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Brainstorming in a Remote World

Evelyn Ritzi
Communications Specialist
Evelyn Ritzi
BY: Evelyn Ritzi ON January 25, 2021

COVID-19 has changed how many businesses operate, with teams (including The Ohlmann Group) continuing to collaborate remotely or semi-remotely to stay safe. This means we’ve had to rethink many aspects of our office life, including how we brainstorm. Gone are the days of gathering in front of a whiteboard or using impromptu coffee breaks to spout off ideas — at least for now.

Instead, we find ourselves meeting virtually to bring creative concepts to fruition. It’s not quite the same, but like many teams, we’re adapting to make the most of what’s sometimes a less-than-ideal situation.

Over the past few months, we’ve learned a thing or two about making creative magic remotely. Here are some of our top takeaways:

#1: Give everyone a head start

To make virtual brainstorming as effective as possible, give your participants a chance to absorb the information, research, and prep a few ideas ahead of time. A brainstorm brief can work wonders in getting everyone on the same page so they’re ready to face the project head-on.

#2: Use visual tools

Engage participants and get their creative juices flowing by using virtual visual tools. Here are a few options:

  • Mind mapping is great for visually organizing complex information. Unlike linear notes or outlines, mind mapping is a framework that shows how ideas are connected and prioritized. We’ve found that creating a mind map really helps our team get to the heart of a project, paving the way for effective problem-solving.
  • Online whiteboards, just like regular whiteboards, help teams write and sketch out their ideas. Virtual whiteboard tools like Google Jamboard offer real-time collaboration as well as the ability to share images and graphics. It’s a great way to visualize concepts and compare ideas side-by-side.
  • Google Docs work well for a technique called Brainwriting. Here’s how it works: one person takes up to five minutes to jot down three ideas in a shared Google Doc. The next person opens the document and adds three new ideas or expands on the first person’s thoughts. When everyone has had five minutes in the doc, it’s time to discuss and narrow down the ideas.

#3: Set a time limit

Here’s the thing: virtual meetings are inherently different than in-person meetings. With in-person brainstorming sessions, long silences are natural and welcomed — it means people are thinking! You can also read others’ body language to tell when they’re tapped out of fresh ideas and ready to move on to something new. But with virtual meetings, it’s harder to read those physical cues. There’s nothing more awkward than a long silence with everyone staring at one another on the screen. It can zap your team’s energy and inhibit the flow of ideas.

One way to avoid these awkward pauses (and combat virtual meeting fatigue) is to set a time limit. For creative brainstorming sessions, one hour is usually plenty of time. Setting a clear limit protects everyone’s time and adds a little more pressure to stay on-task and avoid overthinking.

#4: Take it offline

Many people, especially introverts, need time alone to process their thoughts and produce creative ideas. If your virtual brainstorming session is getting stale, give your team a break to work out their ideas offline. You can always regroup later. Chances are, everyone will come back refreshed with some new ideas to share.

#5: End with action

All meetings, whether in-person or virtual, should end with clear action items. Do the participants know what to do and when? Before the meeting is over and everyone goes their separate ways, pause to assign next steps and establish deadlines. With a clear path forward, your team will feel energized and motivated to get things moving.

You could also try putting the “Peak-End Rule” to the test. People often remember an experience by the way they felt at peak moments (good and bad) and the ending, rather than their experience overall. End your brainstorming sessions on a positive note by offering some encouraging words to the participants. It will make a difference!

Final thoughts

At least for the time being, remote working is the norm for many of us. As with all things, being extra flexible and patient will pay off. You may find that virtual brainstorming can be just as effective as traditional brainstorming, if not more so!

If you need an outside perspective on your marketing, we’re here to help. Our team of curious minds is passionate about thinking creatively to bring our clients’ big ideas to life.

Let’s connect! Send us a note or reach out on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.


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