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How to Brainstorm With Your Newly Remote Team

What our product design team did to keep collaborating from the comfort of our homes.
How to Brainstorm With Your Newly Remote Team

The IDAGIO team officially started working remotely at the beginning of March. The same week I was supposed to run brainstorming sessions, in-person, with people who don’t usually “do brainstorming.”

I spoke to the design team the day before the first session to ask, “Can we do this? Is it going to be awkward?” The answer to both of those questions was a resounding, “Yes.”

We did it. Then we did it again and again. It’s working. We’re brainstorming remotely and churning out ideas as if we’re all standing in front of the same whiteboard.

If your team is new to working remotely, brainstorming, or both, here are some tips for you.

Happy little cursors.

Note: In the examples below, we used Google Hangouts, Slack, and Miro (Free).

Words to (remote) work by: Plan, communicate, and, above all, adapt.

1. In the words of @DHH: Write it down.

If there’s something you’re going to say that people need to remember during the meeting: write it down.

Instructions are written on the board for everyone to reference. The layers are locked down to prevent accidental moving or deleting.

2. Use a warm-up activity to onboard to new tools.

When you’re first transitioning to working remotely, people are learning to use applications in new ways. Using a warm-up activity gives your team a low-pressure environment to get accustomed to the controls and behaviour of using a new tool.

Here’s the activity we did to start using Miro:

  1. Before people open the board, create a sticky note for each person with their name on it.
  2. When people open the board, “Find the note with your name on it.”
    (Learn: navigating around the board)
  3. “Click your note and drag it to a space where you can work.”
    (Learning: how to move things, that you can see each other’s work)
  4. “Double-click your note to type in it. Type in an everyday object.”
    (Learning: how to type in a note)
  5. “Make a copy of the note by pressing ALT and click-dragging it or using Command-C and -V.”
    (Learning: how to make multiple notes, how to duplicate a note)
  6. “How’s everyone doing with that? Any questions?” Double-check that everyone was able to do it successfully.
  7. “Here’s the activity: You have 2 minutes to think of as many uses for your object as you can.”
  8. After 2 minutes have passed, “We’re going to share our favourite one and craziest one. I’ll call you each by name, and you can share with the group.”
    (Learning: Unmute/mute microphone while using multiple tools)

This 5-minute activity taught everyone on the team how to use Miro without feeling the pressure of brainstorming at the same time.

Starting notes to welcome everyone to the board. (Names in image are not actual names of team members)

3. Be flexible.

We each know how we think most creatively, and that’s not something that changes overnight just because the policy did. Transitioning to a new way of working means there’ll be hiccups, but you can anticipate and plan for many of them.

4. Facilitate like the leader you are.

It’s more important than ever to lead the meeting and check in regularly because when the cameras are off, and everyone’s muted, you won’t be able to get a read of the room. Silence has never been so silent.

5. Ask for feedback.

The first session — the first five sessions, even — will be clumsy, and there’ll be awkward moments. Like everything else we do, we iterate. Reflect on the meetings, on your own and with your team. After the meeting, ask for feedback in a space where people can write it down in their own time.

In this instance, I used Slack to ask for feedback.

. . .

We’re all adapting right now. When we have patience with and encourage one another through transitions like these, we grow closer as teams even when we’re further apart.

. . .

Originally posted on Jen's Medium page

Do good, do it well · Senior Product Designer at IDAGIO · Cofounder of Caribou