Running Remote Workshops Successfully: A 3-Step Primer

Nothing quite feels the same as real face-to-face time with people—but when you have a dispersed workforce, figuring out how to collaborate effectively despite the distance becomes an imperative.

When it comes to facilitating brainstorming workshops, this can be especially important to get right. Just because everyone’s body isn’t in the same room doesn’t mean their brains can’t be!

My experience managing a team with people in California, Tennessee, Argentina, and the U.K. has taught me a few things about taking everything we love about collaborative, creative workshopping and doing it with people around the world—and it’s not as hard as you might think.

 

Step 1: Be Thoughtful About Your Setup

A huge amount of the success of a workshop that includes remote participants hinges on getting the tech setup right so that everyone can focus on each other instead of frustrating logistics. If running meetings with tools like Google Hangouts is new to you or your participants, this is especially true.

Some basic considerations to help things go smoothly include:

  • Be conscious of time zone differences. When everyone is in the same room, an all-day workshop might make sense. But with when your 5pm is their midnight, things aren’t going to go well. Splitting a focused session up is not only considerate, but can be beneficial in giving people time to sleep on ideas and come back refreshed.
  • Make sure the meeting link is included in the event invitation. This is very easy to do with Google Calendar. Including your agenda and support docs in the event is also very helpful for folks to find what they need fast before, during, and after the workshop.
  • Ensure remote participants have access to digital versions of anything you’ll be passing out during the meeting. This means setting up the access permissions and sharing links before they join. You can even ask them to print materials if you’re including activities that involve hand-writing responses.
  • Reserve a room for people joining from other office locations (so they don't have to join from their desk or a noisy shared working space). This ensures they’ll be able to hear and be heard and helps to create that “getting out of our usual environment” feel you want to fuel creative thinking.
  • Test out your audio and visual connections in the room you’ll be using. Ideally, the video should allow the remote team member to feel like they are sitting at the table, so pay attention to how the camera is positioned and how in-person participants are seated. You don’t want backs to the camera or far-away and muffled voices.
     

Step 2: Create a Level Playing Field

Right up top, it’s important for everyone to be on board with the idea that team members joining remotely are just as valuable to this workshop as those in the room.

  • Start with connection. Besides basic role-sharing introductions among a cross-functional team, you can tap into the power of human connection by sharing something a bit more vulnerable, like what you're grateful for that day.
  • Disconnect from distractions. At the beginning of any workshop, I like to ask everyone to close their laptops* and put away their mobile phones. Since remote participants are using their computer to connect, it helps to ask them to close any email/chat tabs so they can be just as fully present.
  • Non-verbal cues are key. Remote participants should ideally have their videos on throughout the workshop so that their non-verbal queues can be read (give them a head's up about this expectation ahead of time so they don't feel pressured into an unwanted pajama party). Similarly, unless you have a large number of remote participants, I like to encourage folks to keep their mics unmuted—this allows for informal feedback (“hmmm” and “uhuh” type responses) to create a more natural connection with the group.
  • Explicitly invite input from remote members. As a remote participant, speaking up can be difficult since in-person participants might not see your non-verbal queues of having something to say. As a facilitator, if someone joining remotely hasn’t spoken up in a while, invite them to weigh in on the discussion. This can help that person feel included in the conversation and remind any in-person participants to check in with their online colleagues.
  • Pay attention to the clock. Time-boxing activities using an alarm everyone on the call can hear helps focus activities. Equally as important is making sure to take regular breaks—and be clear about when to return (e.g., "Let's take a 10 minute break and restart at 11:13."). 

* Having laptops in the room, however, can be really useful for breaking up into smaller groups by connecting on separate Hangout connections. 

 

Step 3: Get Creative with Traditionally Analogue Activities

There’s nothing I love more than a well-structured activity to get people engaged and talking with one another. When everyone is physically together, this often involves a lot of sticky notes and whiteboarding (sound familiar?). Initially, this can feel difficult to duplicate with remote participants, but some simple adjustments can help.

One lesson learned: video of whiteboarding is almost entirely useless. It’s hard to write big enough for notes to be clear and video comes through fuzzy when people are moving around in front of the board to write. I wouldn’t recommend it—but don't worry, there are equally effective alternatives!

Sticky note-based activities are great because they can help people generate lots of focused ideas without worrying much about structure or if the concept is completely thought out. While there are online tools available for more directly replicating this super helpful and beloved analogue activity, these tools can often be more work than they’re worth (you spend all your time trying to use it instead of focusing on the brainstorm itself).

