How to run efficient remote brainstorming sessions

With an increasing number of employees choosing to work remotely where the option exists, whether full time or on a hybrid basis, organizations are adapting to new team dynamics. It is vital that efficiency and creativity are not compromised. Therefore, companies need to adapt various types of meetings to the virtual environment, and brainstorming sessions are no exception.

Brainstorming is a creative problem-solving method that is used to generate a large number of ideas or potential solutions in response to a specific challenge or question. It encourages people to think freely, share their thoughts as they come to mind without putting them through a sense check, and build upon each other's ideas.

The main goal of brainstorming is to generate a diverse range of ideas. In the initial stages you are looking for quantity rather than quality. This means you need to foster a non-judgmental and supportive environment, which sets aside criticism to focus on open exploration, regardless of how outlandish ideas might seem at first. This helps team members to tap into their collective creativity and think beyond conventional boundaries.

So, how can you adapt something that is traditionally done as a group activity, with everyone in one workspace together, to work as well (or better) remotely? 

Before remote meetings became more prevalent, it was common for a team leader to run a brainstorming session standing in front of a large whiteboard and writing down ideas as they were generated. With teams increasingly likely to need to run brainstorming sessions remotely, organizations must ensure that remote teamwork is just as productive and efficient as it can be in person

We’ll take a look at how you can maintain and even enhance the efficiency of your remote brainstorming sessions by leveraging the advantages of remote work and employing a few key strategies.

What does the brainstorming method involve?

The brainstorming process follows a few key principles and steps. Firstly, a problem statement needs to be defined. This is the topic that team members will be asked to generate ideas about. It needs to be broad enough to generate a wide variety of ideas, but not so broad that the issue at heart will not be properly addressed. 

Participants are encouraged to think freely and openly and all ideas, no matter how wild or unconventional, should be welcomed and valued. Any criticism or evaluation of these ideas is left until later stages, fostering an environment that stimulates creativity.

Teamwork is important as people are encouraged to build on and expand the ideas of others and to use the more unusual suggestions as steppingstones to more practical and innovative solutions. Encouraging participants to think beyond traditional boundaries helps unlock creative thinking. All the ideas generated need to be documented so that nothing is forgotten or lost before the evaluation and refinement stage.

Ideas are reviewed, evaluated, and refined through subsequent stages of analysis and decision-making. Then the most promising ideas can be selected and developed further.

Why has brainstorming typically been done in person?

If you think about a brainstorming session, you tend to think about a group of people, together in a room. When brainstorming was invented, in the 1940s, options for doing it in a different format did not really exist. Over the years we have taken brainstorming sessions from working on a piece of paper to interactive whiteboards - and now virtual whiteboards offer even more.

In-person brainstorming sessions can allow people to feel a sense of energy, collaboration, and creative synergy and ‘play off’ each other. Face-to-face communication includes non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice which can provide additional context and understanding. Using visual management techniques like whiteboards, sticky notes, and other visual tools allows team members to see and manipulate ideas more easily.

Collaboration and teamwork are a key element for a good brainstorming session. In-person meetings can provide opportunities for team members to build relationships, strengthen social bonds, and develop a sense of trust, both in the meetings themselves and in breaks. It is also easy to give immediate feedback and to move on to the next iteration. But, of course, we live in a digital world now and we need to adapt to changing needs.

How can remote meetings help improve teamwork and efficiency?

There are various ways in which remote meetings can help improve teamwork and efficiency. When you remove the need for all team members to be in the same physical location, you create a different dynamic. Remote meetings mean that all team members can be included and participate equally: we have all been in in-person meetings where a more forceful team member has taken over, and a virtual space can negate that. 

With remote meetings you can use an on-screen timer, for example, and create an environment where if people wish to raise points, they need to put their virtual hand up and wait their turn. This can mean that team members who may have been less likely to contribute in a traditional in-person meeting setting are likely to feel more comfortable and empowered to participate.

Remote meetings can offer greater flexibility in terms of scheduling and fitting in around everyone’s diary. If team members can attend meetings from their own workspaces, they will not have to factor in travel time or cost. Enabling your team to balance their personal and professional commitments more effectively can lead to increased availability and make it more likely that everyone will attend as expected.

Moreover, in-person meetings can be easily disrupted. Remote meetings often offer a more controlled environment so participants can more effectively concentrate, stick to the agenda, and contribute to the meeting's objectives. The shared digital workspace of a remote meeting allows for simultaneous input and collaborative decision-making. This can streamline the process and reduce the interruptions and delays that are often associated with in-person meetings.

