Thomas Pitou is a senior product designer who leads the design team in Paris. In this article, he explains how the product team uses Miro as a tool to keep a collaborative mindset while working remotely.
As far as I remember, from joining the team in February 2020, the previous product and design team at Everoad always had the mindset of tackling problems together and sharing learnings with others as often as possible, instead of working in silos.
When working on internal back-office features, we always tried to take insights from operations people or share early-stage user flows with them to make sure that we were moving in the right direction. When working on products for shippers or carriers, we always tried to run ideation workshops with stakeholders to generate as many ideas as possible. Back then, it was easy to set up workshops with people working on the same floor and quickly gather insights from different sources: some sticky notes, five or six pens, one or two hours workshop, and photos at the end. Workshop done, move forward. Lean philosophy at its finest.
Two main events changed everything. The global pandemic, of course, isolating everyone at home for several months, but also Everoad joining forces with sennder, Europe’s #1 digital freight-forwarder based in Berlin, in mid-2020. People we needed to reach were suddenly 1000 kilometers away from us in Germany, Spain, or Poland. We couldn’t set workshops as fast as before as we didn’t even share the same office and meeting rooms. Yet, we truly wanted to keep this collaborative working mindset. We realized that we had to deeply rethink our whole discovery process with remote work in mind. That’s how we started working with Miro.
What is Miro?
Miro is a powerful collaborative tool that allows you to do almost everything…remotely. Basically, it looks like an infinite blank canvas where you can write, stick notes, create basic shapes, import pictures, connect elements, leave comments, and even tag people. The platform comes with several templates tailored for specific needs (brainstorming session, mind map, story map…). The power of Miro comes from its incredible ease of use and this feeling of endless possibility.
How we use it
Basically, we use Miro for almost everything when it comes to working collaboratively and when things need to be visual. Even if we still use Gsuite for different documents, the collaborative tool is taking up more and more space in our workflow. I’m sure that we haven’t used all the available features, but here are some examples of what we do with Miro at sennder.
Organizing a basic ‘Keep Drop Start’ retro is more than simple on Miro. Just create three blank canvas, one for each category, and ask people to use sticky notes like a real on-site team retro.
Being able to follow your colleagues’ pointers when they share their notes is pretty useful for this kind of activity.
I must say that using Miro’s canvas as a visual research repository has quickly found a place in our design workflow. Surprisingly, having this infinite blank space to organize findings and identify patterns emulates pretty well this feeling of intense thinking in a physical war room during research activities.
For each new project which needs at least a bit of research, we like to start with a blank Miro board, where we put all our findings from different sources: user tests, stakeholders interviews, surveys, etc…
In a large company with several squads like sennder, being aware of what is going on in other teams is a real challenge. In this case, working on a visual document can clearly help increase visibility and transparency. That’s why we also choose to use Miro when it comes to designing a clear, visual, and understandable roadmap. Everybody can access it freely and take time to come back later to immerse themselves into the tech level master plan.
Ideation and brainstorming workshop
Since Miro is intrinsically collaborative, it’s obviously also an ideal tool when it comes to running workshops: people can easily vote and express themselves with emojis and sticky notes. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical at the beginning, but actually remote workshops can sometimes be even more powerful than on-site ones with shy people who seem to be more comfortable participating from home.
In my opinion, it will never replace this emulation that you can feel during great ideation workshops, but still, when mixed with a visual conferencing service like Zoom or Google Meet, running remote workshops with Miro is a strong alternative.
How to run a remote workshop
Now that you better understand what kind of activities can be done easily using a collaborative tool like Miro, here are some tricks for a successful first remote workshop.
Before the workshop
Prepare your canvas
Use available templates or start from scratch if you want but make it visual: use screenshots if needed, emojis, colors, etc. Remember that people are at home and will stay less focused than in a regular workshop when everybody is locked down in the same meeting room.
If your workshop includes different parts, use different artboards separated with reasonable space to make sure that people understand where they are in the process.
