Facilitating Virtual Collaboration: Tips and Tricks for Being Creative Virtually
By Nicole Lowenbraun
While our new virtual world has changed the way we do business, it hasn’t stopped the creative wheel. Many of us are still tasked with solving creative challenges for ourselves, our clients, and customers.
From creating a new business model, to naming a new product, to finding ways to make your event happen virtually, teams across every industry must find new ways to come together to keep those juicy ideas flowing.
Knowing that collaboration is key to creativity, we’ve created a system for solving our clients’ biggest problems (both in-person, and virtually.)
Just remember, it’s still possible to solve creative problems even when you’re not in the room together. If you follow these tips, you and your team can maintain the brainpower and creativity necessary to “wow” your audience, too.
Step #1: Discover
We’ve nicknamed this first step the “disco.”
Here, you meet with your audience (client, customer, team, etc.) to create alignment. You work together to uncover the problem and extract as much information as you can in order to solve it and guide the audience towards change.
The most critical part of the disco is active listening. It’s critical that you come prepared with questions that will help lead your team in a problem-solving direction. At Duarte, we develop exercises to make sure our audience feels heard.
Your audience might be unclear in what direction they’d like to go. If you’re having difficulty getting guidance from your audience, be prepared to introduce creative ideas that will inspire a reaction and guide a direction.
Our designers use mood boards in order to elicit feelings and thoughts about color, photography, iconography, etc. Mood boards set up parameters around what our clients like and what they don’t.
Your team can prepare in the same way by bringing ideas to the table that will spark a reaction. Ideally, by the end of the disco, you and your audience come to a conclusion so you can take the information you’ve gathered back to your team and execute.
Step #2: Inspire the Team
Once you have the information you need from the disco, it’s time to relay that information to the larger team in a way that inspires them to get creative. We think of this as the rally cry.
In this phase, we give the team a snippet of what’s to come. We might do that verbally with energetic statements such as, “This is a really exciting project!” Or we might discuss the overall goal for the project.
For visual inspiration, we might show the team which elements of the mood board the client reacted positively towards. Or we might point out elements of the brand that the client is looking to change. This might be a shorter step, but it’s a critical one.
Sometimes team members who weren’t part of the disco need inspiration and energy that they didn’t experience during the initial meeting. The goal of this step is to get the juices flowing, bring awareness, and step off on the right foot.
The more information you can share verbally and visually, the more the team will be ready to brainstorm.
Step #3: Brainstorm
Many professionals are trying to uncover new ways to creatively collaborate virtually right now.
Our creative team is spread out all over the country, so we’ve mastered the virtual brainstorm. For us, brainstorms require a balance of fun and lighthearted connection while maintaining active engagement.
To get the most out of a virtual brainstorm (or any brainstorm for that matter), everyone needs to be heard. All ideas are welcome in this step, so if you’re leading, open up discussions, ask questions, and promote people’s ideas.
Keep it free-flowing and organic, not overwhelming.
For brainstormers who enjoy using whiteboards in person, consider using a digital whiteboard. We’re big fans or Miro—a virtual whiteboard that allows endless visual brainstorming in a way that feels analogue.
Incorporate sticky notes, PowerPoint slides, mood boards and other creative content in one place so all your ideas are bound together. Miro integrates with many other technologies and offers a great free version for your team to explore.
Other collaborative apps and brainstorming tools include ProCreate (iPad), Adobe Suite, Google Docs and Sharepoint, all of which allow you to work together virtually. But ultimately, brainstorming is all about the connection.
The tool isn’t as important as the inspirational work you create together; it’s simply the canvas with which you explore those ideas.
Step #4: Produce
After the brainstorm, it’s time to choose a direction, delegate tasks, and create.
This can be a really fun and exciting step in the collaborative creative process, as you can start to see things come together holistically. You and your team are finally connecting the dots and bringing in the details.
But it can also be a draining step. So make sure you carry the excitement you built during the brainstorm into the actual work.
At this juncture, the problem has now been solved and it’s time for the leaders to assemble the parts and create a product.
For designers, this means going into the platform with your inspiration and developing visuals.
For writers, it’s taking the brainstormed outline and developing the narrative for your presentation.
If you’re a team leader, it’s not only important to provide your team with the tools they need to make things come to life. It’s also critical to lead by example. Take some of those brainstormed ideas and execute them yourself.
We find that working with your team in parallel allows your team to see solid examples of the creative work you’re looking for, but it also helps instill dialogue and trust in a supportive way.
Step #5: Delight the Audience
Delighting the audience means delivering the pitch. Unveiling the product. Displaying your ideas. This is the final step in which your team shares, not only the finished results with your audience, but the journey that got you there.
We find that walking our clients through our process is as important as showing them the narrative or the design.
We suggest telling your audience how you landed on that creative work, why you made the creative choices you did, and how this will solve the problem your audience tasked you with solving.
You’re more likely to get acceptance and consensus if your audience understands the steps you endured to come to your conclusion. Be prepared to repeat this process until your audience is wowed.
Even at Duarte, we rarely solve creative problems on the first try. We know how difficult virtual collaboration can be.
It’s always more fun to be collectively creative when you’re in the same room. But as a company whose employees are spread across the U.S., we know it’s possible to solve creative problems virtually using the five steps we’ve outlined above.
The same steps you use to create stories, visuals, and other creative products and ideas in person can be used virtually with the right mindset and tools.
For more on this topic, watch the recording of Comm Together: Facilitating Virtual Collaboration on YouTube or below.
Illustrated by Jonathan Valiente
Co-authored by Nicole Lowenbraun, Dan Durller, and Brittany Postler
Virtual communication, Visual thinking