Remote workshopping can feel like a lofty undertaking. Not only do you have to hone your facilitation skills, but a digital setting presents new logistical challenges and technical considerations. A carefully selected set of tools can mitigate some of the major difficulties raised by remote workshops:

  • People aren’t wholly engaged or feel like their input does not matter.
    It’s easy to zone out during a phone conference with many people. If a workshop is not fully immersive, minds may start wandering, and participants may start multitasking instead of contributing, as email, or social media magnetically divert attention.
  • New tools can be intimidating and decrease participation.
    Particularly if a tool is perceived as a “design” tool, people may feel like they are being asked to perform a job outside their assigned responsibility. Even if participants may be willing to contribute to the workshop itself, they may not want to spend the time to learn a new tool.
  • People don’t have time to do a long workshop or meeting.
    Meeting fatigue can make it challenging to get another workshop on the calendar, especially when it’s remote. Sometimes teams must tack on a workshopping activity to the end of an agenda for an existing meeting. In these cases, there isn’t a whole lot of time to transition into the perfect technical setup for your workshop activity.

What You Need

Before you start researching or testing any tools, the first question to ask is: Will this workshop be synchronous or asynchronous? The answer to that question will affect the features you should look for in a tool.

Synchronous workshops (i.e., live sessions in which everyone participates at the same time) are good for getting an activity done quickly and efficiently. For these, you will need:

  • Time on the calendar
  • Videoconferencing: In your calendar invitation, you should include video conferencing information, so people can see each other and communicate in real-time. (The video feed will also increase accountability, preventing people from multitasking.)
  • Collaborative Tool: You will need a place to collect insights and observations and a place for people to jot down their own contributions, in real-time or as close to real-time as possible.

Asynchronous workshops (in which people will contribute independently, on their own time) are best suited for teams who have too many competing meetings or for workshops where a quick outcome isn’t necessary. For these, you will need:

  • A deadline by which the project should be completed: Procrastination is the bane of nonlive collaboration. If you can always do it tomorrow, you’ll never get it done —unless there’s a deadline.
  • Collaborative Tool: You still need a place where people can submit their insights and observations. Version control (or an ability to see change history) is important.

That said, the common denominator in all remote UX workshops is the digital collaborative tool to create a collective output. In this article, we discuss this type of tool.

Features to Consider in Digital Collaboration Tools

Depending on the type of workshop you are running, you will have different goals and different kinds of UX deliverables to produce. Here are the tool features needed for various types of workshops.

Generative Workshops

Activities: affinity diagramming, empathy mapping, ideation, need statements
Goal: Generate and organize a high volume of contributions (observations, ideas, insights)

Features to look for:

  • Visually organize large quantities of “flat” information
    These workshops involve generating a lot of information with little-to-no hierarchy. You will want a way to organize and make sense of this information without assigning priorities.  Therefore, avoid list-based applications, and instead, opt for applications which can create webbed diagrams showing relationships between items (maps, diagrams, charts).
  • Easy to modify, reposition, and edit
    The harder it is to edit or modify a diagram, the more that changes to a diagram will feel “final.” As a result, people will feel anxious or tense about their contributions. To encourage creativity and a high volume of contributions, use a tool that can quickly and easily modify, reposition, or reword any item or group of items. Applications with drag–and–drop functionality are particularly good for this purpose.

Examples of applications (by tool complexity):

  • Low complexity: Google Draw, Google Slides, Microsoft Powerpoint (Office 365)
  • Medium complexity: Visio, Sketch
  • High complexity: Mural, MIRO

Evaluative Workshops

Activities: dot voting, prioritization matrices, backlog prioritization
Goal: Narrow down, assess, and prioritize a set of items

Features to look for:

