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Virtual ideation with LNER

John Spanton
Business Development Director, Valtech


To achieve the project's ambitious goals during lockdown and COVID-19, we worked with LNER to trailblaze new ways of collaborating and virtual working.

To kick off our 'ways of working' experiments, we began with a 3-hour virtual high-level ideation and inspiration workshop. Attendees were a group of 20 people made up of the core project team, senior stakeholders and an enthusiastic bunch of other participants from Valtech globally.

The aim of the session was to generate as many high-level ideas as possible so that these could be themed and further refined in subsequent design hackathons. We also wanted to inspire the team in terms of where technology is heading, design, how we live, purchase and travel – to open up our minds to a variety of possibilities and to help us think creatively, which would be so important for the ideation part of the session.

Group ideation and inspiring a team are classic activities to do as a group and in person. With ideation, we tend to use collaborative and creative exercises like group sketching, set up to be fun in a welcoming and safe environment for participants. When inspiring a team in a session we often do things such as having a lot of visual stimulus (e.g., covering a room / wall with imagery), guest speakers, creative activities and allowing people to play with VR/ AR and other relevant and exciting technology.

Recreating how to do the activities we normally do virtually and to create the right vibe to allow participants to feel comfortable and engaged was challenging. Fortunately, we have found this to be really achievable and some aspects perhaps even better done virtually than in person. How did we achieve this? Read on for our top tips….


Make the most of the fact your session is virtual

  • Make it global! We invited Valtechers from many other Valtech countries to participate. This allowed us to achieve a much wider set of perspectives and experiences and therefore a better set of really great and diverse ideas. Something if we’d tried to in person would have been expensive and difficult to arrange.
  • Use the chat window in your video conferencing software to allow people to post comments or ask questions during the session. This makes it easier for people who are less inclined to speak up during an in-person session.
  • Miro (or other virtual whiteboard tools) are your new best friends. The advantage of using these overusing a whiteboard in person is that it’s easier for everyone to work on the board at once, it stays ‘live’ after the session and your notes are captured in the session, so you don’t have so much up to write up after.


You and your team

  • Be positive. Your role as host is really important. It can be hard to keep people engaged over a remote session. Make sure you come full of energy and chat – it’s easy to fall into difficult silences so you need to be ready to keep the energy following.
  • Use humour. Humour is a great way of making participants feel comfortable. For a comical touch in the timed exercises we did, we used the classic Channel 4 Countdown timer. Small touches like this help people feel more relaxed and therefore more creative.
  • Don’t do it alone. If you’re running the session enlist other members of your team to help. This could be to help facilitate, act as notetaker or to help participants navigate how to use the tools in the background while you focus on facilitation.


Get creative

  • Get creative with how you inspire. We spent the first part of the session showcasing imagery, insights and video from a wide range of exciting stimuli selected by Valtech experts and discussed these as a group prior to the ideation part.
  • You can still get creative with your warmup exercise. We did one inspired by an Ideo exercise that we call Magic Circles and normally do in person. Prior to the session we asked everyone to come with a pen and paper. For this exercise, we asked each participant to draw 4 circles on their paper, they were given 5 mins to use the circles to draw whatever they wanted (the circles are magic because they can become anything). The results were amazing! Such diversity of thought, a lot of humour and it really warmed up everyone’s brain prior to the task ahead.

  • Ideation is possible! We achieved our goal and generated tons of ideas within the session. To do this we looked at 5 different core themes. For each theme we timeboxed the activity to 5 minutes and asked everyone to write or draw as many thoughts as possible. Participants posted ideas directly into the online whiteboard or scribbled onto paper and shared after – we wanted people to feel comfortable, so the method was up to them, though we found almost everyone used the whiteboard tool. The ideas within were then discussed, affinity sorted and later taken through to be used in follow up sessions.


"Great virtual ideation session all, worked well!"

"Thanks guys, that was a really good session - especially when adding in that it was done remotely!"

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