How to schedule remote workshops

The five rules for scheduling UX workshops kind of assume you’re running a workshop where everyone is in the same time zone, if not actually in the same room. All of those rules go right out the window once you try to schedule a remote workshop with participants in different time zones.

For remote workshops where you have participants in different time zones,you have to try and schedule time during everyone’s workday.

If you assume an 8 hour work day, and you need three hours for a workshop, then you can safely schedule across time zones whose difference is five hours or less. The math is pretty straightforward: 8 hour days minus a 3 hour workshop leaves 5 hours to spend moving across time zones.

Let's say you're on the East Coast. Per our five rules, you can schedule workshops anytime during the eight hours from 9-5, Tuesday through Thursday. 

Let’s say you want to add someone on the West Coast, they are three hours away. That means you now only have a five hour window in which to schedule workshops. Instead of from 9-5, Tuesday through Thursday, you can only schedule from 12-5. (That's 9-2 on the West Coast.) The math works like this: 8 hour work day minus 3 hours to move from the East to the West coast leaves 5 potential hours for a workshop.

Now, let’s say you want to add someone in London. London is eight hours ahead of the West coast of the U.S. Now our math doesn’t work.: 8 hour work day minus 8 hours to move from London to the West coast leaves 0 potential hours for a workshop.

Your next option is to ask people to stay late or come in early. Let's say people on the West Coast will come in a hour early (cause they're used to ESTers booking meetings too early) and the Brits will stay an hour late (because the pubs don't really kick off till 7-ish), then now your math has two more hours: 10 hour work day minus 8 hours to move from London to the West coast leaves 2 potential hours for a workshop.

If you’re unable to get everyone in the same room for the right amount of time, then you’re stuck with running identical sessions at different times. 

One of the key elements of workshop magic is the way it brings everyone together to share, discuss, and decide collaboratively at the same time. If you have to run multiple sessions at different times, then you’re reducing how effectively the workshops help you align your stakeholders.

To counter this unfortunate turn, you will need to synthesize the results of each workshop and present back to both groups. Far from ideal, but workable. And, in my experience, global organizations have become comfortable with the fuzziness that comes from teams working asynchronously. So there’s that.

Shine on you crazy diamond.