  • Voting capabilities:
    • Ensure voting is not only possible, but democratic.
      While voting can be done in many ways (via annotations or comments, upvoting, shapes as markers) you should ensure that votes are truly democratic — that they do not vary in size, shape, color, or importance based on role or seniority.
    • Depending on the subject matter, you may want anonymity.
      If a topic is sensitive or high stakes, anonymity might be important to maintain team harmony and avoid retribution. You may need to incorporate other tools (such as a survey or a form) to ensure anonymity.
  • Prioritization capabilities:
    • Visualize resulting priorities. (e.g., matrix format or list of scores)
      This capability will allow teams to visualize the priorities established by voting. However, keep in mind that, if you are limited on time, you can have participants cast votes or provide input via other means, then that input can be placed into a matrix format after the workshop and updated asynchronously. If you’re using a backlog to manage work, consider incorporating it into the workshop, if appropriate. As votes or evaluations come in, you can update the backlog to reflect the input from your team, thus increasing efficiency and removing redundancy in deliverables.

Examples of applications (by tool complexity):

  • Low complexity:  Survey tools (like SurveyMonkey, CrowdSignal, or Google Forms);
  • Medium complexity: Discussion boards or social applications (Yammer, Google Groups, Slack) or your tool for managing your backlog
  • High complexity: Mural, MIRO (which both have templates for prioritization matrices); Google Draw, Google Slides, Microsoft Powerpoint (Office 365) (which will require you to create a template before starting)

Mapping Workshops

Activities: journey mapping, experience mapping, business process modeling notation (BPMN), service blueprinting
Goal: Map a user journey or business process across a series of steps or phases

Features to look for:

  • Quickly align and add rows/columns
    When mapping, you will want a tool that can quickly align items and keep them aligned when new objects are added. For this reason, a spreadsheet is a surprisingly good tool: it does all the alignment and movement for you while keeping your team focused on the content of the map, rather than on the design of the map.
  • Nest objects inside each other (i.e., scaling service blueprints and journey maps)
    This capability is not crucial for real-time workshops, as it can eat up valuable time, but it can make a big difference in asynchronous workshops because it helps provide context and enables people to reference related research and other deliverables.

Examples of applications (by tool complexity):

  • Low complexity: Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel (Office 365)
  • Medium complexity: Visio, Sketch
  • High complexity: Mural, Smaply, MIRO 

Factors that Impact Your Choice of Collaboration Tool

There is no cure-all for remote workshopping — your choice in tools will vary depending not only on the workshop activity but on your organizational needs. The following factors will help you determine which tool makes the most sense for your workshop and your team.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

As stated earlier, synchronous workshops require participants to be present, and actively participate during a scheduled session. Thus, having multiple contributors provide input and edit in real-time will be a higher-priority feature than a nice template that nests deliverables.

On the other hand, running an asynchronous workshop will mean participants will show up to the workshopping tool with very little context or setup, so they will need the ability to establish that context with links to other deliverables, or use annotations or commenting to ask questions or clarify their thoughts in lieu of a live discussion.

Tool Complexity 

Some tools have incredible UX-diagramming capabilities and templates — but are complex and difficult to learn. If your team has a long-term goal of increasing the number of workshops and mapping activities, then it could be worth the time investment to learn these tools. That investment in time can bolster the quality of output. 

However, if you do not have time and most people on your team do not currently use these tools, it may be more work than it’s worth to train everyone so they can participate in a workshop. Especially if you are just starting to do remote workshops, you should limit any barriers to participating. This approach will help you get buy-in early and will bring momentum to your UX workshopping practice. When in doubt, the best tools to start with are those that you and your team already know how to use. ­


In the absence of funding, you can easily make universal productivity applications work for you and your team. There are Google Suite and Microsoft Office templates out there for common UX deliverables. However, as your deliverables get more complex, the time needed to create them without specialized tools will increase (and time is money — money that your organization spends on you creating deliverables instead of on skills you were originally hired to use).


You don’t have to rely only on in-person workshops to generate and evaluate insights or to map a complex process. You also don’t have to shell out a ton of money to start making these happen. Chances are that the best tool for your remote workshop happens to be one you’ve been using all along. Keep it simple and remember: the most important step of remote workshopping is to start doing it!