At Blue Feathers, we facilitate a lot of face-to-face and more recently, online workshops for clients which centre around colleagues coming together to generate and build ideas for brand strategies and propositions.
Traditionally, these had always been face-to-face. Back in 2020 when we were suddenly thrown into lockdown, we had to adapt very quickly to be able to continue to deliver for clients. Driving collaboration and idea generation online to get the same effective results we had face-to-face. It was an exciting process and we’re proud of the successes we’ve had.
Now that there’s a choice of either face-to-face or online, we’ve reflected as a team on the pros and cons of each, and what the future might hold.
Advantages of face-to face workshops
Like many businesses, we’ve re-emerged into the face-to-face world and continue to build and evolve our approach to help teams make the most of their time together.
The obvious benefit of face-to-face workshops that drives most people to this approach is the interaction and energy that can be generated. Not to mention the relationship building that can happen when people come together physically. This has always been true, and is seemingly amplified now as teams are generally spending less time together, with many colleagues working several days from home, leading to people placing a higher value on using their time together effectively.
We encourage teams to use workshops as an opportunity to build cross-functional relationships, forming their collective commitment to the workshop topic. This is aimed at the longer term, when it’s important that the same team can go on to execute the strategy or proposition which they’ve planned together at the workshop.
When face-to-face, we’re able to use physical stimuli to create a multi-sensory experience which can help people to think in different ways, driving creativity. Getting people up and moving to engage with the stimuli is great for changing the pace and sparking ideas.
Plus, there are always benefits to come from participants browsing the walls in coffee breaks, absorbing ideas further and using them as a springboard for those ‘water cooler conversations’ we all longed for in lockdown.
Benefits of unspoken words
Reading body language and what’s not said, as much as what is, is always so important, and much easier in person. Nuances of unspoken communication – both positive and negative to the task at hand – can be understood. With positive engagements being built on and negative ones being addressed, moving a group forward more quickly.
Fewer technology worries
With face-to-face workshops, whilst there is a cost to travel and potentially room hire. There is less worry for participants in using technology which they may not be familiar with. For example, online whiteboards, not to mention the dreaded Wi-Fi issues which can mean some people to struggle to engage. For face-to-face workshops, participants can just turn up and throw themselves into it.
Advantages of online workshops
At Blue Feathers, we continue to deliver online workshops which suit some teams better than face-to-face. We aim to make them slick, engaging and effective, making the best use of software which is also always advancing.
One of the clear, and perhaps surprising, benefits of online workshops is the focus you can get from each participant. When the online workshop environment is managed well, people can be very creative and productive, working in their own space.
At Blue Feathers, we carefully curate how long we present for (keeping it in short bite-size chunks). How often we get participants involved (frequently) and how we actively facilitate breakout groups. This is to ensure participants are engaged and able to contribute. We find 5-6 participants the perfect breakout size for a balance of energy and inclusion. The care we take over each of these elements is rewarded with high levels of participant focus during the workshop.
Level playing field
Another big benefit of online workshops is the level playing field the online environment creates. All voices become more equal. There are multiple ways for people to contribute – verbally, on an online whiteboard, and in the chat function (for example in Teams). This often enables the quieter, more reflective people to input more than they might in person.
We keep the online whiteboards open for participants to review and build ideas, both between and after the sessions.
Visibility of ideas
Online whiteboards are a game changer for remote collaboration. We work with Mural which is intuitive and easy to use, and we run a quick training session before the day for anyone who hasn’t used it before. Once up and running, the whiteboard makes it easy for participants to read each other’s ideas – with no need to interpret each other’s (sometimes bad) handwriting!
It can potentially be challenging for participants to get a good sense of the ideas being generated in other online breakout groups without physical walls to browse or coffee break chats. To overcome this, we ensure ideas are presented back regularly to the wider group, with opportunity for comment and discussion.
Time and cost efficiencies
Typically, face-to-face workshops would run for up to a day. Whilst online we split this down into two or three sessions, usually held on consecutive mornings for two to three hours each. Participants often find this time commitment easier to manage, and it gives them greater opportunity for reflection. The gaps also help break up online fatigue.
There’s an efficiency to online workshops. No travel, lower logistical costs (room hire, lunch, travel, physical stimuli), and the ability to ‘fit it in’ more easily around regular day-to-day work. They enable teams who are geographically spread to make progress more quickly without the need to wait to get everyone together.
What the future holds
We’re now firmly in a hybrid world of work. We look set to continue to balance working remotely with time together in the office. The choice between online and face-to-face workshops will continue to exist. We expect many teams to continue to run both, based on their needs at any given time.
So, whilst at Blue Feathers we’re very much embracing and enjoying the return to face-to-face workshops, we see a clear role for online ones remaining too. With good planning and facilitation, they can be as effective as face-to-face ones. Just a shame we can’t enjoy cake together in the breaks!
Author: Susie Partridge
Susie is the founder of Blue Feathers. She is a consumer-led strategic thinker, skilled in brand management, proposition development and facilitation. She is passionate about supporting marketeers to learn and grow. Susie draws on deep experience and has successfully led brands and teams in blue chip businesses across multiple industries and global regions. Her portfolio includes Unilever, Tesco, Aviva, Cambridge University Press & Assessment, British Gas, Tesco Bank, Coca-Cola, Kimberley-Clark and Jagex.