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Virtual Brainstorming and Whiteboarding Sessions

If you’re reading this, then there was likely a shift, sudden but not jarring, when the work-from-home reality began for you.

For my creative team and I, it was around St. Patricks’ Day, 2020.

For many of us, tools like Microsoft Teams and BlueJeans had already been regular parts of our routine, so for a while, as we began transitioning into full-time remote work, we were fine. But it didn’t take long to begin to notice something was missing.

The kitchen catch-up when you’re in line to use the microwave. The brand banter with your team while outside the conference room that’s about to vacate for your 11 a.m. meeting. The endless walls of whiteboard in the meeting room and knowing that if you ask nicely at the front desk, you can get a fresh Expo marker.

What was going to help us fill these natural creative gaps? Would we finally enter the Era of Skype?

Being in person made it easy to share ideas. Being able to have adequate space to noodle and brainstorm has always been a crucial point in our creative process. If we were going to continue to make work we were proud of, we had to learn how to maximize our digital resources so that we were thinking less about how to connect to each other and thinking more about our next big idea.

The past several months have redefined the way creative teams work. Here are some tips for maximizing your digital brainstorm and whiteboard sessions from the many lessons my team and I have learned along the way:

1. Choose Your Digital Venue

Screen-sharing a PowerPoint over Zoom works in many cases (‘Slide Show > Set Up Show… > Browse by an individual (window)’—folks with dual monitors, you’ll thank us later), but may not always be the best option. Identifying exactly what type of brainstorm you want can lead you to the tool that will help maximize the experience. Syncing Microsoft One Note with your Teams meetings can help you realize your word map/Venn diagram dreams, or build a blank canvas for your extended team using Google Jamboard. To really make the most of the digital whiteboard experience, it is recommended that at least one member of your team has some sort of tablet with a pen or stylus for writing, which leads to our next tip …

2. Enlist an On-Screen Scribe

Whether your meetings feel like college lectures or courtrooms, having an official record-keeper is a tried-and-true practice. Taking on-screen notes for everyone to follow helps create a sense of “being in the room” and togetherness. This can be extremely helpful in brainstorming efforts that call for assembling itemized lists or for when you need good note-taking during a discovery session. For more formalized and client-facing meetings, we’ve found this role is best filled by someone who is not actively driving the conversation. It can be hard to talk and chew, so to speak, so having someone whose only role is to listen critically and digest the information being spoken into concise notes can be its own form of dialogue. The person in this role should be very comfortable with the technology present so they can be the “driver” of the presentation and help to steer the meeting with clarity and ease. Once upon a time, this would have been a person with a giant notepad on an easel and a poster marker.

3. Have a Few Starter Questions

This step is linked to a fundamental truth both pre- and post-COVID-19: Being prepared for meetings is worth its weight in creative gold. The trick is preparing in a way that is optimized for your digital setting. A lot of people are visual learners and benefit from seeing, as well as hearing, what’s going on. Try splitting your brainstorm up into different thinking intentions (any Edward de Bono fans out there?), then giving each one its own slide. On each slide, include a few conversation starters in a small text box, and leave a much larger one blank that is ready for note taking. In these instances, it’s less about using new technology and more about giving new thinking to existing resources.

4. Pro Tip: Record Your Meetings

This is an extra brainstorm bonus we get thanks to our new digital setups. Ever looked at your notes post-meeting and seen a word or phrase that was clearly written with intention, but now means nothing? Or, perhaps, you had a tutorial session working to learn a new program technique from a coworker, and you’re trying to remember if i goes before e or c. Say goodbye to the days of drawing a blank! When you record your meetings, you can simply scrub through the video file until you see what you’re looking for on the video. Then listen to the conversation around that time to get the missing link. That impromptu screen.so that became an unannounced master class is now a reference file rather than a passing memory! Just be sure to always let all parties know that the meeting is being recorded before you hit that red button.

Will these tips turn every meeting into a symphony of productivity? Our legal team tells us we can’t guarantee this.

However, hopefully these might inspire new ways to connect with a team that is so close, and yet so far, as well as offer a digital-first approach to creativity through proximity.

As we continue to adapt on a wide scale to this new work landscape and our technology responds in kind by becoming less latent, more versatile and less cluttered, we can always be adapting and growing our trade with more effective communication tools.

This same lesson is why Skype will disappear by July 2021. While it dominated the market for so long (we Skype’d before we Zoom’d), the antiquated interface couldn’t keep up with the demand for great efficiency.

How have you been able to innovate teamwork during what has been a new working reality for many of us? As we continue to navigate our new digital landscape, it’s crucial we find the comfortable digital equivalent to corkboards overflowing with reference images, laser pointers during presentations and all the other habits of group creativity we’ve developed over the years.

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