Brainstorm from the Home Office: Tips, Tricks & Tools for Virtual Teams

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Every successful project, every innovative campaign and every new product starts with a good idea. There is also usually a whole team that worked hard on that idea behind the scenes.

Good ideas are in most cases the result of teamwork.

Ideas often emerge during a joint brainstorming session in the conference room. Sometimes, however, ideas can also pop up, e.g., during a brief exchange at the coffee machine.

Whether it happens intentionally or at random, one thing is certain: the direct exchange with others is an integral part of the idea generation process.

Currently many teams are sitting in their home offices due to the Corona pandemic. In these times, teams are scattered and the direct exchange amongst each other is often not at its full potential. Even spontaneous kitchen conversations are no longer common.

How does one develop creative ideas together if everyone is at home?

This article will delve deeper into learning how to easily arrange the next brainstorming session with your team virtually. It includes tips on suitable methods, tools, and a checklist for preparation.

How does one organise remote brainstorming sessions?

Brainstorming: the collection of spontaneous ideas and suggestions. It may very well be the most popular method of generating ideas together.

But what does one do when classic brainstorming sessions, in which people come together physically, is no longer an option?

Here’s the good news: you can brainstorm with your colleagues from your home office.

In order to brainstorm efficiently however, there are a few things to keep in mind; from the technology used and suitable tools, to the process itself.

What brainstorming methods works virtually?

First of all, it is a good idea to try out different brainstorming methods, so you can find out what works best for your team.

Here are three techniques that can also be implemented in a divided team. You can even use them to solve problems that can occur during (virtual) brainstorming sessions.

Problem 1:

During video or telephone conferences, one can sometimes get the feeling that ideas have to be formulated under pressure.

It is more difficult to create a pleasant environment for finding ideas together virtually than on-site.

Solution:

With the Creative Sprint Method, all participants receive a briefing via e-mail a few days before the joint appointment.

Everyone then deals with the topic and generates their own ideas individually. In the joint (video) call, the generated ideas are then exchanged, discussed, and further developed together.

This method allows everyone to decide for themselves when and where they want to brainstorm. This way, participants create their own pleasant atmosphere, in which they are most creative.

Problem 2:

During video calls, some participants may be a bit too shy to speak and might not express spontaneous ideas for fear of direct criticism.

Shared ideas are strongly oriented towards the initial input of individuals and can therefore often be one-sided (anchor effect).

Solution:

Brain-writingseparates idea generation and criticism (or direct discussion) of these ideas.

The principle is simple and can be easily implemented when working remote: the participants get a short intro via video call. Within a given time (e.g., 30 minutes), each participant writes down his or her ideas on the topic.

The team then meets again via video conference to present and discuss them.

The advantage of this method is that the ideas are generated simultaneously, but without distraction or influence from others.

This avoids the anchor effect and often results in varied ideas and perspectives.

Keep in mind: do not criticise your team negatively.

During a brainstorm, there are no bad ideas.

Problem 3:

Teams that are scattered all over the place often have different working hours.

Sometimes, there isn’t even a day that all team members can meet at the same time (virtually) for a brainstorm session or video call.

Solution:

Brain netting is a brainstorming technique that does not require a common appointment and is therefore particularly suitable for virtual teams. It is based on a central platform, on which all ideas are presented visually.

All participants receive a briefing by e-mail in advance including access to the tool used (see below). Ideas on the topic are then collected and sorted on the platform until a previously agreed upon deadline.

The advantage: the brainstorm does not take place within a fixed time frame, so spontaneous ideas can be added at any time.

Many tools offer features for commenting and collaboratively working out suggestions. The brainstorming session can of course also take place simultaneously, e.g., in combination with a video conferencing tool.

What tools are suitable for remote brainstorms?

In order to brainstorm efficiently in your home office, you need a tool that allows you to collect, visualise, and structure your ideas.

Of course, you can easily create a Google Doc. You can share it with all participants for editing, enter your ideas and discuss them in parallel or afterwards via telephone or video conference.

However, a text document can quickly become quite confusing.

Whiteboard tools are great for virtual brainstorms.

Whiteboard tools are great for virtual brainstorms. They help people document ideas vividly and show the relationships between them.

We have discovered and regularly use the whiteboard tool Miro.

The principle is simple: you add ideas to a common board, e.g., as virtual post-its, sketches or in the form of media like screenshots, graphics, or videos.

