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During the Coronavirus pandemic, virtual meetings via Zoom, Teams, and the like have become ubiquitous and—for some—the perfect opportunity to turn off the camera and disengage. But what happens when you have an urgent business need that depends not only on high engagement across a wide sector of your employees but also on these employees being creative? How do you overcome Zoom fatigue and/or an inherent fear of technology that could potentially prevent participants from generating as many ideas as they would during an in-person ideation session?

Our client, a casual dining chain, needed to generate creative and fun ideas across four core business platforms to win and retain customers. However, when initial efforts to ideate in-house did not generate the ideas they needed to meet their business objectives, they approached C+R for help.

Our research team utilized an online meeting platform and whiteboard space to lead a fun and engaging virtual ideation session filled with activities to promote idea generation. At the end of the 2-1/2-hour session, our client had over 70 new ideas to help move their brand forward and attract more customers. 

Problem

Our client, a casual dining chain, needed to ideate as many new menu items and promotional offers as possible across four core business units that would attract customers to their restaurants. Initially, they tried to tackle the ideation internally, but this exercise did not yield many ideas. Since we’d worked with the client pre-pandemic conducting a successful in-person ideation session, they approached us to facilitate a virtual version for them. 

Ideations are normally held in person, generally in fun off-site spaces that help put participants in a different frame of mind so they can think differently and more creatively. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person workshops weren’t possible. Therefore, we were tasked with leading the ideation session virtually while keeping it fun and engaging to inspire creativity. 

Hosting the session virtually presented additional challenges not typically faced with in-person ideations, namely overcoming barriers to quickly learning a new technology and the fatigue that can set in when participants sit idly for too long in front of a computer screen.

Result

C+R tackled the technology barriers by having our team run the online platform, which cognitively freed the client teams for ideation. The participants remained engaged throughout the session and produced over 70 ideas across the four themes   in a single 2.5-hour workshop. During the session, participants began to prioritize the ideas they felt were most likely to help them meet their business objectives. 

Solution

To create a fun, productive virtual ideation, we set up a four-stage process.

First, prior to the actual session—and to prime them for the workshop—we asked participants to complete a brief ‘homework’ assignment. Each person was assigned one of the four opportunity platforms the client had identified for ideation and asked to look for real world examples the company could leverage. This assignment helped to spur participants’ thinking so they were ready to go immediately at the start of the workshop.

Next, at the beginning of the workshop, members of both the client and C+R teams met as a single group on an online meeting hub. The client’s team consisted of members of marketing, operations, and chefs; C+R’s team consisted of one primary facilitator as well as several ‘drivers’—dedicated members tasked with handling technical needs and facilitating the conversation in virtual breakout groups so the clients could concentrate on ideating. The full group reviewed the research and business objectives, including the four platforms that would be ideated on.

The larger group then split into four smaller teams. This was achieved via the platform’s built-in ‘breakout rooms’, which automatically created smaller virtual rooms for each smaller team to privately meet and ideate. To inspire and capture the ideas generated, the C+R ‘driver’ used fun and creative exercises designed to inspire creativity and an online whiteboard.   For instance, one team selected from different categories (protein, sauce, spice) to fit ingredients together into a new menu idea. Another team played a trivia game where the questions and answers promoted them to consider different styles of cuisine and regional specialties for inspiration. Another team used an optimization technique to improve current menu offerings. The final team had a game board that prompted them to generate different promotional ideas for specific menu items. For each idea, the C+R driver captured its name, a brief summary of what it entailed, and a ‘reason to believe’ the client could leverage to ensure the idea met customers’ needs. 

After the allotted time for the breakout sessions, the meeting system seamlessly transitioned each smaller team back into the larger virtual room. Each team then presented two to three favorite ideas to the larger group, and others had the opportunity to build on the ideas. Any builds were captured by the C+R facilitator on the whiteboard platform. 

After the full group convergence, the ideas were compiled, and the team was able to individually review them and privately vote for the ones they felt had the most potential across the four business platforms. 

To combat “Zoom fatigue,” the entire ideation session lasted just a few hours (versus all day for a traditional in-person workshop) and a included a fast-paced session plan and a combination of full-group, small group, and individual work to maintain engagement. 
 

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