Over the past 18 months, nearly every industry has experienced the disruption of its workforce. Whether businesses came to a full stop or managed to stay connected remotely during those early months of lockdowns, the dust is finally settling and companies are determining the best path forward. For some, the remote and hybrid models have proven to work well while others cannot wait to bring their employees back in person.
There are great arguments for all three scenarios, but the most important factor to consider is this: How much do teams or individuals rely on collaboration? As CEO of a global public relations firm with associates, partner agencies and clients scattered across five continents, it is not always possible or financially sound to conduct meeting in person, which is why video conferencing has been so vital. Of course, we were always judicious in our decisions regarding where and when travel was appropriate, but the pandemic forced us to rely on — and discover the value of — virtual tools in a way we would have otherwise never realized. We were fortunate that, as an essential service, remote stretched only nine weeks. During this time, most of us, particularly staff in our headquarters in California, recognized how irreplaceable it is to sit in a room together, whether to brainstorm on a new campaign or offer support during an unpredictable time.
Just last week, a client whose employees are still remote asked us to join a video call to brainstorm on a new company name. A few of them had their cameras on, some connected only through audio. Our team was together in the main conference room. When it came time to offer suggestions, our team members were able to have side conversations that led to some of the top names the company ended up considering. Certain members in the meeting commented that there’s really nothing like being physically present in a room and feeling the energy and excitement. I couldn’t agree more.
Several months ago, we went through a rebranding, which included a new logo and website. It’s hard to imagine the outcome had we all been working remotely. At the same time, we were embarking on developing a new industry survey for our media partners — a first for the agency. It was truly a group effort that required us to be in the same office together. And I’ll tell you why: During the summary phase, especially, the immediacy of being able to contribute commentary, review, make edits and recommend design changes in real time not only saved us countless hours of sending files back and forth but also demonstrated the collective power and supportive nature of everyone involved.
This isn’t to say that being physically together is a prerequisite for releasing ideation. Certainly not. But there are definitely tried-and-tested “rules” or ways to foster ideation regardless of where a team or individuals may be working:
1) There are no rules, but there are guiding principles, one of which is “There are no bad ideas.”
2) In a brainstorm, emphasize storm and let the rain (ideas) pour down.
3) Someone on the team must be willing to start and throw a few balls, or a wild pitch, to open the door for those who may be hesitant to offer up an idea. Not everyone is confident in the ideation process, so being sensitive is a necessity, or the best idea may never cross the strike zone.
4) Use a virtual or physical white board and assign a note taker. Spidergrams are a great way to help the group see the interconnections happening and how they branch off to more ideas.
5) Use exercises, like word association, and “worksheets” that inspire creativity. When working on a slogan, for example, invite the group to name their favorite color, season, movie, book, word, place, number, tree, etc. One or more of those words may trigger an idea or lead to another.
6) If the process stalls or seems unproductive, get the group to focus on something completely unrelated. (It’s surprising how everyday conversations can lead to an inspiring idea.) Then, be sure to bring the group back into focus.
Releasing ideation isn’t just a process. It’s also a mindset. Let people have fun (within reason) and give them the space to let their imaginations run wild. If we want to see how far our team can take an idea, we cannot put them in a corral. When people feel their contributions are valued, they will take the task with them after hours, thinking while on a run, in a pool, in the gym, sitting at home in front of a warm fire or dreaming about it. More often than not, it’s the employees who are invested, not necessarily the most creative, who reach that EUREKA moment, when the great idea comes pouring out.
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