The Best Ways To Brainstorm With A Remote Group

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Some remote workers might feel a little self conscious to brainstorm during an actual meeting. And, there’s a lot of reasons why. For one, they may feel like they’re on display. It’s often hard to think up ideas if you’re worried about what your fellow remote workers think of your living space, especially during times like these. There’s also a chance that the lag, or fear of talking over someone else, might discourage an employee from speaking up.

Luckily, there’s a variety of different ways you can brainstorm with your team. Here are a few ideas.

During your conference call, give everyone a set time to talk or discuss anything.

This will prevent people from talking over each other. It’ll also give your employees some time to prepare. It’s almost like you’re giving them the chance to make a mini-presentation and showcase their ideas. It’s very important for you to listen during these times and not interrupt until they’ve finished explaining their idea. Of course, some employees may still feel like they’re on the spot. So while this is a good idea, there are other ways to get your remote workers to speak up and brainstorm with the group.

Open up your emails for a set time to further discuss the meeting.

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Some people articulate better by text. If you “continue” the meeting through email with the cameras off, some of your employees may feel safer with participating. Tell yourself that for the 20 minutes that follow the video meeting, you won’t tend to any other business. That way, employees know they’re being listened to and focused on.

Use a digital whiteboard to help employees jot their ideas down during their own time.

Vibe’s whiteboard is an excellent tool that all of your remote workers will easily be able to access. If your employees need to jot down some notes, or perhaps explain an idea with a quick chart or graph, they’ll be able to reach everyone in the meeting. Vibe’s board is also great since it supplies an endless amount of canvas. Plus, since Vibe boards are saved automatically to the cloud, employees can come back and work on a board later if they need more time to fully express their thoughts.

Don’t downplay any idea.

There’s no such thing as a bad idea during a brainstorm. The second you make your employees feel as if their thoughts aren’t valuable to your project, they’ll stop voicing their ideas. That’s the last thing you want. If something is completely off guard, stay calm and welcoming. Ask questions to fully understand where your employee is coming from. It’s possible that they have a great idea, but they aren’t great at explaining it.

Break your employees into small groups.

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Try to ask certain employees to work together. And, mix up groups often, if you can. It’s a good practice that’ll help your employees know each other a little better, and it’s the perfect way to brainstorm. Depending on the size of your organization, it may also save some meeting time if each group presents their thoughts, instead of each individual employee.

Give examples.

Many people work best with examples. It gives some guidelines as to what types of ideas and innovations you’re thinking of. If you’re having a hard time explaining your idea or relating it to something that already exists, it’ll be tough for your employees to fully grasp the concept.

Consider making a spreadsheet.

Having a spreadsheet that every employee has access to is a great way for them to jot down some ideas during any time of the day. Sometimes, the best ideas come when we least expect them. Just make sure that everyone has access to it and it’s not so heavily tabbed that employees lose their place or forget which page to use.

Be mindful of time zones.

Someone who’s in the midst of a virtual brainstorm at 9 AM will be slightly sharper than an employee who’s joining the meeting later in the day. Try to find a good time that everyone can agree with. Or, consider running two sessions if you have enough employees in each group. If that’s the method you choose, make sure to let each group know some of the ideas shared in the other session. Or, make them available online so that the later group can jump off of some of the earlier group’s plans and goals.

Start each session with an ice breaker.

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It’s a great way to set the mood. If it’s a funny ice breaker, even better. With remote workers, especially remote workers who just started working remotely, there’s a lot going on in their head that might block them from expressing their best work-related thoughts. Having some fun is almost crucial to get the best work out of your employees. Even asking a group question that’ll get them thinking will help warm them up. Owl Labs believes in the Time Machine method. “Ask team members where they’d go if they had a time machine,” they write. “Use follow up questions about why they chose that time, if they would try to visit anyone in particular, or if they would stay in that period. Based on their answers, you’ll get a better understanding of what they find interesting, and gain a unique perspective of your team.”

Acknowledge the people on your team with praise.

When someone has a great thought, tell them. Encouragement is a wonderful tool and will help motivate employees to keep thinking outside of the box. By acknowledging good ideas, you’re also communicating about what your overall vision is for this project or idea.

Write out every idea the second they come out.

This is another scenario where Vibe’s whiteboard would be an asset. Sometimes, seeing what’s already been said will help employees think up even stronger ideas. It’s also a good way to let employees know that they’re valuable. Even if an idea doesn’t seem right at the moment, write it down anyway. Down the road, it may be a great fit.

Eventually, you’ll find a good method that works for you. Don’t be afraid to try out all options to get the best brainstorming session out of your employees. You never know what might work until you try it. Just make sure to enter the meeting with confidence, and try hard to make sure every employee is heard. Even if they don’t openly speak up during the meeting, it doesn’t mean they aren’t offering value to your team.

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