Brainstorming when you’re working and studying from home.
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Brainstorming when you’re working and studying from home

With just a few adjustments to how things are normally done, brainstorming remotely can be done effectively by study groups and work groups.

Use an online whiteboard

These exist in video conferencing platforms such as Zoom albeit in a rudimentary form. More sophisticated online whiteboard apps incorporate the facilities to comment, append files and turn the whiteboard into a presentation screen.
However, more basic tools exist. There’s no reason why Google Docs, or a Sketch or Doodle app can’t be used as a whiteboard.
Don’t obsess about the technology. It’s what you do with the whiteboard that matters.

Use a videoconferencing platform…

Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are the most popular choices, providing a platform from which to do group work as a whole group or in smaller breakout groups.

… but if you want to “stagger” the times of brainstorming

Do members of your group want to brainstorm remotely but not at the same time? An app such as Slack or Teams is perfect for this. These are messaging systems that can be used for specific topics and which combine the functionality of email and forum. Simply set up a Team or a Channel for a topic and invite participants to share ideas.
This system allows you to brainstorm in your own time and without being under any real-time glare of other participants.

Be careful how you administer the brainstorm

Not everyone is comfortable with seeing themselves onscreen in Zoom or one of its counterparts, and there can be problems with those platforms when everyone is offering ideas. The experience of “shouting out” ideas online can lead to participants talking over the top of each other, and that can be annoying plus videoconferencing sound filters don’t cope well with overlapping sound. In fact, online brainstorms using videoconferencing platforms need to be carefully administered.

To avoid participants, unwittingly edging each other out of a conversation, use an online whiteboard or break out into smaller groups. When you take ideas from a larger group, encourage participants to use the “hand in air” tool when they want to speak.

If you want to brainstorm solo

Can you brainstorm by yourself? Of course. There are plenty of organisations in which individuals and small groups do precisely that, and subsequently swap ideas.
If you brainstorm by yourself, you needn’t be chained to a desk. Many people find it mentally liberating to think while walking. Being in a new place can unblock thought processes.

And finally, follow best practice

As with all brainstorms, observe the following:

  • Double-check that you need to conduct the discussion by brainstorm.
  • Define the purpose of the brainstorm. This is even more important online where people can become more easily fatigued. Brief participants in advance.
  • Keep it short – between 30 minutes and one-hour maximum.
  • Involve all participants.
  • Use a mixture of techniques to keep everyone engaged.
  • Summarise at the end.
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