Solving Healthcare Challenges with Remote Design Thinking Workshops | UpTop Health

How to Run a Successful Design Thinking Workshop — Remotely

Over the past year, COVID-19 forced many healthcare organizations to transition abruptly to remote work. While the technology exists to support virtual teamwork, many businesses have struggled to collaborate effectively and sustain momentum in a virtual context. That’s especially true when it comes to collaborating with an external design partner to generate new ideas and IT solutions.

After all, collaborative design work has traditionally been a face-to-face activity. And rightly so. When teams meet in person, they can quickly build rapport, collaborate organically, and “read the room” to flexibly adjust course as needed. Move those same activities to a Brady Bunch grid of little faces on a laptop screen, and the barriers to innovative collaboration can seem overwhelming.

But with the right partner to guide you it is possible to recreate the magic of in-person ideation in a remote context. At UpTop Health, we’ve worked diligently to translate our services — including our design thinking workshop — to a virtual setting in a way that promotes connection, collaboration, and out-of-the-box thinking. Here’s how.

What is a Design Thinking Workshop?

Our design thinking workshop is a critical step in our UX Strategy Sprint, the highly structured process we use to guide healthcare organizations in uncovering innovative solutions to their most complex problems. The design thinking workshop is an integral part of the approximately 10 week UX Strategy Sprint. Over the course of 2-3 days, our UX design team facilitates a small group of key stakeholders through a series of structured activities designed to foster divergent and convergent thinking. During this time, we review and validate research findings, identify problem areas and interdependencies, discover opportunities, and align on a North Star vision for the tool or digital experience we are designing.

The workshop includes the following steps:

Intake and Workshop Preparation

Before we host a design thinking workshop, we take a specific series of steps to onboard and build velocity at the start of a project. Our goal at this stage is to learn about our client’s subject domain and orient ourselves to the client’s problem(s) as quickly as possible.

  • Intake. We kickoff every project by gathering and reviewing key information from our clients. This might include business requirements, technical documentation, existing UX or market research, internal process docs, and so on. As we digest these details, we tease out relevant insights to be presented in the workshop.
  • User Interviews. In the meantime, we set up a series of user interviews with a group of internal and/or external users. We ask users to walk us through any tasks they might complete in the tool or digital experience. These interviews may happen remotely or, in situations where the user’s environment is critical to the task at hand, as part of an observational field study.
  • Journey Mapping. Information gathered from the user interviews is plotted on a customer journey map. This provides a visual to see how users interact with the tool, product or service at each interaction point and captures their emotional state and any pain points that occur along the way. Preparing the journey map beforehand saves time during the workshop and allows the participants to focus in on the root causes of the problems and areas for the largest impact.


Our design thinking workshops are tailored to each individual client. However, they generally include the following components.

  • Day 1
    • Align.We start by making introductions and review the workshop structure and objectives, research findings, and user profiles that were identified during intake. We also run a couple exercises to define the Long Term Goal and Sprint Questions, where we encourage participants to voice concerns about what could go wrong.
    • Map. Next, we review the customer journey map and conduct a number of activities meant to uncover insights and target critical areas of the flow that are opportunities for design.
  • Day 2
    • Sketch. On day two, we come together prepared to start brainstorming concrete solutions. In the Sketch phase, we lead a number of activities that inspire our participants to “flare,” or think open-endedly as they stretch toward innovative solutions to their problems.
    • Decide. Next, we guide our participants through a series of focus exercises that help them to hone in on the right solution (or solutions).
    • Prioritize. Finally, we use an impact vs. effort activity to assist our client in creating a preliminary roadmap with short-term “easy wins” and major long-term objectives. These features are consolidated in the ‘happy path,’ which aligns the team on the story to tell in the prototype and what steps to show.

The Challenges of Running a Remote Design Thinking Workshop

Design thinking workshops are usually crafted with in-person collaboration in mind. Translating the experience to a virtual setting presents a number of challenges.

  1. First, when it comes to creative collaboration and ideation, a remote setting means a major reduction in human gestures and subtle body language. There’s no real substitute for these valuable forms of “soft” communication, which can be used to build trust, key in on the group’s sentiment, and express ideas.
  2. Second, in-person workshops inherently make room for “open space” to allow each group to move through the process organically. In a virtual context, an improvisational approach can feel more disorganized than useful. To keep team members engaged, we needed to increase the level of structure.
  3. Third, in-person workshops can be scheduled to include full business days. With a few well-timed breaks and social opportunities, a longer day allows participants to dig in deep and make focused decisions. But the same thing doesn’t apply to remote workshops. Screen fatigue is real. Participants can’t realistically stay engaged for as long in virtual meetings. Shorter meeting times are necessary for remote design thinking workshops. So the challenge becomes fitting the planned exercises into the allotted time frame.

How to Run a Successful Virtual Design Thinking Workshop

The right UX agency partner should be prepared to seamlessly transition an in-person design thinking workshop to a virtual setting. For example, they should:

  • Reassess and rework their program to ensure it is optimized for remote collaboration including additional prep-work as needed.
  • Increase the level of structure in their activities to make sure participants are actively engaged throughout the entire process.
  • Schedule the workshop for shorter days to avoid “Zoom fatigue” and capitalize on participants’ energetic bandwidth.
  • Start with warm-up activities that familiarize participants with remote collaboration tools (such as Miro) and serve to “break the ice.”
  • Assign a dedicated tech support resource to the workshop so participants can easily troubleshoot issues without disrupting the workshop’s flow.

At UpTop, we’ve taken these (and other) steps to ensure we produce the same high level results in a remote design thinking workshop that our clients have come to expect. Want to learn more about how UpTop Health can lead your organization’s next innovation project? We’d love to connect.