dry erase markers falling onto a black stool in front of a blank whiteboard

A New Class of Digital Whiteboards Make Virtual Collaboration Easier

November 19, 2020 Collaboration and Productivity
scott clark
By Scott Clark

Whiteboards are a tried and tested way to share ideas, visualize thoughts and concepts, explain, teach, plan and create. Also known as a dry-erase board, these smooth glossy boards became commercially available in the early 1960s and became popular in the mid-1990s in classrooms, offices, meeting rooms and conference centers.

Those original boards gave way to digital whiteboards, large, interactive displays designed to look like traditional whiteboards. Digital whiteboards, or smart boards, are either standalone touchscreen computers or devices used as a touchpad to control a computer that is connected to a projector.

Now, a new class of online and virtually enabled whiteboards are emerging to support teamwork and project collaboration. For remote teams, these virtual digital whiteboards are a tool that can facilitate and enhance collaboration in real time.

“As organizations continue to adjust to remote work, a diverse combination of advanced collaboration solutions that make all forms of work more productive is vitally important," said David Hsieh, general manager of advanced collaboration at Lifesize, a video and telecommunications company in Austin, Texas. "With automatic real-time streaming of whiteboard content through both digital and purely virtual whiteboards, remote workers and those in the meeting room too can focus on the discussion and forget about transcribing notes from the board or struggling to see low-resolution whiteboard images.”

Examples of the newest versions of the digital whiteboard include online-only platforms like Mural and Miro and device- and app-enabled products like Vibe, Microsoft Surface Hub and Google Jamboard. Here are ways they are being used to improve employee collaboration.

Related Article: 7 Strategies to Tame Collaboration Complexity

Online and Virtual Whiteboards Enhance Remote Collaboration

While traditional and digital whiteboards are still in use in offices, the move to the remote workplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic drove adoption of virtual or online whiteboards for team collaboration. Some physical digital whiteboards, such as Google Jamboard, Vibe and Microsoft Surface Hub, include virtual whiteboard apps for mobile devices and laptops that work in conjunction with the physical whiteboard.

Online or virtual whiteboards add features including an infinite canvas, labeled collaborator cursors, live chat, the ability to attach files, different presentation options and the ability to share or export the digital whiteboard. Since online whiteboards are a service that is hosted in the cloud, participants can be anywhere with an Internet connection and still collaborate with coworkers using text, graphs, images, audio and drawings. 

“Brainstorming, planning, visualizing and teaching are the four reasons that people need a digital whiteboard," Hsieh said. "A picture is worth a thousand words if you don’t have the words to describe. If an organization had a weak collaboration stack pre-COVID, they could survive, but these technologies have now proven to be absolutely critical. Being able to work across distributed teams effectively and productively is now a top priority.”

Nathan Rawlins, chief marketing officer at visual collaboration suite provider Lucid, said virtual whiteboards provide remote workers with the ability to equally contribute and collaborate with other employees. “This ensures each team member, whether you’re brainstorming with a group of five or a group of 50, can share and capture their thoughts in real time and everyone has the same chance to contribute,” he said.

Use Virtual Whiteboards for Remote Team Meetings

Virtual whiteboards do not have the limitations of physical whiteboards and have additional functionality that facilitates meeting collaboration. Rawlins said they allow teams to instantly organize ideas by color, tag or keyword and enable them to more easily analyze the ideas generated and move to action planning.

"Meeting participants can also interact with each other’s ideas, tag other contributors, add sticky notes, draw different shapes and automatically group ideas together — all on an infinite canvas," he said. "The most effective online whiteboards are made to help teams build on each other’s ideas and enhance facilitation, collaboration, organization and action."

Online whiteboards are available for multiple platforms including Microsoft Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android, allowing employees to collaborate using their mobile devices. Examples of standalone online whiteboards, many of which are free, include: 

  • Web Whiteboard
  • Aww
  • Lucidspark
  • Writeboard
  • CoSketch
  • Scribblar
  • Stormboard
  • Ziteboard
  • ScribLink

Other online whiteboards such as Fuze Meeting Pro, Adobe Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx Meeting Center are part of a larger platform with additional collaboration functionality. 

Digital and virtual whiteboards are enabling companies to remotely do the same informal brainstorming and workshops they used to do on-site, said Drew Falkman, director of strategy at Modus Create. “Along with stable internet and a good video conferencing solution, whiteboard tools are the biggest contributors to successful remote sessions,” he said.

The experience of using a digital whiteboard in conjunction with virtual whiteboards is essentially the same for those who are in the office as those working remotely, and all participants are able to contribute. “Virtual whiteboards enable facilitators to design workshops beforehand, to empower participants to create and interactively contribute in real time or asynchronously, vote on elements within the board and do things that would be unimaginable in a conference room like collaborative live prototyping of an app using predefined components,” Falkman said.

Related Article: How the Internet of Things Enables Remote Workers

Use Visualization to Improve Collaboration

By using a digital whiteboard, employees can visually express their ideas and concepts to each other using text, images and diagrams. New unified communications and collaboration (UCC) technologies that include the use of digital whiteboards, video conferencing and the ability to share screens, have extended the workplace to allow collaboration among geographically distant employees. 

The ability to visually share ideas using digital whiteboards increases employee engagement and productivity while enhancing team collaboration. Even if they can't fully replicate the in-person experience, Brian Martucci, finance editor at Money Crashers, supports the use of visual collaboration tools such as digital whiteboards to enhance the employee experience, increase efficiency and remove potential communication roadblocks.

“The benefits of visual collaboration tools are clear: better communication between teammates, less confusion around responsibilities and deadlines, and higher rates of productivity overall,” he said. Digital whiteboards are also useful for client communication and collaboration and reduce the kinds of miscommunication that can threaten the success of projects, he added.

A recent report by Lucidspark, a digital whiteboard provider, revealed that 23% of those polled said virtual meetings were not adequate because they did not include a shared visual collaboration space. Additionally, the report showed that 75% of remote employees who had concerns about working remotely said team collaboration is what has suffered the most. The visual stimulation that digital whiteboards provide is a potential solution. In fact, 29% of remote workers polled indicated that a shared visual collaborative space is one of the top three most important aspects of a productive meeting.

Use Digital Whiteboards for Learning Initiatives

Learning is another area where digital and virtual whiteboards can make a difference. Virtual, online access allows employees to collaborate as they learn, asking and answering questions, and sharing multimedia and graphics. Sessions can be saved in multiple formats to be studied at a later time, whether the employee is in the office or working remotely. Learning in this way as part of a group increases engagement and collaboration while building team loyalty. 

Many educators have been using digital whiteboards along with virtual whiteboards to teach remote students during the pandemic. This has enabled them to use the digital whiteboard in a traditional manner while allowing students to remain safely at home while they learn. Additionally, a study by Promise Academy indicated that interactive whiteboards significantly enhance a student’s learning experience.

“The same principles can be applied to remote learning, whether talking about traditional education in schools or employee training in the workforce," Rawlins said. "Virtual whiteboards offer a platform where students, teachers, new employees and teammates can share their ideas in a flexible workspace that makes it easy to trade feedback, ideate in real-time and explore possibilities together.” 

Just as the dry-erase whiteboard replaced the blackboard, digital whiteboards are replacing physical whiteboards in offices. New virtual functionality further improves engagement and collaboration. Remote workers can collaborate and contribute to meetings, and the visual nature of digital whiteboards encourages creativity and helps improve learning, allowing employees to contribute ideas and concepts through text, audio, drawing, graphs and images. 


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