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How to brainstorm asynchronously without losing idea quality

The office world chose synchronous as a foundation, and it led to tons of meetings that probably should have been an email. Remote work has the opportunity to flip that script, starting asynchronously and demanding justification for holding meetings.

December 4, 2020
Hunter McKinley

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How to brainstorm asynchronously without losing idea quality

Disliking remote work usually comes down to one thing: brainstorming. There are a lot of valid concerns that remote brainstorming is simply not as high quality as meeting in person. Between Zoom fatigue and the minutiae of emailing back and forth, it’s pretty irritating for even the staunchest remote work advocate. 

But there’s a problem with this mentality. Romanticizing the in-person meeting ignores how ineffective and over-meeting-ed the working world really was. We’re quick to jump on how horrible extended video chat is while conveniently forgetting how draining back-to-back meetings are in person. What we really need is a middle ground system - and that’s exactly what this article is all about.

What a new system needs to accomplish

Here are the outcomes that we feel brainstorming needs to accomplish - regardless of where it happens: there needs to be an easy idea flow and the ability for focused mental energy on the task at hand, in a reasonable amount of time. 

On the flip side, what we don’t want to happen: having to book a specific time, requiring in-person, and idea deterioration if there’s too much time lapsed between emails and meetings. 

The voice and audio brainstorming system

Using an audio and voice-first tool like Yac, here’s how the system operates: 

Step 1: Initiation: Someone with a challenge or a leader posing a problem to the team. This is done through a welcome voice note to everyone in a purpose-built team or group. If you’re using Yac, you can set up a group chat with the folks that need to be in on it. Alternatively, you can post using public links either in an email chain or Slack thread. 

Step 2: Parameters: Set time-boxes, usually within the day. Keep in mind that most tools can be used synchronously or asynchronously. For instance, if you are having a live conversation on Slack, it’s synchronous. If you send a message and say “don’t worry about this until tomorrow,” it’s asynchronous. Given this reality, setting a time box gives everyone the concept of acting ‘semi-synchronously’ - it’s not quite live or within the context of a single meeting, but at the same time you may have moments of collaborating in real-time.

Step 3: Brainstorm: This can either be live or have everyone send in their thoughts to add onto previous statements or add new ideas. If you’re using Yac, you can also add screen sharing into the conversation automatically and have voice notes automatically transcribed. 

Step 4: Break: This happens naturally as people have things to do in their day. If you send the message in the morning to be addressed within that day, then people can respond when they have a free moment or an idea comes to mind. Steps 3 and 4 can repeat throughout the day as needed. With this kind of system, the expectation is that people provide insight when they have something to provide, as opposed to booking a meeting and hoping everyone is fully prepared at that specific moment. 

Step 5: Repeat and resolve: Over the day, more messages and ideas come in. Ideally, the problem is resolved. If it’s not, book a quick synchronous meeting to hammer out any final details. 

Building an asynchronous foundation

You might notice that multiple steps in this process have moments that could become synchronous or be done in person. That’s on purpose. It’s critical to remember that “working asynchronously” is about the foundation you set, not creating a single way of working. The office world chose synchronous as a foundation, and it led to tons of meetings that probably should have been an email. Remote work has the opportunity to flip that script, starting asynchronously and demanding justification for holding meetings. 

This system sits in the middle for issues that require brainstorming but aren’t so urgent they need everyone to come together immediately. In the end, you get way more time back in your day and can send ideas as they come, helping solve problems faster. 

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