Most businesses are struggling that brainstorming and new ideas are not really happening virtually and remote. We show the best techniques and practical advice on how to brainstorm remote and virtual.
Creating ideas is already a big problem for many people even when they are in the same room. With forced remote offices and virtual meetings, this challenge gets even bigger. This leads to a stagnation of innovation and also a long-term problem for companies – but it doesn’t have to be like that.
We give you some of the most useful and also applicable tools and tips to create effective brainstorming sessions virtually. Many of the techniques presented in some other articles are still valid but this time we only focus on remote brainstorming and virtual idea generation.
If you want to get to know the other tools look here:
- 6 Successful Methods For Brainstorming & Idea Creation
- 7 Methods For A More Efficient Brainstorming Including Tips
Process for virtual brainstorming
1. Ask critical questions before you start
It is very important that you ask critical questions before you are inviting others for the brainstorming session. Make sure that you spend enough time thinking it through and here are some of the questions you might want to consider:
- Do we really need a brainstorming session? – Be clear about the purpose of this session. Make sure it’s not just Meeting, Update, Decision-Round, etc.
- Who is critical for the outcome? – Think of any kind of the desired outcome and who would be beneficial in the brainstorming process
- What is the best time of the day? – You might want to consider booking a virtual brainstorming before the people are fed up from a day full of virtual meetings and home office
- Will we need repeated brainstorming sessions? – Be aware that sometimes the progress is slow and when the topic is bigger, you might want to consider several sessions with different agendas
- What agenda do we have? – Set an agenda for the session and be clear to communicate before the meeting, so everyone is on board
2. Brief before the brainstorming session
One of the key critical aspects of remote brainstorming is that you are very clear in the communication beforehand. When you are doing in-person invites in your office you can quickly just answer the questions and its an easier process. But when you are looking for a remote and virtual brainstorming session to work, then you want to get all the information out, help them in their research, and also start with enough content.
SMALL TRICK: Get a shared folder ready where you have several reads, documents, studies, numbers, competitor screenings, website links, etc. ready and encourage the people before the session to fill this folder with more content so others can dive deeper into the topic.
3. Work effectively together
There are several ways how to better create ideas and motivate the participants, especially when people are not in the same room. Please be sure that you are mixing these methods together as you see fit for the outcome because they are not always universally applicable.
Sense of competition
Humans like to “play” and “compete” with each other. Even small gestures like circling winning ideas with colors or calling out great ideas in the process will motivate others to participate more. For this you simply need to pin names next to the idea or create columns for every person so they see what the other one is doing.
Assign roles to the participants
This is a technique used in many different ways and there are around which you can use. The most commonly used ones are:
- The Dreamer
- The Realist and the Doer
- The Critic
- The Neutral
- Blue – The Moderator
- Yellow – The Optimist
- Green – The Thinker
- Red – The Emotional
- Black – The Critic
- White – The Lens
More Information on these two brainstorming methods can be found in the article: 6 Successful Methods For Brainstorming & Idea Creation
Basic etiquette and rules
- Don’t criticize people
This is one of the worst things you could do. Because then people start to think before they say and (good) ideas might be lost or these ideas can not spark any other idea.
- Use the mute button
If you are using the different roles or you are working actively. Make use of the mute button so no typing, clicking or other sounds are disturbing the others.
- Don’t force them or put them on the spot
Nobody likes to be confronted and pressed into having ideas on the spot. Don’t ask around or don’t push people. Rather give them hints, new information, point them to problems or anything else.
- Share Information in a single place
Don’t share documents on WhatsApp, Slack, shared folders, and maybe email at the same time. Make sure everyone knows where to share information, so there is no unnecessary time wasted in discussing where someone might have sent something.
Tools for virtual Brainstorming
Use the right tools but don’t make it complicated
PLEASE don’t only do brainstorming sessions via video call. This is for most people disturbing and can interfere with the process.
Use for example some chat tools, where the moderator can share links, documents and other important information. For the introduction and for alignment you can set up meetings, but try to be specific on the timings so you don’t loose time on waiting for others.
Simplify the process by using the right tools. You might just want to use existing tools like your project management system, Google shared Documents and an internal chat app like Slack. There is not a need for fancy brainstorming tools and you might just want to save the money.
This is why we will present also “old-school” methods which are proven to work more than fine but also really new and “fancy” tools for different purposes.
Pencil and paper
There is no such thing that is easier to sketch ideas, as simple paper and a pencil. It is easy for people to use and you can take a picture to share it in the chat. Encourage people to have paper and pen ready before they join the meeting, this might make it more productive when presenting the idea.
Collaboration Documents – Google Docs, Word 365, etc.
Something like Google Docs, or shared Office Workspace, is easy to collect ideas instantly. It is a free tool to use, you can work on the same document with many people and you instantly see updates coming in. Use this tool for different brainstorming methods and also for the moderator to share the collected findings.
You could create different Google documents for every participant (let’s say 4 people). Every person fills in his ideas, then you rotate and the next person gets the document from another one, they write again their interpretations and iterations of the idea from the previous person until every document has had 4 brainstormers working on it. In the end, you can consolidate the finding in a single document and make a video call to discuss the outcomes. This way you have different angles for different ideas from all participants using simply 4 Google Docs and two video calls.
Video Meeting – Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, etc.
There are many video conferencing tools out there. As mentioned, please don’t use it as the only tool. It is perfect to introduce the session, to communicate the findings, to discuss the outcomes but very bad when you want to concentrate or really brainstorm.
Chat apps – Slack, Whatsapp, Teams Chat etc.
Often overlooked as a brainstorming tool, but can be quite fast and efficient to create an “idea burst”. Everybody is just pushing their ideas in a Whatsapp Chat, Slack Channel, etc. and everyone is then just adding their idea to it or introduce a new one. In this way, people are not distracted by a video or other sounds and they can purely focus on pushing ideas into the chat.
Kanban-Board – Trello
Kanban board tools like Trello are just great to organize ideas and also collect them in a single place. You can create a column for ideas where everybody writes down their ideas and from them you can then take the cared and drag it into a pipeline where you might want to consider having different columns to sort them or prioritize them.
Brainstorming Tools – Lucidchart, Miro, Mural, Ziteboard, etc.
The market for specialized tools for brainstorming and idea presentation is growing rapidly. There are tons of tools that you might want to consider and which have their unique niches and features. Especially tools for a shared whiteboard, mind-maps, and collecting ideas on virtual post-its are very common. You should decide case by case if you need such a tool or if another simpler tool can be used instead. In my experience it makes it more efficient to use the least sophisticated tool everybody knows, to make things work.
Conclusion and final thoughts
It might be a challenge to find new ideas and to be innovative when you can’t meet and discuss in person. But there are ways, processes, and tools that help you to get even remote and virtual brainstorming work.
My personal recommendation is not to overdo it with tools and fancy methods, try to use the simplest tools to get your desired outcome. Be very clear about what you expect from this session, avoid overusing video, give people the freedom to share their thoughts, and be aware that remote brainstorming is also more demanding for the moderator.