Instead, use a low-tech tool that mirrors the idea of casual sharing—like a Google Doc, Sheets, or Drawing. I actually love to blend the analogue with the digital by having all participants generate ideas on sticky notes, then verbally share their thoughts while one designated note taker writes everything out on a shared doc, which the group can also vote on. There’s the added benefit of having instantly sharable documentation of your discussion.

One element that I still find tough to replicate with remote teams is the “hallway conversation”—the discussion that happens as people filter out of a meeting room after the workshop or run into one another at lunch the next day. But spending this dedicated time together in a workshop setting builds connection beyond that workshop time, which can be paired with great tools like Slack to facilitate an ongoing conversation.

Ultimately, with some creative planning and consideration, remote workshops can be a total success for your team to grow together.

6 Tips for Scaling Support Content Globally

One of the most uncomfortable moments in a breakout session any time I attend a U.S. content-focused conference is when some brave soul asks the question, "So how do you scale this outside the U.S.?"

The answer is very often, "We don't."

But when it comes to support content in particular, your localized help center is very often one of the lowest cost options for entering a new/emerging market with your product or service. And if done well, it can be extremely effective for establishing your brand, understanding your users, and creating a great self-service support foundation.

This blog post assumes you'll be using third-party translation vendors, as most larger companies do. I'll be writing a followup post about how to determine if this is the right path for your company and content.

 

1. Leverage local teams.

Marketing teams are often the first boots on the ground—they're there to drum up excitement, build relationships with customers, and learn what will work in this specific locale. That makes them a phenomenal resource for figuring out what your self-service customers will need first.

Connect with those teams early to set yourself up for translation success:

  • Ask for a review of your localized voice and tone guide as well as your translated glossary of terms. These are the kinds of resources your translation vendors will use when they start working with your content.
  • Request a review of translated content. Using a structured rubric is key here—you'll want to ask about distinct areas like grammar/punctuation, product accuracy, localized brand voice and tone, and terminology. You might have a translator nailing it with voice and tone but being inconsistent with terminology—you want to make sure to get structured feedback to correct the specific shortfalls.
  • Find out what content local customers need most. Your customers outside the U.S. are likely to have many of the same support needs as your domestic customers, especially in sister markets like Canada. But there will also be features that are uniquely important (or don't apply at all) that deserve special attention—think anything related to payments, taxes, and privacy to start with. Your local teams can give you more insight on specific functionality their markets want so you can focus on that support content first.

 

2. Copy and paste common phrases.

Consistency is key when it comes to keeping translations high-quality, low-cost, and with quick turnaround.

On top of that, having a glossary of frequently used instructional phrases makes creating new source content easier internally because you won't have to recreate the wheel each time you write an article. (Check out TextExpander to create a shared database of phases you can call into content with keyboard shortcuts.)

For example, on the Eventbrite help center, this is one of our most commonly used first steps:

After logging in and creating an event, click or tap on your event from the Manage Events page, then select "Manage."

Prior to standardizing how we wrote this instruction, there were lots of variations of it, like:

Click on your event on the manage page.

Go to your event in the manage tab. 

Click Manage Events and find your event.

All of these phrases convey the same intent, but do so in completely different ways. If we used all four phrases across four different articles, we'd pay for each string's translation and end up with four distinct ways of saying the very same thing.

Keep it simple: spend time figuring out the best possible phrase, then stick with it.

Consistency pays off for customers beyond just localization—when you're creating support content, patterns help your users skip the irrelevant steps more confidently and focus on just what they need. Your goal isn't to have them read each precious word you've written—it's getting them their answer quickly and painlessly.

 

3. Borrow from similar languages.

Not all English languages are created equal—but the content might be 98% equal, and it's hard to justify keeping up half a dozen different versions of English help centers for the difference in "flavor" versus "flavour." The same issue comes up for any country that colonized around the world—European Spanish and Central/South America, European Portuguese and Brasil, etc.

