For the most part, we’ve all adapted to remote work pretty well. As we got used to working separately, we tended to find ways to transition, transform, or replace most of our old work routines to make sure everything keeps getting done. But most — as every remote work naysayer is quick to point out — is not all.
If there’s one big element of the in-person work process still missing from your new reality, it’s the big, impromptu “throw-it-all-at-the-wall” brainstorming session.
Sessions like those probably led to some of your team’s biggest and brightest ideas… and they’re also the kind of thing you may think simply can’t happen remotely. Well, as you’ve probably surmised from the title of this blog post, that’s what we’re here to prove wrong.
The truth is, not only can you still conduct the kind of brainstorming sessions you threw together in person remotely, but there’s evidence they could be even more effective. That is, if you do it right. Here’s why remote brainstorming is still well worth making the time for, along with how (and how NOT) to do it right:
1 — Remote brainstorming helps prevent “The Dominators”
You know the ones we’re talking about. They’re the kids in class whose hands always shot up first when the teacher asked a question… but all grown up.
During traditional, in-person brainstorming sessions, you’ve probably noticed that a few people tend to dominate the conversation. They present their idea, and then before you know it, the rest of the session is spent discussing this idea… rather than necessarily hearing anyone else’s.
This is not just a function of a couple of outspoken people on your team. In fact, it happens in almost all in-person brainstorming thanks to a phenomenon called production blocking. The more extroverted, forward members (our “Dominators”) tend to lead, and everyone else follows. The larger the group the worse this issue tends to get, which makes it a particular problem for in-person office brainstorming.
This is one area where virtual brainstorming actually has a serious advantage over in-person. Production blocking doesn’t happen nearly as frequently in virtual meetings. In fact, there’s even a positive relationship between group size and performance that continues to scale, even to large sizes.
Taking it further: Use muting etiquette and the “raised hand” feature provided by most teleconferencing applications to further moderate and democratize the brainstorming process, ensuring everyone can speak in turn and whenever they have something to add.
Avoid: Designating “leaders” of the brainstorming session or devoting the entirety of a session to discussing the particularities of a single idea. Instead, find ways to encourage everyone to speak up, such as assigning each individual or small groups particular topics to focus on.
2 — It helps everybody else speak up
Virtual brainstorming doesn’t just help dampen the blocking effect of the dominators, either; it also actually helps everybody else speak up, too. According to the research, virtual brainstorming helps impart a sense of anonymity in participants — even if they can see each other.
As the Harvard Business Review notes, when brainstorming participants feel more anonymous, they suffer from less “evaluation apprehension,” which is the anxiety that they or their ideas will be judged because of who they are rather than for their idea (we are all, no doubt, aware of this phenomenon).
The less evaluation apprehension your participants feel, the more likely they are to speak up when they have an idea, even if they might not in an in-person brainstorming environment.
Taking it further: During brainstorming, encourage all of your participants to turn off their webcams. This will increase the feeling of anonymity and give participants a chance to voice ideas without feeling like they’re caught in the spotlight.
Avoid: Disengagement by a few or even most of the participants. Try to keep brainstorming sessions relatively short, and focus on a particular objective. Then, encourage everyone to speak up and facilitate back-and-forth conversation whenever possible.
3 — It creates a wider variety of ideas
You’ve probably already derived this benefit out of the first two, but it’s worth focusing on anyway. When you:
A: Get more people talking and sharing new ideas equally
B: Encourage people who may not normally speak up to join the conversation
You end up with a much greater variety of ideas. Even more importantly, the ideas your team puts together will be fresher and, in all likelihood, quite a bit different from the type of ideas you would find yourself normally generating in person. This happens precisely because they are coming from people who often go unheard.
Taking it further: Studies have shown that individual brainstorming often encourages participants to offer a wider variety of ideas when those ideas are shared with a group. Virtual brainstorming provides a natural way to facilitate this.
Schedule breaks into your virtual brainstorming sessions for having each member individually focus on a topic that comes up during the session. Have them write out their own notes on that topic for a pre-set period of time, and then when you come back together, have everyone share their thoughts.
You could also break the brainstorming session into a few small groups of people during these pre-set breaks. These people could collaborate on their note-writing, and then present their ideas together when they return to the main session. We do this kind of collaborative brainstorming at TopRank Marketing all the time, and it always proves more heads are better than one.
Avoid: Letting your brainstorming sessions become a series of presentations. It may sound counterintuitive, but you should avoid getting your participants too much “homework” to bring into the brainstorming session.
You want the ideas to be generated during the session itself, not prepared beforehand and then recited to a tuned-out audience. It’s OK to let the participants know what you want to brainstorm about beforehand, of course, but try to encourage positive collaboration instead of over-preparation.
TopRank Marketing’s team have been working remotely for quite a while now, but we’ve never stopped believing in the power of brainstorming — and our virtual brainstorming sessions have really paid off. If your team has been hitting a wall or feeling uninspired lately, try virtual brainstorming. You might be surprised what you think up.
And, of course, if you’d ever like to brainstorm about how you can make your B2B marketing more relevant, authentic, and impactful than ever, we’d be thrilled to join you. Get in touch with the team at TopRank today to brainstorm about how we can help take your brand to the next level.