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Brainstorm together, even when you aren't

Many of Skype’s business users work remotely, and generally, we tend to hear from you that the pros outweigh the cons.

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From time to time, however, I’ll hear remote workers say that they miss the in-person brainstorm sessions common in traditional offices. There’s something about getting together with colleagues and letting the creative juices fly that’s motivating and fun, they say.

That got me thinking about brainstorming. Do they only work when they’re in person? With more companies than ever made up of remote workforces, can a brainstorm be successful without actually sitting elbow-to-elbow?

Marieke van der Poel of Proef Trend Consultants believes remote brainstorms work well. Her team stretches from New York to San Francisco, but they haven’t let that stop them from “thinking together.” They brainstorm frequently as a group, using Skype.

So, how do you make sure your dispersed team leaves a long-distance session with great results? Here are a few ideas that might help:

  • Assemble the right group: Research shows that, in general, smaller is better. If you want to include a large team in a brainstorm, consider breaking the team into sub-groups of three to five people. Mix introverts with extroverts, more senior with less.
  • Set the guidelines in advance: Make sure everyone knows the goals of the brainstorm, and any relevant parameters to the ideas (such as budget, legal or technical limitations).
  • Prepare ideas beforehand: The latest research says that individual brainstorming tends to yield better results than brainstorming from scratch in a group. Ask every participant to set aside time to collect his or her ideas prior to meeting with colleagues. They can then share and discuss those ideas once the group assembles.
  • Consider a silent brainstorm: Using Skype group chat can be an incredibly effective way to share and discuss ideas. We’ve talked here on the blog about the advantages of silent meetings, and many of those apply to brainstorms too.
  • Use Group Video and Group Screen Share: These features mean you can see your teammates and the notes that are being taken (the group note-taker can share his or her screen, for example). Group video chats are really helpful if you want to share visuals with one another during the session.
    “We use Skype video calls a lot because we can show each other what we’re thinking about and map things out,” says van der Poel. “I can write things on the whiteboard and share them with the team. It’s almost like being in the same room in a meeting.”
  • Document and Follow-Up: If you brainstorm via chat, you have the advantage of a built-in transcript of the session. If not, be sure someone takes very accurate notes. Use Skype group chat to ask participants follow-up questions and keep them informed of the outcome of the session.
  • Have you hosted virtual brainstorms on Skype? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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