The board expands automatically when new content is added, so the space for ideas is unlimited and you can arrange them in any order you like.

During the brainstorm, we collect and sort our ideas on a Miro Board.

What’s really cool is that you can see in real time who is adding what ideas and you can also leave direct feedback, such as comments, reactions, or emojis.

No simultaneous screensharing or video call is required. You simply share the link to the board and be creative together.

Many tools also offer cool features that make brainstorming a collaborative experience, e.g., secret voting. This way you can also make sure that all participants stay focused.

The board is also the protocol of the brainstorming session, which everyone can access afterwards.

How do I conduct a virtual brainstorming session?

Technology and tools are selected. Now you will learn how to plan, organise, and conduct your virtual brainstorm step by step.

  • Preparation

Efficient brainstorming requires some preparation, both on-site and remote.

Define your goal in advance and choose a brainstorming technique that will best help you achieve it.

Make sure that you use a tool, with which you can implement the chosen method well and involve the whole team.

Especially important: test the tool in advance and familiarise yourself with its functions. This way you know how to use it optimally and can avoid unnecessary interruptions.

Especially important: test the tool in advance and familiarise yourself with its functions.

Now decide how many and which persons should participate. Often more ideas are produced in smaller circles.

Make sure that all participants have access to the brainstorm tool and consider whether synchronous communication (simultaneous telephone or video conference) is necessary.

  • Briefing

It is worth investing your time in a detailed briefing, especially when it comes to virtual brainstorming sessions.

The goal is that all participants are at the same level and know whether they need to deal with the topic or specific questions in advance.

Send all participants a rough brainstorming agenda including topic, goal and, if necessary, information material. This saves a long introduction at the beginning of the meeting, leaving more time for brainstorming.

If a new tool is being used, please make sure that all participants are familiar with its functions beforehand.

Here is an example from our team of a briefing before a virtual brainstorm.
  • Execution:

At the start of the brainstorming session, it is best to briefly and concisely present the goal, process, timeframe, and the chosen technique (perhaps some of you have not read the briefing carefully 😉).

Also briefly repeat the most important features of the tool used. If there are any brainstorming rules, e.g., no negative feedback, then share them with the participants.

Encourage your team to stay open and think from different perspectives throughout the session. Often you tend to get stuck on a certain idea too early. During virtual brainstorms, it is even more important to actively involve all participants.

During virtual brainstorms, it is even more important to actively involve all participants.

Encourage your team to stay open and think from different perspectives throughout the session. Often you tend to get stuck on a certain idea too early.

During the brainstorm, make sure that all shared ideas are well documented and immediately organised thematically.

Don’t lose track of time and try to keep to the previously set time frame. If this is not possible, you can schedule a follow-up appointment.

  • Wrap-up

The brainstorm session is over, and you have generated a lot of cool ideas. Yay!

At the end of the meeting, summarise them again for everyone. Afterwards, immediately discuss what the next steps are to execute the idea(s) you have generated.

If you use a project management tool like awork, you can create to-do’s, assign responsibilities, and set rough deadlines.

After brainstorming, transfer the to-do’s into awork directly and assign responsibilities.

Try it in awork now

Ensure that the results are accessible to all participants even after the brainstorming session. Send the notes to all participants by email or share the link on the platform.

It is also important to ask your team for feedback on the brainstorm.

How did they like the method and the tool used? What worked well? What could be better next time?

This information will help you prepare for your next virtual brainstorm moment.

Checklist: 15 questions you should answer before having your remote brainstorm session

  1. What is the goal of the brainstorm?
  2. When is the brainstorm to take place?
  3. Who is to be involved in the brainstorm?
  4. What method will you use?
  5. Is the method appropriate for your topic/problem?
  6. Can the method be executed remotely?
  7. Can all participants be involved when using this method?
  8. What tool are you using?
  9. Does the tool work with the selected method?
  10. Have you tested the tool and its features beforehand?
  11. Do all participants have access to the tool?
  12. Have you invited and briefed all participants?
  13. What brainstorming rules have been put in place?
  14. What is your role (moderator vs. participant)?
  15. How is feedback to be given at the end?

Have you managed to answer all of these questions? If so, nothing should be stopping you from having a successful virtual brainstorming session.

Cool ideas coming in 3, 2, 1, go! 🚀

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