This content was created by Girlboss in partnership with Notion.
Pixelated faces. Lagging voices interrupting each other. Long, awkward silences that people don’t know how to fill. WFH home has its benefits—all-day hangs with your dog and lounging in your fave sweatsuit set, to name a couple—but brainstorming sessions with a remote team pose challenges. But whether you’ve officially made the switch to working from home full-time, or are navigating some kind of hybrid situation, it’s a reality that’s here to stay.
Enter Clare Kumar, a Toronto-based productivity coach who works with executives and teams to get organized, optimize their performance and evade burnout. Here, she shares some of her best tips for brainstorming with a remote team.
Brainstorming starts before your meeting. “Science tells us that, a lot of the time, our thoughts and ideas develop more on our own than when we’re in a group,” says Kumar. This means if you know there’s a big brainstorming session scheduled, set time aside—physically block it off on your chosen calendar app—to prep ahead of time. This doesn’t have to be a time-exhaustive thing, but you do have to commit to it; you can’t also be answering emails or idly scrolling through Insta. You have to create a safe, pressure-free space where you can be alone with your thoughts and focus on the task at hand. “This is mind-wandering time,” she says. “The type of work we celebrate is heads-down tasks, knocking things off our to-do list, but you have to give yourself permission to do things like brainstorm.”
Kumar adds that this doesn’t just fall on individual shoulders. If you’re a manager, you have to actively encourage your team to schedule this time. For example, when you schedule a meeting, let everyone know that for, say, a 30-minute window the day before, you won’t be checking in for updates or assigning new tasks and that they should use the time to prep. It has to be a true team effort.
Choose a moderator. IRL or online, group discussions inevitably end up with competing voices and people who don’t feel heard. Kumar suggests avoiding this by choosing someone to moderate your brainstorming session. “This person will keep ideas generating, make sure certain ideas aren’t shut down and make sure the [atmosphere] doesn’t become critical,” she says. “They also allow for expression of thought and stop groupthink from happening.”
So what does a good moderator look like? They keep the task in mind, uphold inclusivity and make room for everyone—even the shiest of introverts—to participate. Good moderators also know that everyone thinks at different rates, says Kumar, so they recognize that not everyone’s first idea will be their greatest, but make sure that every team member feels safe and has the opportunity to share again.
Make brainstorming sessions more interactive. Virtual meetings where you’re just staring at boxes of faces aren’t going to be productive or foster creativity, says Kumar. This is why you need to bring in digital services, like Notion—a Webby-nominated customizable all-in-one that combines all your everyday work tools in one handy, very pleasing app—to create a more interactive environment. Also try bringing in visuals, emojis or word clouds to make the brainstorming session more fun and free-flowing. “These tools change the modality of a meeting from being purely verbal and can trigger a lot more thought,” says Kumar.