4 Things to remember when brainstorming online during
COVID-19

In this quick guide you can get some essential information on how to facilitate online brainstorming with clients during the era of COVID-19. My name’s Wojciech and I run innovation workshops in Consonance, a medtech R&D studio with a proven track record of tech projects for the medical and pharma sectors.

1. Have back-up solutions. Especially now.
Recently, many aspects of our life have become 100% online. This has generated an overwhelming use of popular digital technologies. Engineers do their best to adapt their tech to this new reality, but considering how numbers have skyrocketed, it has become quite obvious that we are at an increased risk of our favourite tech suddenly going down. In one of the workshops I facilitated with a client in April, I basically relied on one tool of group collaboration. Three out of four group exercises were supposed to be done 100% with this technology. Everything worked amazingly well up to the day of the workshop but, literally 10 minutes after the workshop started, the external tech went down. I needed a backup. Luckily, I had one. It wasn’t as good, but I had it. And you should have it too. Before starting the workshop, you should ask yourself a series of questions, like: What do I do as a facilitator if X goes down? What do I do if a tool for exercise Y goes down? What do I do if my co-facilitator has bandwidth problems? It is actually quite a good idea to imagine a total technological apocalypse for a moment in order to predict possible scenarios. In our case, we came to the conclusion that we need to have two tools for every major group collaboration exercise done in the workshop.

2. Remember that group dynamics are different these days.
Before COVID-19, the idea of an online workshop sounded really fun, especially because workshops are supposed to be interactive and engaging. For many participants, it was a change from the daily routine. Now it is a part of the routine. And it is a massive change. If you live in a country under lockdown, and the reality nowadays is that you likely are, during workshops you meet people who have been working from the same room for weeks, doing online group collaboration for the whole day for weeks, people likely deprived of physical activity. Think about it when arranging breaks. Perhaps you should do them more often than you normally do. Perhaps you should engage participants with more impactful icebreakers. Perhaps the whole workshop should be a bit shorter than you thought. Take care of group dynamics – normally this is somewhat of a cliché, but these days it is especially important.

3. Carefully “digitize” your workshop exercises.
If you were doing a lot of offline brainstorming activities prior to COVID, you may think that you just need to transfer the same procedures into a digital setting and that’s it. Not so fast. You will quickly find out that not everything successfully survives this transfer. You should not be too stressed about it, just try to find a sweet spot. If an amazing creative exercise you did hundreds of times offline doesn’t work well in an online brainstorm (and some certainly don’t), then don’t push it too hard. Try to find something more appropriate. Digital *is* a different setting and, let me say it again: this is not a cliché in the current situation. A workshop facilitated with the physical presence of the group has entirely different dynamics. It is natural that not every part of your good ol’ workshop will work well under a new online format.

4. Simulate the workshop with your team.
When transferring a so far offline group collaboration into an online setting, it is vital to check out the format internally before working it out with the client. We faced this challenge with our workshops. Suddenly we had to do *everything* online and we wondered how to do it. So, what we did was brainstorm the idea of a 100% online workshop. Then we researched the technologies that could meet our needs. Then we applied point 3 from this article. And finally, we sat down together and simulated an entire workshop with our colleagues and friends. This is how we learned what works and what doesn’t.
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Innovation Landscape is a service provided by Consonance where we work with you to develop from scratch product innovation which supports your needs, processes and other products. The whole idea of this process is that it is meant to be super quick. We meet online for a 3-hour workshop in a fast-paced brainstorming environment. The result of this process leads to the pre-development phase, during which a prototype of your product will be built by our engineers and designers.

Contact us to learn more about the service:
office@consonance.tech
Wojciech Bieroński
Product Innovation Manager
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