Whiteboard meetings are great in theory. They’re informal, collaborative, and designed to visualize processes and milestones in minutes. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own set of limitations — many of which actually negate the benefits. Fortunately, online whiteboards offer a solution to common disadvantages you probably haven’t considered.
Think back to your last in-person whiteboarding session. Was it a genuine group effort? On the surface, traditional whiteboard meetings seem collaborative. But what if the person at the front steals the spotlight and quieter people struggle to voice their ideas? Or, what if you work with remote staff who can’t attend due to a time difference?
And what happens to all those notes once the meeting’s over? What if someone accidentally wipes away your handiwork too soon? Or, what if the team can’t read the author’s handwriting later on? This is where digital whiteboards really step things up a notch.
Here are seven ways online whiteboards surpass the real thing.
1. Online whiteboards are way easier to read
We all have that one person whose handwriting looks like a toddler’s crayon drawings. And as we become more accustomed to typing, Skyping, pinching, and tapping, handwriting looks set to become a dying art form — as is our ability to decipher the writing of others. So, why battle the inevitable? Working digitally means you can create beautifully formatted, typed notes that everyone can read.
2. Going virtual is cheaper…and faster
Meetings are expensive. According to this calculator, a gathering of six people with an average salary of $40,000 costs the business around $120 an hour. If you’re a small business, that’s a lot of moola. If you’re a big company, that cost adds up if you consider how many different types of meetings take place every single day. And that’s before you factor in expenses for things like coffee and sandwiches or for travel accommodations, such as airfare, hotels, and paid travel time.
Working digitally means staff can attend from the comfort of their own homes or desks. There’s no extra cost for refreshments or travel. And people who are unable to join at a certain time can jump in whenever it’s convenient to find neat, annotated notes waiting for them.
Top tip: Color-code your notes and add annotations to make it easier to digest the information at a glance.
3. Online whiteboards are better for the environment
While environmental or health concerns may seem minimal, they’re something to consider when you regularly use dry-erase pens. First off, dry-erase markers are rarely recycled. Secondly, many contain harmful chemicals that get released into the air and your bloodstream with every use. Not to mention that meetings often include snacks individually packaged in plastic and team members driving in from various distances.
Working digitally is better for you and the environment. No one has to drive anywhere. There’s no need for dry-erase markers, and you don’t end up with a garbage can full of packaged sandwich wrappers at the end of it.
4. Virtual whiteboards look professional
Whiteboards usually start off neatly enough, but as ideas develop, the whole thing starts getting a bit messy. You might run out of space and end up with small, indecipherable notes. You might accidentally brush the board with your sleeve and rub a note off that no one can remember. Or, you might add sticky note annotations that smudge the writing underneath and are difficult to read from a distance. You get the idea.
Creating a digital version means you have a neater finished product. Everyone has crisply typed notes, tables with clean, straight lines, and plenty of space to add more info without having to squish your handwriting to fit.
5. Drawing and note-taking methods are unlimited
Most organizations that frequently host whiteboard meetings eventually run into the same problem: lack of space. So, what do they do?
They buy larger whiteboards and stick multiple units into one conference room. They get double-sided whiteboards, so you can turn them over and keep writing. Or, they attach a large notepad and switch between using the whiteboard and the paper. But the same problem keeps coming up. In the end, this lack of space forces you to either erase as you go or limit how you present the information in the first place.
Using an interactive whiteboard online, you can record different types of information in whatever format makes the most sense. You might prefer a simple list when discussing ideas for the company newsletter, while a table or flowchart might work better for a product planning meeting. The drawings are on individual sheets, and you can endlessly navigate between them without the need to erase anything.
6. Interactive whiteboards allow flexibility
Part of the beauty of whiteboard meetings is that they’re informal. Ideas are added ad hoc as people chat and bounce thoughts off one another. But when you run out of space or the meeting finishes, you’re potentially slamming on the brake pedal.
When you work digitally, you never run out of space or time. You can add annotations, graphs, charts, shapes, and colors. You can hop in post-meeting and add more ideas as they come to you later. Then, you can share it with your team and invite them to do the same.
Slower thinking usually results in more rational ideas, whereas fast thinking — like the kind you do in a meeting — tends to be more instinctual. Working on an editable, digital document means you can record and reap the benefits of both approaches.
Top tip: How do you digitally emulate the energy of face-to-face meetings? One way is to host a shared call and share your screen with everyone on the team. Then, you can chat away, bounce ideas off each other, and see the note-taking in action. Plus, you don’t have to worry about bad handwriting or mistakes because it’s on a screen.
7. Digital data is easier to preserve
You might say your whiteboard notes are supposed to be fast and disposable. Yet, it’s still a pain when you go into a meeting room, only to find someone has wiped your masterpiece clean away before you’re ready. Similarly, it’s annoying when you host a meeting, and someone leaves a ‘DO NOT CLEAN’ sign over the top of their own whiteboard notes.
Working digitally means that once you create something, it’s there to stay. When you’re done with it, you can folder it for future reference and retrieve it without having to recreate it or zoom in on out-of-focus phone photos.
Individual team members have the option to save copies however they like. And if you’re using a cloud-based diagramming tool, you can go back to the (online) drawing board at any time.
8. Digital data can be consolidated instantly
One of the best things about virtual tools is that teams can create content separately and merge it effortlessly. This flexibility means that people with different ways of working and processing information don’t have to feel pressured to perform on command.
Team members who find it challenging to think ideas through in a group, for example, can do their preliminary work independently. When it’s time for the whiteboard meeting, they can show up prepared to express their thoughts clearly with visuals to back them up.
Online whiteboard software typically allows you to import images, notes, and diagrams you created in other programs. You can add notations and drawings right on top of the visual without altering the original files.
9. Online whiteboard projects can be repurposed
Building on the two previous points, the whiteboard projects you create online can become reusable assets. Since you can easily save the data and combine it with other content, incorporate these resources into developing projects whenever it’s beneficial.
As an example, imagine conducting a review to understand what went wrong in a project. First, your team makes a loosely defined list of observations and suggestions. Then, as you notice patterns, you organize your findings into a diagram. You import other evidence or visuals to support your ideas. Together, you develop a list of steps to take in future projects to monitor and avoid this particular problem.
You can conduct this entire analysis using an online whiteboard tool. Then, turn the content into a presentation and add it to your official documentation for training or managing similar projects. You can also record during the meetings or include voiceover narration afterward. Both options allow you to explain the discussion or guide anyone who views the content.
While it’s possible to make usable assets from a traditional whiteboard meeting, it requires several steps of content creation along the way. Much of the original material gets discarded, and you risk losing clarity by having to transcribe the info without the full context of the discussion.
10. Online collaboration engages the whole group
Face-to-face whiteboard meetings consist of one to two people at the front holding a marker and everyone else sharing their ideas verbally. As a technique, it’s okay, but it can lead to quieter members of the group being overshadowed or personality clashes due to differences in communication styles.
Sharing notes, tables, and diagrams via a real-time whiteboard tool means you can all work on the document together, whenever and wherever’s convenient. Opening the floor up to everyone in the group encourages people to contribute actively — which is far more engaging than spending an hour staring at a whiteboard.
This post was originally published on December 6, 2019, and updated most recently on January 13, 2022.