How to Shift Your Brainstorming Online

Tips on how to make group idea generation a smoother process when you can’t meet in person.

Wendy Ruyle 10.21.2020

As Covid-19 has forced teams into working remotely, work still needs to happen and that includes idea generation. How do you capture the same great energy of an in-person session when you can’t be in the same room?

Remote work isn’t going away anytime soon, even with a vaccine, so we have to make adjustments to our processes to make brainstorming work. When it’s hard to read body language, you can’t talk at the same time, and everyone is a little distracted, you have to make some shifts.

Here are some steps to take to make it a smoother process.

Break it up

Consider a series of sessions that are shorter in length rather than one marathon session. Zoom fatigue is a real thing and you won’t get the best out of your team if everyone is sick of staring at their computer. Be sure to assign some individual homework for the team to get their minds working before you meet. Capitalize on short bursts of creativity interspersed with ruminating time to get to the best ideas.

Time it right

Make sure you schedule your sessions at the right time of day for your team. Ask them not only when they are available but when they think they’ll be most productive. Do you have team members on different coasts or in different countries? Accommodate their needs. Avoid times when people’s energy is waning. Check on personal schedules surrounding childcare and homeschooling. Think about when other people in the home will be using WiFi bandwidth. There is no one right time to schedule a meeting. You have to customize it to your team’s needs.

Slow down

Don’t forget to allow more time for discussion. And manage your expectations about what can be accomplished in a certain amount of time. Everything takes a little longer online. You can’t talk over others or have a quick back and forth like you do in person. You have to give everyone their opportunity to speak. But you don’t want to lose those in-the-moment ideas that pop up. Encourage participants to take notes, use drawing tools, or add things to the chat so sparks don’t get lost, but everyone gets to be heard.

Use the right tools

There are all kinds of meeting software options out there. Zoom and Teams seem to be the most prevalent in our world but there are many to explore. Make sure you are using the right tool for what you are trying to accomplish and the makeup of your team. Focus on roles and preferences. Do you need to see faces or content? Who likes to draw? Who likes to make lists? Can you grab stuff from Google Images or Pinterest? How can everyone participate in the manner that’s most motivating to them?

Screen sharing with an appointed scribe in a plain old Word document can work if you want more control over the process. If you want to free things up a bit and are working with a creative team, explore group brainstorming options like Zoom annotate tools, Conceptboard, Miro, or Mural. These tools allow all participants to make notes, draw concepts, and add to the conversation.

Keep it going

Once you’ve wrapped up a session, create a forum where participants can continue to contribute to the idea generation and refinement. Let team members add notes to your brainstorming tool, follow up with emails, or send notes on Slack. Distractions in our everyday lives mean inspiration may come an hour later, a day later, or even a week later. Allow for the new normal of an unfocused workforce.

If you can shift your thinking about how you approach brainstorming, you can make it work even with today’s limitations. And you may even find some new techniques that you’ll keep in your toolbox when we can all gather again.

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