7 reasons online whiteboards beat the real thing

7 reasons online whiteboards beat the real thing

Whiteboard meetings are great in theory: they’re informal, collaborative, and you can quickly 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.

For example, it’s true that whiteboard meetings are collaborative — but what if the person at the front steals the spotlight and quieter people struggle to get their voices heard? 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 7 ways online whiteboards surpass the real thing.

1. It’s 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. It’s cheaper… and quicker

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. If you’re a big company, that’s a lot if you consider how many different types of meetings take place every single day. And that’s before you factor in costs for things like coffee and sandwiches — or for those traveling from afar: airfare, hotel accommodation, 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’s convenient to neat, annotated notes. This is what’s known as asynchronous communication, and it allows your employees to work a little more on their own terms. It’s also a must for remote teams in different time zones.

TOP TIP: Color-code your notes and add annotations to make it easier to digest the information at-a-glance.

3. It’s better for the environment

While environmental or health concerns may seem minimal, they are something to consider when regularly using dry erase pens. First off, dry erase pens are not widely recycled. Secondly, many contain harmful chemicals — including Xylene — that are released into the air and into your bloodstream with every use. Not to mention that meetings often include snacks individually packaged in plastic and many 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. It looks 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 Post-It 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, with notes typed up, neat tables, straight lines, and plenty of space to add more at any end without having to squish your handwriting to fit.

5. It’s flexible

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 emulate the energy of face-to-face meetings digitally? One way is to host a shared call and share your screen with everyone in the team. Then you can chat away, bounce ideas off each other and see the note-taking in action. Plus, because it’s on a screen, you don’t have to worry about bad handwriting or mistakes.

6. It’s longer-lasting

You might say your whiteboard notes are supposed to be fast and disposable. But it’s still a pain when you go into the meeting room, only to find someone’s wiped your masterpiece clean away before you’re ready. Similarly, it’s annoying when you host your own meeting, only to find someone’s left a big ‘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 call on it again without having to recreate it or zoom in on out-of-focus phone photos.

7. It’s better for collaboration

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. It’s also worth remembering that whiteboard sessions often turn into something a little like a brainstorming meeting, which does come with additional limitations — including lower creativity, social anxiety, and social loafing.

Sharing notes, tables, and diagrams via an online 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 actively contribute — which is far more engaging than spending an hour staring at a whiteboard.

Georgina Guthrie Georgina is a displaced Brit currently working in France as a freelance copywriter. Before moving to sunnier climates, she worked as a B2B agency writer in Bristol, England, which is also where she was born. In her spare time, she enjoys old films and cooking (badly).