How to Brainstorm When You’re Not in the Same Room


The future of work for many of us will be remote in some way. Even if we are in a room at a distance, the days of those shared whiteboard brainstorm sessions where everyone is passing the marker, grabbing a bagel, and sitting around an over-crowded conference table are gone for the foreseeable future.

Brainstorming and collaboration are not gone though – so how do we accomplish this already difficult-at-times task when we are sitting in our home-slash-office?

Think about the task at hand

What specific thing are you working on brainstorming? A lot of the times, a brainstorming session can be moot if you don’t focus on the brainstorm. Are you solving a problem? Looking for more information? Figuring out the target will help you and your team focus in a distracting and new space.

Ditch perfectionism

Now is the time we can dismiss the notion of being brilliant and embrace what brainstorming is – a series of right, wrong, and in between ideas that are used to get you and your team thinking. Now is not the time to have the perfect response, the idea everyone will think is the most amazing thing since sliced bread – because you won’t have the same energy that you would in a room full of coworkers. Whether it’s the overthinking, “Oh, no, did I say the right thing?” energy or the excitement of saying something brilliant, time to lean into what brainstorming is: an exchange of ideas.

Go intrapersonal first

Once you have the prompt or idea you’re brainstorming on, spend some time reflecting on your own. Take a moment, take a breath, and start letting all of the ideas run out of your brain and into the world. This might be writing everything down (no editing!) or running your ideas out stream of consciousness style and recording them on your computer or phone – the sky is the limit! Let them flow and try as hard as you can to leave your judgment at the door.

Use a sharing document or hop on video

Time to start spreading those ideas! I like starting with a shared Google Doc: you can start one and share with the team, and then develop group norms. This might be the order of “speaking” or suggestions on what to do if you agree with another person or have a comment. Whatever the norms are, be sure they work on the medium being used – if you plan on using Zoom or another video platform, be sure that the norms “fit.”

In my experience, the norms that are helpful for a shared document include: an order of writing/contributing (and ability to “pass” if you have nothing to add at the moment), a way of showing that you agree/have a question/would like to get more information on an idea that someone else contributed, and a way to indicate that you’d like to add more information or discuss further.

On video, the norms are similar, with the most important norm being obvious: turn-taking. Video is both fantastic and terrible for introverted people – and for folks to feel like they can contribute, allowing for flow as well as the ability to pass allows for open sharing.

Change the group size

Moving from large to small groups is great for attention spans – take this idea for discussion and you have a winner. If we’re in a large group constantly, sharing might feel like a judgmental chore, especially in a brainstorm, whether it’s on a screen or video. If you move to smaller groups or even partner conversations (or Google docs!), you’ll have a different level of comfort and engagement.

Remember, the brainstorming revolves around a focus! Find it, and make it rain!