How to encourage creative thinking in remote teams

By Allo Team Apr 14, 2022
Apr 14, 2022

It’s not uncommon to find remote workforce critics claiming that innovation and creativity are only effective in a traditional office setting. They think innovation and creativity take a backseat with remote teams.

With businesses all over the world working with a global workforce for nearly two years, it’s evident that this isn’t the case.

In fact, The New York Times said that according to experts, there is no proof that remote work stifles creativity and innovation or that physical sessions are more effective. In fact, physical may even hurt innovation because working at a prescribed time and place is a huge reason why the workplace has been stressful for a lot of people.

This blog will talk about the different aspects of creative thinking and discuss strategies that you can implement to conduct successful creative thinking sessions.

Let’s dive in!

Moving on from traditional creative thinking sessions

It’s generally assumed that when people set aside time (including traveling to the place), focus, and energy, they’re better set up to maximize their investment and contribute more enthusiastically.

However, when you organize virtual creative thinking sessions in the right way, you can naturally replicate this feeling of connectedness and even improve factors like time and energy.

Virtual sessions provide people more flexibility and give them the chance to contribute creative ideas from their ideal thinking space, which may not always be your company’s conference room.

By allowing your team to carve out time and get into the right mindset, you’re setting yourself up for success with virtual creative thinking sessions.

How to shift from traditional creative thinking sessions to virtual creative thinking sessions

Examine your assumptions

Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Be granular with your agenda and include breaks if you think your creative thinking session needs it.

You can introduce breakout rooms to ensure even your most introverted team members get the chance to share their ideas.

Establish ground rules like using the ‘Raise hand’ feature if you want to raise a point that is related to the discussion but may break the flow of the conversation.

Virtual accessibility

Be proactive and ensure all your team members have access to the documents and digital tools they may need during the session.

Virtual engagement

To encourage members to be more vocal and open up during the session, you can conduct warm-up and ice-breaker activities before you get into the agenda.

You can use techniques like live polls, quizzes, and puzzles to ensure your members don’t get distracted during the session and make things fun!

Virtual tools and processes

There are several design thinking practices and applications that you can leverage to establish the right methodology, tools, and session templates.

Share a brief about these practices and encourage your team members to check out these tools before the creative thinking session.

If this is your first creative thinking session, or maybe you’re simply trying to work with a new tool, allow some space for things to go wrong and add a little buffer time to your agenda.

What is Visual Thinking?

People are inclined to think visually.

Consider the last time you encountered a traffic signal. It’s likely that you processed the color before any of the words, assuming there were any at all. These signals show how compelling visuals can be in conveying information more quickly.

Visual thinking allows us to process information more quickly and gives us the ability to recall data for a longer timeframe. It’s also a great way to organize and construct thoughts, making it much easier for others to follow along with your train of thought.

Design thinking is an established process that allows people to better understand their audience and their pain points, challenge assumptions, and approach a problem from different angles to develop alternative strategies that may not have been obvious at first.

With design thinking, companies can create deliverables that provide an excellent user experience to their clients and customers.

Role of visual thinking in remote communication

Visual thinking allows business to optimize their ideation, collaboration, and workflow process.

It enables teams to:

  • Understand and convey our ideas in a simple manner
  • Break down complex concepts into understandable chunks
  • Interpret information and make connections while brainstorming ideas
  • Collaborate efficiently to execute the ideas discussed during the creative thinking session.

Visual thinking allows team members to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions and encourages them to think outside the box and embrace design thinking.

Benefits of conducting design thinking sessions for your remote teams

Design thinking sessions are an excellent way for teams to systematically work on a particular problem.

Here are a few benefits of conducting remote design thinking sessions:

  1. Focus. Your entire team has carved time out of their schedule to come together digitally and focus primarily on a single task. They aren’t switching between different things or getting distracted by other tasks.
  2. Alignment. During design thinking sessions, people from different teams can collaborate and work towards overcoming the same challenge. You have the ability to rope in people from different departments with different specializations and experiences to work together on the same problem.
  3. Collaboration. This unique methodology gives people the room to function creatively and also provides a structure to the entire process. This ensures that people don’t stray away from the objective while they focus on thinking outside the box.
  4. Perspectives. Design thinking empowers teams to recognize unique perspectives and derive a framework that allows solutions to come through from unexpected places. When people from different walks of life come together to solve a single issue, it’s an excellent outlet for creativity and innovation.
  5. User-centricity. The reason why design thinking is so effective is that it’s a user-centered approach. It allows teams to discard their assumptions about their target audience and actually step into their shoes.

What are the five stages of Design Thinking?

Empathize

The first stage is to gain an empathic understanding of your customers and the issue you’re trying to resolve.

You have to start your design thinking process with the user as your primary focus. Don’t assume what they want or are thinking. Talk to them directly or consult with experts who can help you understand your target audience’s experiences and motivations.

Here are a few visual thinking activities you can try to better understand your customers or clients and how they use your products or services.

  1. Empathy map. An empathy map is designed as a square with the user at the center. Divide your square into four quadrants, with each section reflecting what your user says, thinks, feels, and does. With an empathy map, you can ensure that your creative thinking session is user-centric and put all your research data into perspective with visual thinking.
  2. User personas. Using your current customer research data, create your ideal user personas. You can understand precisely who your target customer is by observing their behavior, their primary goal, and the things that stop them from achieving these goals.
  3. Customer journey maps. Creating customer journey maps allows teams to visualize how their target audience interacts with their products and services at different touchpoints. These touchpoints could be social media, your official website, email, or even your physical stores. A visual representation of these interactions can give you an in-depth insight into your overall customer experience, identify potential issues and take steps to negate or minimize their impact, boost retention rate, and find data that can help you make better decisions.

