What is a digital whiteboard?
From math equations on a chalkboard to diagrams on a whiteboard, visual tools help us solve problems together. They make discussions more engaging and invite teamwork as people spontaneously share ideas.
But what if you aren’t all in the same room?
A digital whiteboard can help. It’s a virtual canvas where your team can share notes, sketches, files, and photos, just like a physical whiteboard—except it’s accessible anywhere with internet access. (That’s why it’s also called an online whiteboard.) It combines the best parts of a physical whiteboard, like text and sticky notes, with digital features like screenshots and auto-save, so you never have to worry about someone erasing your ideas.
Benefits of online whiteboards
Interactive whiteboards facilitate real-time collaboration no matter where your team is: working from home, in different offices, or in different parts of the world. With hybrid work becoming the norm, digital whiteboards are a useful tool to efficiently connect everyone. They can help you:
- Increase productivity. Online whiteboards help everyone stay on the same page during meetings, so you can make decisions faster. Since everyone has a visual reference, they can focus on brainstorming instead of taking notes.
- Grow your business. Anything that streamlines project management is good for your bottom line. Digital whiteboards help you visualize each step of a process, so it’s easier to spot any issues before they become costly problems.
- Connect remote employees. It can be hard to include everyone and make sure that their voices are heard when you’re all in different places. In fact, people spend about 37 percent less time collaborating than they did before the pandemic, since so many of us are working from home. Digital whiteboards can help increase collaboration because everyone can contribute, and they’re more interactive than a presentation.
- Be creative. Sometimes you just need space to doodle, share prototype sketches, or compile a list of product name ideas. Interactive whiteboards invite experimentation and playfulness—and that’s where some of the best ideas come from.
- Get peace of mind. There’s nothing worse than losing your meeting notes because someone erased the whiteboard too soon. Digital whiteboards auto-save to the cloud, so they’re easy to refer to after the meeting ends.
Virtual whiteboard software and basics
Every whiteboard app is different, but here are some common features and how to use them.
Set it up: The meeting organizer can set up the whiteboard with an agenda, meeting goals, or brainstorming guidelines. Choose from templates for things like project milestones, a retrospective, SWOT analysis, persona builder, or Kanban board. Pick from backgrounds like grids, lines, or a solid color.
Write and draw: Type text or write on a touch screen with a digital pen. Some software can automatically turn handwriting into text and sketches into shapes to keep things easy to read.
Use sticky notes: Yes, there’s a digital equivalent of those colorful squares, and they never lose their stickiness. Write on them, circle things, and rearrange them, just like you would with the real thing.
Upload attachments: Add images and drawings, paste a URL to insert a preview of a webpage, and insert a document.
Customize it: Choose your whiteboard background, template, and pen color to reflect your company’s branding or just keep things visually interesting.
Collaborate: Everyone can use the whiteboard in real time to add notes, documents, and sketches. If you’re presenting and just want people to listen, switch to read-only mode, then switch back to collaboration mode after you’ve given instructions.
Follow up: After the meeting ends, you can keep editing your digital whiteboard, add more contributors, export the board as an image, share it, and even print a copy for reference.
5 ways to collaborate using digital whiteboards
Now that you have an idea of everything that’s possible with online whiteboards, let’s look at some real-life examples of how to use them to meet your business goals.
- Scheduling and planning: Map out your next sprint, project, or quarter and break it down into smaller sections. Interactive whiteboards can help you diagram each step of a new product launch or list major expenses for budget planning so you remember to include everything.
- Delegating: Once you’ve divided a project into sections, it’s easier to assign tasks. Use an online whiteboard template designed to manage follow-up, with preformatted space for assignments, names, and check boxes.
- Brainstorming: Create an inviting place for ideas, whether you’re meeting with customers to determine their top feature requests or coming up with potential conference themes. Start with a blank slate or a few images for inspiration, then write down suggestions. Since it’s a virtual whiteboard, you’ll never run out of room.
- Decision-making: Use digital whiteboards to present options to a client and get their feedback, or bring a few choices to your team and have them vote on the best one.
- Supporting hybrid work: If one or two people are in the office, they can take a photo of an existing whiteboard, import it to whiteboard software, and continue working from there. That way, you don’t have to start from scratch.
Online whiteboard best practices
Follow these guidelines to get the most out of an online whiteboard.
- Prepare. For efficient meetings, take the time to set up the digital whiteboard with any reference materials, guidelines, and company branding before the meeting starts.
- Include. Make sure everyone is engaged and has a chance to contribute to the whiteboard. If you notice that a few people are doing most of the talking, it could be a good time to add a poll or ask everyone to add a sticky note with an idea.
- Follow up. After the meeting, share the whiteboard link with attendees and clarify next steps—do you expect people to keep working on it later? If any other departments will need to reference your whiteboard, share the link or image with them.
How to use interactive whiteboards with your existing systems
For any new tool to be useful, it must be compatible with what you already have. Here’s how online whiteboards work with your files and software.
With presentations, documents, and PDFs: When you drag and drop files into your whiteboard, collaborators can access them directly from there. You can also paste one or multiple pages of a presentation or file into the whiteboard for reference. To add your finished whiteboard to another program, export it as an image and paste it into a document or presentation.
With video conferencing: During a video meeting, share your screen that shows the whiteboard if you want to introduce the brainstorming session, and share the link when you’re ready for everyone to contribute. People can keep collaborating on the whiteboard after the meeting ends, or if you don’t want any more edits, you can change the sharing settings.
With touch devices: Touch your screen to add and move sticky notes, draw, write, erase, change pen color, and highlight text. Pinch the screen to zoom or move the whiteboard content over to add more room.
With a note-taking app: Some whiteboard software can export your digital whiteboard to a note-taking app with one click.
If you’re not sure which online whiteboard tool to get, try the Microsoft Whiteboard app. For a comprehensive solution with built-in whiteboard features, try Microsoft Teams for free, or buy Microsoft 365 for business to get started right away.