Remote OKR workshops—How to succeed in the virtual world

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So far, the 2020s have shaken up the entire world, both on a private and business level. Almost every job that takes place mainly in front of a computer screen can be done virtually. This requires certain adjustments. Even in the area of OKRs, in which collaboration is essential, certain changes can be expected within the organization. OKR Coaches can tell you a thing or two about that. In this article, we will show you how you can conduct OKR workshops in virtual settings, what matters most when doing so and, when prepared properly, how they can be just as effective as face-to-face meetings.

The right start with remote OKR workshops—a look at the big picture

If the term OKR is not yet a familiar term for a company, preparation and first steps should first focus on understanding and learning about OKR tools. With that said, it is important to look at the big picture and keep the overarching goals of the organization in mind. After all, OKRs are a strategy execution tool. That is why it is important to consider both strategy creation and skill development from the very start.

Organization and arrangements in the preparation phrase

In order to know where the organization stands and what is expected of the OKR Coach, it is advisable to collect all important information regarding company goals and an understanding of the OKRs from company leadership and responsible managers.

You can also provide your workshop participants with preparatory tasks to work on. This can help everybody get in the right mindset for the workshop. Although, this is only recommended when several previous remote OKR workshops have been conducted and everyone knows what to expect. If it is the company’s first workshop, it is best to give out tasks to the participants during the meeting.

The technical setup for a remote OKR workshop

Even more important is the technical support for the meeting’s virtual setting, especially when it involves more than ten participants. In this case, it is common to have groups working together in parallel through individual breakout rooms. With MS Teams or Zoom, Coaches have a fantastic infrastructure on hand. However, it is not always possible to set up these separate rooms. This makes having a host, who can be there to provide support throughout the entire workshop, invaluable. If it is not possible to incorporate such a person, we recommend including the Objective Owner, who can be responsible for organizing an instant meeting for each individual group and return to the main meeting room after an agreed upon amount of time.

Planning enough time for your remote OKR workshop

The higher up a workshop participant is in their company’s hierarchy, the more difficult it can be to find a free slot in their schedule. Although, even operative team members can often be hard to get a hold of. That is why time management is essential when preparing a remote OKR workshop. Make sure to plan enough lead time for the organization of the workshop—at least three weeks—so that all team members are able to take part.

It is also important to keep in mind that preparing and conducting a remote workshop is somewhat different than an onsite event. Both the group dynamic and attention span of participants will be different. In a virtual scenario, guidance from the OKR Coach is more important. Below, we have put together an organization framework broken down into three modules for you. 

Setting up your remote OKR workshop

A structured OKR workshop setup can help you as a Coach best utilize the time you have. The following three modules can help you calculate the time needed.

Module A: Creating the foundation for Objectives

In this module, participants should reflect on the previous quarter.

  • What went well? 
  • What could be improved?
  • What activities should be scaled down?
  • What activities can and should be continued?

The strategic priorities for the goal setting is then discussed and a brainstorming session for suitable Objectives conducted. To ensure the brainstorming session does not get out of hand, a limit to how many Sticky Notes each participant can use can be set. This will help them focus on the most important aspects.

In the next step, the team should focus on up to five topics that will form the foundation of the upcoming goal drafting. This task is then taken over by the Objective Owners, which is carried out in the aforementioned breakout rooms and then presented. If the feedback is positive, the groups can start to draft the Objectives and Key Results or the goals can be reworked once more.

The maximum duration of this remote workshop module should be approximately three hours.

Module B: Defining the Key Results for the Objectives

Are the goals set? Perfect. The next step can begin.

Tip: Send the time blocker for the Module B meeting together with Module A to the team members. This will help ensure that the work continues promptly following the goal setting phase. No more than one week should pass between conducting Module A and B.

In Module B, the groups from the previous week should focus on completing their OKRs. That means they should establish the added value for the customers and Key Results with concrete outcomes should be defined for the Objectives. This task should also be conducted by the Objective Owners and should require approximately one hour. These will then be presented and discussed in the main meeting room in Module C.

Module C: Presenting the (almost final) OKRs

As just described, the third and final module focuses on presenting the defined OKRs. It should take place approximately one week after Module B. These discussions can often get quite lively. To help bring order into the discussion, you as an OKR Coach can ask specific questions to help team members stay focused on the essentials.

  • What exactly needs to be adjusted?
  • Who else may be needed for the adjustment and final agreement?

Both these and other additional questions can help bring focus into a discussion. The discussed and finalized OKRs should then be documented in a central location that all members have access to. This way, they are available for later meetings when progress is being reviewed. Having a central hub can help teams on different company levels better identify if and where dependencies are occurring and work together in a targeted manner.

OKR tools, such as Workpath, can help you transparently document and track your OKRs.

The duration of the final module should take approximately one hour per four OKRs.

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Getting into the OKR Cycle!

Working with OKRs, even on a virtual level, does not stop after the development phase. Instead, it really comes into effect when the entire team starts living them at the same time. The execution of the defined goals should be reviewed regularly to see when corrections should be made. This takes place in the OKR Cycle.  

Update goals in team Check-ins

With the OKR Cycle, regular team Check-ins—also moderated by the OK Coach—are conducted. If you would like to learn more about Check-ins, you can read more here.

These meetings allow teams to discuss and evaluate all activities connected to their work with the goal-setting method. The rhythm of these meetings is essential. With weekly meetings, there may not be enough new information to discuss, which can lead to the meetings being viewed as annoying or a waste of time. With monthly team Check-ins, you run the risk of missing out on short-term opportunities for changes. That is why these meetings should take place approximately every two weeks. The duration of the meetings need not exceed 20 minutes.

Time management is an essential component for team Check-ins. Team members should strictly adhere to the allotted time to ensure discussions do not get off track. Any questions that go over this allotted time should be discussed in follow-ups.

Responding to the challenges of a remote OKR workshop

Of course, not everything will always run according to plan and individual challenges, which will await you as an OKR coach, should be expected. You may have to respond to these spontaneously or in advance.

Oftentimes, workshop participants come from different organizational sub-teams as well as being located in different parts of the world and in different time zones. It may also not always be possible to have the support of another OKR Coach. In these cases, the aforementioned modules can be adjusted slightly. 

It is possible to start with small circles of select participants. Short half-hour or hour long meetings with each respective manager, whose managers are from the direct reporting line, and selected subject-matter experts from sub-teams, can be held. These meetings can help define the conditions of the framework and the foundation for the first five OKRs can be determined. On this basis, five different working groups can be created, each further developing one OKR.

The process then continues with the goal-setting workshop as well as the feedback and finalization rounds. In this way, the modules are ultimately divided up more subtly to align management for the entire remote OKR workshop to the global circumstances as flexible as possible.

Ready for your own remote OKR workshop?

As you can see, working with globally-distributed teams requires a bit of organization in order for everything to function properly. But with the tips provided here, you will be well prepared for your own remote OKR workshop.

Do you have any feedback or suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment in our feedback box (see below). This will help us create even better content for you and your work with OKRs.