Rather than giving yourself a content maintenance nightmare, use some simple find-and-replace logic. How you implement this will depend on what content management system you're using (and how much control you have over it), but essentially these are the steps:

  1. Determine your master language. For English, ours was U.S. English. Since Eventbrite has offices in Argentina, we're also using Argentinian Spanish as the master Spanish.
    • Canadian French is an exception to this practice—it's significantly different from European French, so we treat it as its own locale.
  2. Set up your other countries' help centers to pull the master language unless something has been published for that locale. For example:
    • The article "How much does it cost for organizers to use Eventbrite?" has a version published in U.S. English and U.K. English. That's because the detailed answer to this question varies a lot between the two locales (our fees are different and currency varies as well).
    • The article "How to set up discount codes" has a version published in U.S. English. The feature works the same everywhere, so the U.K. help center simply pulls the U.S. article since we didn't create a unique version for the U.K.
  3. Important! Build out exceptions to the rules and do so mindfully. This allows the source content to appear localized by TLD without all the extra work of creating individual articles. For example:
    • Set up your find-and-replace logic to find words like "organizer" and change it to "organiser" for the U.K. locale. 
    • Be careful with words like "cheque"—as a noun, the find-and-replace logic works fine for the U.K. locale. But as a verb, you don't want users to see "Cheque your inbox."

 

4. Use segmentation in Google Analytics.

If you're working on content in a locale you already serve, the segmentation feature in Google Analytics is your friend (you do have Google Analytics installed, right? If not, go do that immediately—more on why that's super duper important at the end of this article).

Google Analytics is like an angel sent from prioritization-based-on-data heaven. You'll quickly be able to understand how much of your user base is domestic and how much isn't—and proportion your resources accordingly:

All you need to do to generate this report is pick a timeframe and go to Behavior>Site Content>All Pages. Then add a segment (detailed instructions here, straight from the fine folks at Google's support team). That's it: you'll see countries compared against one another to understand relative priority (more on that below).

Important Note: These segments are based on where a user is located when they access your content—not which top level domain (TLD) or language they chose to access. We definitely see users in Germany access English help center articles. But in general, this is great directional data.

Bonus: This report is especially nice to run when a language spans multiple countries. For example, when we want to understand German language content needs, we pull in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

 

5. Give your global users a feedback channel.

I've written about the importance of collecting article feedback before, and the same principles apply across a multi-language system. Since your non-U.S. audiences are likely to be smaller (for U.S.-based companies), paying attention to what's getting the most user feedback is especially important.

You can use Google Translate to get a rough idea of any article feedback provided in languages you don't speak (for example, maybe a customer is just reporting that an image or link is broken—you can probably fix this without speaking a word of Dutch).

I'd also strongly suggest using a "request this translation" feature if you aren't translating 100% of your English source content. You can allow users to access the URL for their TLD with a message letting them know you're providing the English content because their requested locale isn't available—but they can ask for the translation.

At Eventbrite, this is a simple email request system—an email template clarifying the content title and requested language is sent to an alias for our content team to handle. Receiving messages like this helps us understand what content is in demand in a particular locale. 

Since we translate most content, we don't get these emails too often and therefore we haven't built out a more robust request system—but if you want to take a conservative approach on what you'll translate, a system like this can really help you know what to focus on.

 

6. Prioritize what gets worked on.

If you care about customer experience outside your primary U.S. market (and I'm assuming you do since you're reading this), one of the hard truths to swallow is that your secondary markets simply won't get the same amount of resourcing as your primary market.

The ideal might be to get these locales to "U.S. quality," but if the market represents 2% of your help center user base, it's hard to justify spending the same amount of time or money on that content.

All of these tips are meant to help you stretch your resources further for your customers around the world—but at the end of the day, the best way to make sure you're doing the best possible job is to make sure you have a solid way of prioritizing what gets attention. At Eventbrite, we consider:

  • Issue sensitivity. Any content that covers topics like money or legal issues floats to the top of our hit list. You do not want to mess that up.
  • Pageviews. We look at global performance of our articles to determine the top articles our customers need. At one point I looked at the top articles across all of our locales and there was so much overlap in what trended as important that just 20 total articles covered every country's top 5 articles.
  • Customer feedback. If you're getting a lot of article votes and/or feedback, bump that content higher on your priority list.
  • Content age. The older an article gets, the more likely it's in need of an update. You'll have to judge "how old is too old" based on how much your product or service has changed.

Prioritization is even more important if you're thinking about localizing screenshots, which can be a massive amount of work if you don't have an automated system for it. One way my team mitigates this is by ensuring that our screenshots are always as focused as possible—we don't show the entire user interface if we're only referring to a third of what's on that page. We show enough context to be clear while restricting what's shown as much as possible since the product changes constantly. And we reuse screenshots as much as instructional phrases to ensure upkeep is manageable across the board.

