Mural MasterClass: facilitating remote workshops

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
April 16, 2018
Mural MasterClass: facilitating remote workshops
Written by 
Jim Kalbach
April 16, 2018

MURAL offers training on a variety of topics, from remote design thinking to how to use MURAL with multiple devices.

In March 2018, we held the first public version of our course “Facilitating Remote Workshops,” summarized below. Contact us about it at

The nature of work is in a state of transition. Collaborating with remote teammates has always been necessary, but the need has increased over the last 5 years. Not only can distributed teams be as productive as co-located groups, they must be so.

Right now we need courageous facilitators to broker dialogues between stakeholders. With preparation, conducting remote workshops can be as productive as running them in person.

But effective remote collaboration requires a mindset shift. This takes practice and patience, as Doug Powell, Distinguished Designer at IBM, told us:

“Changing team behavior doesn't happen in a single meeting. Give it some time. Learn and adapt."

MURAL is committed to helping distributed teams work better. To that end, we created and launched a special MasterClass series to teach essential facilitation skills. It has provided a safe place for a group of eager facilitators to come together, learn new skills, and share stories.

Along with 25 facilitators from a range of companies - IBM, AT&T, EY, SAP, and more - we held our first public version of this MasterClass in March 2018. The participants learned how to set up and execute effective sessions with dispersed teams. Below is a description of what we did together.


Remote sessions tend to be shorter than in-person meetings. To make the most of your together-time, work asynchronously ahead of time.

For this first MasterClass, we assigned tasks one week in advance. The participants had to respond to a few prompts in a mural with text and images. Depending on the workshop, facilitators may send research reports, prototypes, engagement data, or external learning material in advance to ensure people join with the same baseline knowledge.

Example email to participants prior to the workshop

Keep in mind that some participants will not do the pre-work. Remind them often (we sent 3 reminders), and reach out directly to people who didn’t complete the exercise. But, don’t shame those who come unprepared - it’s a balance between building engagement and respecting personal boundaries.

In remote workshops, it’s imperative to get participants comfortable with the technology. Our partner Holly Noto at XPLANE suggests,

“find a safe and fun way to introduce users to the tools, for instance, with a quick warm-up exercise. Help them gain confidence with the functionality and excitement for using the tools.”

Good advice, Holly!

For this session, we first described the tools we were using briefly and assigned each a function. For instance, we used Zoom conferencing software for the audio, video, and screen sharing. To simplify things, we also used the Zoom chat for instant messaging. Of course, MURAL provided the platform for visual collaboration.


Strategize for different team sizes and configurations. In our case, all 25 participants dialed in from their workplaces. With fully remote teams larger than about 12 people, it’s difficult to have a single group discussion. Taking turns one by one is also time consuming: if participants get just two minutes to share something, that’s still nearly an hour for everyone to speak.

Instead, our facilitators reviewed the results of the pre-work survey and were able to reflect back the thoughts and feelings of the group in about 5 minutes. Then we asked for any additional participant commentary via audio or chat. In general, it’s important to build connections with each other and with the facilitators.

Pre-work: Get people to leave the tools by introducing themselves

Engaging remote participants in different ways is important. Simply listening to a presentation or others discussing a topic leads to a drop-off in attention. Within the first hour, we incorporated a poll and a short hands-on exercise in MURAL. We also posed several open questions for the participants to answer in the chat.

After the introduction and initial exploration of topics, we opted to use breakout groups for our most in-depth activity. This can be tricky with a remote team because most video conferencing subscriptions only allow for one active meeting at a time, but there is a simple fix. Set up a quick separate webinar call for each break-out group using your team’s different conferencing software accounts (or different conferencing software altogether - if your main call is taking place in Skype, invite your breakout group to a Google Hangouts session).

Fortunately, some video conferencing options like Zoom and WebEx also come with a built-in breakout group functionality. With a single button, the software assigns people to a separate audio and video channel where they can speak directly. We grouped participants in advance to ensure each group had a mix of backgrounds and expertise. While one facilitator introduced the breakout activity, another began separating out the pre-defined groups in Zoom. (It’s also a good practice to give everyone a 5-minute break before you start the breakout activity timer.)

Break-out groups working in different parts of the same mural

A MURAL facilitator was present in each of the 4 breakout groups and maintained communication through our company messaging tool, Slack. We shared whether we felt our groups were on track to complete the activity, any technical problems that arose, and shared tips for directing group conversations to key points. We provided the breakout groups with 40 minutes to complete their activity, then asked one member from each group to spend 3 minutes or less sharing their completed product.

Reviewing everyone’s work after break-out groups


Defining clear next steps and having people actually act on their learnings is a perennial pain point with any workshop. You probably already knew that.

In our MasterClass, the final hands-on activity we completed asked participants to identify what they were most excited to act upon and one thing they would teach another digital collaborator. Strive to build accountability in your sessions by democratizing next steps and assigning responsibilities throughout the session. MURAL’s built-in idea prioritization frameworks and voting feature are ideal tools to wrap up your sessions.

Prioritize your work and assign owners to wrap up


Our MasterClass on Facilitating Remote Workshops is available for your teams now. The class will help you to gain:

  • Practical skills for collaborating online both as a facilitator and participant
  • Confidence in running remote workshops with your own stakeholders
  • The ability to teach others how to work visually and creatively online

The session is best suited for people who have a basic understanding of how to use MURAL, work predominantly with dispersed teams, and are hoping to improve teamwork and their overall quality of work.

If you're interested in improving your team's ability to work at a distance, please contact us at or

About the authors

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.

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