Define

In this stage of your design thinking process, you put together everything you’ve gathered during the first stage.

Here’s where you can identify the core issues by analyzing the information at hand and observing patterns and connections.

In this stage, your primary objective is to define the challenge you’re facing in a human-centered manner.

The Define stage helps members generate ideas that can help them determine different elements that your team can use to solve the problem, or allow your audience to solve the issue by themselves with minimum effort.

You can visualize information to gain clarity of the problem by using the Cause-and-effect diagram.

Also known as the Ishikawa diagram, this technique helps teams logically organize all possible causes of a particular issue by representing them graphically. This diagram presents the problem in extreme detail and allows teams to find connections between different theories.

Ideate

In this stage of design thinking, you primarily focus on generating ideas.

It isn’t uncommon to find that the second and third stages can sometimes occur simultaneously.

When you’re brainstorming different aspects of a problem, it’s only natural for your brain to simultaneously think of solutions to tackle these issues.

While during the second stage, you may note down the most obvious solution; the ideation stage of design thinking focuses on encouraging new and unique solutions.

Mind mapping is an excellent technique to brainstorm ideas and gather information. They usually have a central focus where teams try to branch out and brainstorm related ideas.

You can use mind maps to come up with fresh ideas and find creative solutions by expanding on them.

It’s important not to judge the effectiveness or feasibility of an idea while brainstorming during this phase.

No idea is too complicated or too simple during the ideation phase.

Noting every possible solution can help the team connect different ideas and combine them to create something mind-blowing!

Prototype

After the ideation stage, you should have a few unique solutions that you are ready to test.

Creating a mock-up of your idea is a smart way to understand whether or not an idea is feasible and determine if it’s worth exploring in depth.

While a single team can test the product, it’s usually a good idea to rope in other departments or even people outside your team who would actually use the solution in real life.

This design phase allows teams to identify which of their brainstormed solutions best fit to tackle the problem at hand.

The prototype stage involves creating, testing, and then approving, rejecting, or tweaking each idea before testing them again.

Test

The prototyping stage usually helps identify ideas that can’t be implemented while pushing others to the forefront. In this phase, the best solution identified during the prototyping stage is implemented and released into the market.

While this is the final stage of the 5 stage design thinking model, it doesn’t imply that design thinking is a five-step process.

Design thinking is not a one-time event. In fact, it’s a process that goes through multiple iterations before a final solution is released.

Tips to Boost Creative Thinking in Your Remote Team

Make it a bi-weekly thing

Make creative thinking sessions a bi-weekly event of 30 to 60 minutes. Like all other skills, functioning creatively as a team requires practice.

Hosting regular brainstorming sessions not just helps increase creativity, but also encourages the team to form closer bonds and understand how to function together in a creative space.

Don’t include too many people

To organize a fun creative thinking session, it’s vital to ensure that the team isn’t too big or small. During a brainstorming session, it’s usual to gain inspiration from others and bounce around ideas that help generate new ones.

But if you conduct the session with a large group, it may be decremental because members may feel like they’re not being heard and take a step back.

It’s usually a safe bet to have five to seven people during a session. If you have a larger team, you can take advantage of features like breakout rooms to split up your team.

You can even make a challenge out of it and have these teams compete to find who can come up with the most ideas!

Select a Suitable Method

While there are numerous brainstorming techniques you can choose from, it’s critical to realize that not all of them may be effective enough or help resolve the issue at hand.

Other than the ones we’ve already mentioned above, here is a list of our favorite techniques and frameworks:

  1. Brainwriting. When you work with a team, it’s obvious that a few members may be more outspoken about their ideas and opinions than others. The brainwriting technique involves all team members jolting down their ideas on the whiteboard simultaneously and then going through each of these ideas together.
  2. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. You can combine this with the brainwriting technique and look at the problem through different lenses. S.C.A.M.P.E.R. means:
  3. Substitute (What if you swap idea A for idea B?)
  4. Combine (What if you combined idea A and idea B?)
  5. Adapt (How can you adapt an idea to a different context?)
  6. Modify (How can you modify something to provide more value?)
  7. Put to Another Use (How else can you use a particular idea?)
  8. Eliminate (Is there anything you can remove?)
  9. Reverse (How can you reorganize things to make them more effective?)
  10. Rapid ideation. The main objective of this technique is to generate as many ideas as your team can. With a 2 or 5 minute timer, you can ask your team member to write down as many ideas as they can think of on the virtual whiteboard. You can sort these ideas into different categories and then go for another round where team members can build upon the ideas on the whiteboard. It’s a good idea to conduct a few rounds before you start discussing each idea together.

Use virtual whiteboard

While there are several other brainstorming techniques you can work with, one thing they all have in common is using a virtual whiteboard.

The environment of your creative meeting shouldn’t be like your standard or conference meetings.

It’s crucial to create a fun environment that stimulates the creative aspect of your brain and influences people to be more open to sharing their ideas.

An excellent way to do this is by using a giant virtual whiteboard and getting all your team members to participate simultaneously in a remote setting.

They allow teams to collaborate virtually and brainstorm, gather, and organize their ideas.

Virtual collaboration during a brainstorming session can have members contributing in different ways, like typing or even doodling, which can make things very interesting.

They can be incredible for virtual collaboration, but you have to provide your team with the right tools.

Allo’s canvas is a highly-functional virtual whiteboard where teams can collaborate in real-time with sticky notes, text, images, and doodles.

You can try Allo for today and organize efficient, creative thinking sessions with your remote team!

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

- Benjamin Franklin -

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