 

Localization is a balancing game, and the most important thing is having an equally strong sense of global customer experience standards combined with a strong sense of what's logistically viable. Without the former, your customers end up feeling deliberately second-rate and without the latter, you'll never stop throwing money at a problem. Fight for both and you can win the world over.

 

Help Center Article Ratings: Do They Matter?

You've partnered with product managers and marketers to create benefit-driven documentation on a shiny new feature set. Support gurus have given you feedback on your troubleshooting tips and screenshots. Maybe you've even done some usability testing on your instructions with a customer.

But a month later, when you check in to see how your article is doing, your heart drops when you see a 23% customer satisfaction rating. What the heck went wrong?

I've been there. Content strategists at Google, Twitter, SurveyMonkey, and Airbnb have been there.

We're all facing the same struggle: how do we determine if our help center content is working?

Most out-of-the box help center setups (like Desk.com or Zendesk) include an article rating feature. Sounds great, right? Let your customers tell if you if your content is good or not!

Except here's the thing:

  • Votes skew negative. Anyone who's been on the Internet knows that angry folks are far likelier to air their opinions than satisfied people. On top of that, users who get their answer by step 4 of 10 have little incentive to scroll to the bottom of your article, where voting modules typically live. 
  • Most article voting systems are binary. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Smiley face or frowny face. Most rating systems are a simple yes or no vote (although some companies, like Facebook, have incorporated scaled satisfaction systems). This limits what you can learn about why content works or doesn't.
  • It's hard to achieve statistical relevance. Even with hundreds of thousands of help center sessions every month, at Eventbrite we still only see single-digit percentages of customers who vote on our content. 

So what's a support content creator to do? 

 

Don't require login for article voting.

An authenticated help center can drastically improve your customer's experience with features like content personalization and recommendations.

But requiring a login—or worse, requiring a login to a special support-only account separate from their product account (I'm looking at you, Squarespace)—severely limits the amount of valuable customer insight you could be using to improve your content.

Opening up your feedback modules to any visitors will help you get more of the feedback you need to understand article improvement opportunities.

 

Ask the right question.

There's a very real (and important) difference between these seemingly similar feedback questions:

  • Was this article helpful?
  • Did this article answer your question?

The first option is the most common phrasing, but the second option will help you understand your content's success better.

Why? Put yourself in your customer's shoes—just because an article was helpful, doesn't mean it gave them what they needed or wanted. 

As content creators, it feels good to get those positive votes from customers—but it robs us of really understanding if our content leads to customer resolution, which is what should really matter.

 

Structure how you're collecting customer feedback. 

Even if it's skewed to the negative, customer feedback is an absolute goldmine if you're collecting it the right way. The problem with simple voting, however, is it provides zero insight on why an article has failed.

Sometimes you can use your best content judgment to know what to change—but you'd be surprised how often it's hard to know what's wrong (for example, 5-10% of our customer feedback is about product functionality and feature requests, so we pass that customer feedback to the product team). Why guess if you can know?

Open feedback fields are great for getting specific feedback in your customers' own words—but buckets of feedback types can make it easier for customers to give more insight with minimal effort. 

 

Use directional signals.

Maybe you have an article that has always just sat at a sad 31% customer satisfaction rating. You've eventually come to accept that this rating is going to stay pretty low unless your product changes—something you may or may not have control over.

What you can do, however, is understand how this rating fluctuates over time. At ratings this low, you should pay attention to even small fluctuations if there have been product changes, seasonal trends, or big updates to content.

In other words, don't worry too much if this article is at 31% month after month. Raise an eyebrow if it all of a sudden drops to 17%.

 

Compare content performance against support cases.

A full-picture view of the customer experience is more valuable than a single article rating metric.

The Eventbrite team uses article ratings primarily for insight on what needs attention and for specific customer feedback so we don't spin our wheels guessing what to fix.

But when it comes to understanding bottom-line success, we cross-reference article metrics with inbound support cases.

  • At a high level, we compare overall help center sessions to the number of contacts our support team gets.
  • For more specific content, we compare article views to cases tagged with a specific contact driver classification.

We also look at the next page path from the article—specifically, what percentage of users on the article go to our contact form next—as a sign of success or failure at resolving customer issues with content.

 

This triangulated way of examining article performance—directional success rates, structured and open-ended customer feedback, and performance against support trends—is how my team looks for self-service success.

What methods does your team use to determine article success?