March 10, 2015

How to Supercharge Remote Collaboration

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in customer experience, experience design, digital transformation, and strategy.

Jim’s newly published book, The Jobs To Be Done Playbook, offers techniques organizations can follow to turn market insight into action.

Work is not a place, it's what you accomplish with others. Don’t let distributed teams impact your ability to get creative work done.

At MURAL, we continue to come up with innovative ways to make remote teamwork effective. We've found that online whiteboards are an excellent tool for virtual brainstorming.

Just recently, we kicked off a new project. To understand the problem and objectives better, we engaged in an activity called QuestionStorming. This is a brainstorming-like technique that encourages everyone on the team to ask as many questions as possible about the effort.

The session had three parts: preparation, collaboration and follow-up, each described below.

1. Prepare

First, the facilitator pre-populated a mural with background materials and activities. So we didn't have to waste any time configuring the mural together. This gave us an increased focus on the real-time discussion and on the content.

The facilitator set up regions on the mural using the Areas feature. Navigating with the outline feature, this then resembled a typical slide presentation explaining the nature of the exercise (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: The facilitator set-up the session with a brief overview of QuestionStorming using MURAL as a presentation tool

In addition to creating a flow for the steps of the exercises, preparation also included the creation of a challenge statement, which summarized the objectives of the project in one sentence.

2. Collaborate

Five team members joined a conference call. Three were in Buenos Aires, one in New York City, and one in San Francisco. With webcams on, we could see and hear each other with no problems.

Then we began the exercise. MURAL allows one person to broadcast their view of the mural in real-time. With this, everyone else sees exactly what that person sees, including panning and zooming. Screen sharing is no longer needed--we could view the same content together right through the browser.

After a brief warm-up and general discussion, we timeboxed an individual brainstorming segment of the session. For exactly two minutes, each person came up with as many questions as possible about the challenge statement. Each participant then reviewed their questions with the team.

We used MURAL to cluster individual input in a single space. Again, the broadcasting feature allowed the facilitator to be sure that everyone was following along. We were able to reduce all of the questions down to a couple of key take-aways.

Although we were using webcams, the labeled cursors increased the general sense of individual presence. You could really feel that others were there and contributing in real-time. This brought us closer together and enhanced the collaboration.

3. Follow Up

Because we used MURAL for the entire session, the information was already captured digitally. No typing of sticky notes was required! The team could easily and quickly return to the original session content, as well as share it with others who weren't there.

We collected feedback on the session using another virtual whiteboard. We also re-wrote the original challenge statement and captured next steps--all within MURAL.

Overall, the session was as productive as in-person collaboration.

Having distributed teammates is no longer an excuse to wait for collaborative meetings to happen face-to-face. MURAL makes remote work a whole lot easier.

If you are doing creative work with remote teams, try MURAL for results that parallel face-to-face interaction. Let us know what you think. We're always interested in hearing from you.