Like any workshop or meeting, send an invitation to your guests. Since people in remote locations tend to have more scheduled meetings than others, you should send your invitation even more in advance to be sure to find an available time-frame for everybody.
Keep in mind that some people are not used to remote workshops, or workshops in general. Don’t hesitate to give them reassurance to make them comfortable.
Don’t forget to add your Miro canvas in your email. In my experience, some people need to come fully prepared to a workshop, and can’t be efficient without thinking in advance. I know that some collaborative activities require some kind of spontaneousness but you can’t change people.
Finally, explain a bit what the workshop is about. Keep in mind that people are invited to different meetings from different people and can’t remember what each meeting will deal with.
Make sure that everybody already has a Miro account
Either in your invitation or later in another message (you can do both), warn people that they will need an account to participate. Of course, this is a barrier for people that are not used to workshops, but it would be a shame that you waste time during your workshop waiting for everybody to create an account. Their time is precious and so is yours.
During the workshop
Explain the rules
Explain the purpose of the workshop aloud before actually starting activities. If your workshop is a bit complicated or includes several parts, write the rules directly on the canvas. In this way, people will always keep in mind what you expect from them.
Explain how the tool works
Even if it’s pretty easy to use, some people have never heard about it, are not in your tech department, or are not as techy as you. Yes, you will lose some precious time, but it’s a small price to pay to get great outcomes from your guests.
Thank people for being here
It can seem silly, but people actually help you by attending your workshop. They may decline other important meetings, or they will maybe stop working later than usual because of that. Again, their time is precious. The least you can do is express your gratitude.
If you work in a large company, there is a chance that your guests don’t know each other. Asking people to introduce themselves, as you would do in a regular workshop is a good way to start.
Again, nothing special from a regular workshop but starting with some icebreaker questions can help people feel more comfortable, especially if they are not used to this kind of activity. In my experience, avoid icebreakers that imply too much collaboration since it will be more difficult to do remotely, but luckily you have plenty of examples on the internet.
For a lot of us 2020 has been a year where we physically lived disconnected from others and where video conferencing took a huge place both in our personal and professional life.
What we discovered is that managing a conversion with people in different places with different internet connections is a bit harder than in real life. How many times did you start a sentence at the same time as your friend or colleague? How many times did you stop talking at the same time as your friend or colleague, waiting for their response as they were doing the same?
When owning a workshop, try to manage conversations and ask people to answer one after another. Find an order at the beginning and stick to it for each question you ask.
Thank people (again)
For some people, answering or sharing their opinion in front of others is a bigger effort than for others. Having a nice word like « thank you for sharing that » will help your guests feeling useful and more comfortable.
Like I said above, Miro has this useful feature that allows users to follow others’ pointer as they move on the canvas: it’s like a point-of-view where you see what they actually see on their screen.
To better understand what people are talking about, try to always follow their pointer and ask them to follow you when it’s your turn to talk.
Share outputs and next steps
Like any regular workshop, you will want to share what came out of this meeting, and what you’ve planned to do next.
First, because as a designer, you can never evangelize too much about your methods. It seems crazy but even in 2021, not everybody is convinced about running workshops where people stick colorful notes on a wall. As a designer, it’s your responsibility to show the value of it and how great ideas emerge from these kinds of activities.
Explain what kind of method you chose and share screenshots of what has been produced by participants.
Secondly, because stakeholders always need visibility, which you can’t blame them for. Even if they understand the value of these kinds of collaborative activities, they want to see that it was actually worth taking two hours out of five or maybe ten non-designers’ work time.
Explain why your workshop helped the project and what you will do with all these new ideas that came out.
2020 has been a challenging year where people and companies had to quickly adapt their workflow and process to remote work. Especially in our Paris office where it wasn’t really in our DNA. Personally, I will always prefer the energy of running workshops on-site with people brainstorming around the same table. But tools like Miro, which we only started to use as a temporary alternative before going back to the office, became the main pillar in our process. I talked a lot about Miro specifically during this article but of course, there are plenty of tools like Figma or Zoom which turned out to be an incredible help in delivering great work.
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