigger groups, on the other hand, make it possible to have a wider variety of viewpoints and information, so both can be useful. 

What instructions should I give to participants regarding patchy internet connections?

It’s a good idea to find out beforehand what kind of circumstances the participants are working with, and adjust accordingly. Remember to send out clearly numbered and labeled materials before the workshop, especially if you’re worried about not being able to share your screen. Let the participants know what to expect from the meeting, so they can also prepare.

If the remote meeting is taking place at a time when broadband connections are very busy, one tip for participants is to join the meeting via the Wi-Fi hotspot on their phone. 

What tool should I use to facilitate remotely testing a digital product?

With some of our clients, our designers have used User Zoom for user testing. The service offers a ready-to-use solution for everything from scripting the tests using templates to inviting users in. Other service providers, such as Optimal Workshop, offer similar solutions.

However, it’s not always possible or even worth it to purchase a separate user testing service. In that case, you can conduct agile user testing by combining remote meetings and prototyping tools.

We have conducted remote testing like this by facilitating InVision prototype tests via Google Hangouts and Skype. In them, the user receives a link to the prototype and shares their screen with the facilitators while they are using the prototype, while also explaining out loud what they think of the prototype.

We hope these tips offered some help and support for remote working! We have a wide pool of design, tech, and agile leadership experts, who thrive in a decentralized team environment. If your organization needs a boost with digital service development or support in efficient remote facilitation, drop us a message at

Authors: Kaisa Ruotsalainen, Liisa Benmergui, Aino Ahoniemi