Leveraging technological tools and platforms designed specifically for collaboration, communication, and information sharing can significantly enhance teamwork, efficiency, and productivity

For example, technology like digital whiteboards and other project management software offers opportunities for real-time interaction, document sharing, and progress tracking, amongst other things. Sessions and chat logs can be recorded, work done on shared documents can be saved immediately, and discussions and decisions can be easily referred to in the future. This all helps to reduce misunderstandings and duplication of effort.

And of course, remote meetings have fewer costs and a lesser environmental impact. If team members do not have to travel or be reimbursed for food or accommodation to attend a meeting, it will cost the company less financially and can help in the fight to reduce global carbon emissions. And your team members can benefit too: financially, mentally, and physically.

How can brainstorming be easily adapted to remote work?

Brainstorming sessions can particularly benefit from being held remotely because the more diversity in the input, the better. Remote meetings enable teams to collaborate on a global scale, potentially bringing together a more diverse set of individuals, not limited by time zone or location. 

The ability to connect globally can foster a sense of teamwork and enhance collective knowledge sharing. It can also enhance creativity and collaboration, sometimes even surpassing the capabilities of in-person sessions.

There are various strategies that organizations can adopt to improve their teamwork, efficiency, and results from remote brainstorming sessions.

1. Provide clear communication and set out expectations 

If you establish clear communication guidelines and expectations for remote brainstorming sessions, they are likely to be more efficient and productive. It is important to communicate the purpose, objectives, and desired outcomes of your brainstorming session in advance, so that all your team members have the same understanding of the goals. It is better to not provide the problem statement until the session starts, but you can give guidelines for active participation, respectful listening, and constructive feedback.

Same way, it is important to create a safe and non-judgmental space where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, even if they seem unconventional or incomplete. The ideal brainstorming culture is one that values all contributions and emphasizes the importance of a growth mindset. Constructive feedback should be encouraged, which means that criticism should be respectful and focused on ideas rather than individuals.

2. Use collaborative tools and visual management 

Online collaboration tools that have been designed for remote brainstorming are there for you. Virtual whiteboards, brainstorming templates, and project management tools, for example, can all help to facilitate real-time collaboration, idea visualization, and effective communication

Visual management techniques provide a clear representation of the ideas that have been generated, as well as stimulating further creativity. They help to encourage collaboration, serve as useful aids for memory and recall, and can enhance engagement and focus. Remind team members that brainstorming is a collaborative process to ensure that everyone can contribute their ideas, regardless of their role or seniority.

3. Make use of asynchronous brainstorming 

Brainstorming is traditionally done with a group of people, all throwing out ideas at the same time. However, it can also be undertaken as a solo exercise, with no further input from anyone else. 

Asynchronous brainstorming is a mix of the two. If you have teams that are struggling to find a time they can get together, or a few people who are unable to attend a session, you can embrace asynchronous brainstorming. You might like to provide a designated timeframe for idea generation and to allow team members to submit their thoughts and suggestions independently.

4. Designate a facilitator 

You need someone who can actively guide your brainstorming session and who can ensure that the discussion stays focused and productive. They will need to manage time constraints and keep the session on track. They should encourage equal participation and make sure that all the ideas generated are recorded and shared effectively. 

Digital tools can help a facilitator with all these responsibilities and a virtual whiteboard and its associated tools can be used to great effect with brainstorming sessions. All documentation can be made accessible to all team members for review and reference.

5. Remember the follow-up 

There should be a clear follow-up plan to ensure that the ideas generated are taken to the next step. After a brainstorming session all the ideas should be reviewed so that they can be evaluated. If they are promising, they can be refined and developed further. The next steps should be communicated to team members to ensure that you get some tangible results from the session.

While the shift to remote work has brought about its own challenges, it has also given us many new possibilities. Efficient and productive brainstorming sessions are not only held in person. If you take advantage of all the positives that remote meetings offer, you can easily adapt the brainstorming method to a virtual environment

In fact, teams can generate more innovative ideas and collaborate even more effectively in remote brainstorming sessions if they use the right strategies and have the right tools.

The most effective tools for brainstorming and teamwork

A virtual whiteboard is a must-have for a remote brainstorming session. And even if you are running an in-person brainstorming meeting, a virtual whiteboard has far more functionalities than a traditional one. They are easy to use and share, both to facilitate the brainstorming process, and after the event too: it is the ideal collaborative tool. 

There are many readymade brainstorming templates that are available and they vary depending on the structure or process that would best suit your brainstorming workshop or meeting: small group ideation, specific time constraints,...  

The right collaborative tools can help teams work better together and improve their teamwork, whether they are working in the same workspace together or are working remotely. Why not check out our resources to see how we can help you?

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