Online whiteboards: Everything you need to know

4 min read
Brittany Anas
  •  May 16, 2022
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Whiteboards are where collaboration happens and ideas are hatched. They’re the canvas for teams to plan, brainstorm, and begin converting visions into something tangible. Your first introduction to the world of whiteboarding was probably in a conference room, huddled around a physical whiteboard—with DryErase markers gliding across the surface.

But those physical whiteboards have their limitations. You know this if you’ve ever had a brainstorming session erased before snapping a photo of the board or have a team scattered across time zones. Amid the pandemic, as workforces became more dispersed, the demand grew for an easy-to-access online whiteboard. 

Online whiteboards like InVision Freehand have replicated the excitement of ideation, but in a virtual environment. The pros of online whiteboards include infinite space for low-fidelity brainstorming and high-fidelity prototypes. Easy-to-use, the online whiteboard is an approachable space for anyone on your team to contribute ideas and feedback. Plus, Freehand templates from partners like the Microsoft Teams Meeting Agenda and SalesForce’s Crazy 8 Brainstorming, making getting started a breeze. 

Below, we take you through everything you need to know about online whiteboarding and how it can be transformative for you and your team’s ability to collaborate more efficiently and effectively.

What is an online whiteboard?

Online whiteboards can be used for the same purposes as physical whiteboards, providing a space for teams to brainstorm, run design sprints, conduct retrospectives or simply present ideas. In a nutshell, this virtual space is one where you can develop and sort ideas either on your own or with your team and do so in real time or asynchronously.

But online whiteboarding comes with some distinctive advantages, too. The canvas is limitless and flexible, which allows teams to have an interactive planning space.  When you log into a whiteboard platform from the web, you can make changes in real time and see any additions your teammates have made. 

Virtual whiteboards also maximize visual collaboration, which is key for cross-functional alignment. Freehand tool kits allow you to create sophisticated flowcharts, diagrams, org charts and more with easy-to-master sticky line connectors and shapes. You can also drop images, GIFs, or graphics into your Freehands. 

How do different teams use online whiteboards?

No surprises here: The use of online whiteboards has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. 

Recruiters, marketers, strategic planners, human resource departments, designers and many others have turned to digital whiteboards like InVision Freehand to communicate with their teams and visually collaborate.

Here’s some examples of how different disciplines are using online whiteboarding:

  • Recruiting teams: Online whiteboards have potential to help recruiters streamline planning. You can build out and explain workflows and visualize your company pillars all in one place. Freehand can also help recruiters facilitate interviews and provide candidate feedback. 
  • Design teams: Online whiteboarding tools are used to replicate the intimacy and community of a full-fledged design studio in a virtual setting, providing a centralized platform that’s purpose-built for visual collaboration. Design teams can give instant feedback to their colleagues by dropping sticky notes into the Freehand during a presentation. Digital whiteboards are a place to organize deep tech stacks and documentation by bringing design briefs, mood boards and other assets into a single canvas. 
  • Product teams: Online whiteboards can help product teams gather and place information in a central place during the project kickoff or discovery session. The virtual whiteboards can also help product teams present ideas in various stages of fidelity all on a single canvas and gather insights and feedback during every phase of the product development.
  • CIO and HR teams: The future of work sees team leaders in need of a dynamic platform that can be used everyday across multiple teams and disciplines. An online whiteboard can provide a place to streamline their technology stack, integrate app workflows, centralize feedback, facilitate cross-functional handoffs and more. The right online whiteboard allows distributed, hybrid, and remote work to flourish.

Related: Our guides to online whiteboarding for better collaboration

Why do online whiteboards matter?

Team leaders are tasked with reimagining how employees communicate in today’s modern, dispersed workforces. More than half of employees say that the challenges of working remotely center on the inability to communicate as effectively as in-person, according to The State of Visual Collaboration 2021. An online whiteboard can help resolve that friction, especially with integrations such as Loom, which allows you to record a video with your webcam and microphone and then add it to your Freehand. Using a tool like this can help conceptualize comments and personalize your presentations, imitating a real-life gathering. 

We’re also visual learners. Our brains do a better job stashing information in our long-term memory when it’s paired with images and graphics. To drive home just how important visual collaboration is: Viewers retain 90% of a video compared to 10% of written communication.

A global “Anatomy of Work” study found that people are spending 60 percent of their time on these non-strategic tasks that don’t require a lot of skill but are necessary to get projects out the door. Switching between multiple apps throughout the day makes communication feel disrupted and workflows fragmented. The right online whiteboards solve these problems with integrations that can help you manage workflows, avoiding tool fatigue and helping you focus on more skilled work.

What is the best free online whiteboard? 

Here’s three key questions to consider as organizations evaluate the best free online whiteboard to adopt and ultimately grow throughout their company.

Are they purpose-built for distributed, hybrid, or remote workplaces?

Ease of use can be a huge differentiator when it comes to new tools. Teams should be able to immediately ideate, collaborate, and share ideas in a single, infinite online canvas. There’s a lot of pain being felt due to communication gaps among fully distributed teams, so the ability to bridge cross-functional gaps and stay nimble throughout the collaboration process is critical.

Are your actual workflows being supported?

Online whiteboards aren’t effective if they do not reflect the ways modern teams work. Removing the ambiguity from templates based on your teams’ workflows helps facilitate the workflows that are most important to teams today.

Are there any security risks associated with using and sharing documents?

Is data encrypted with industry standards (including SSL and AES-256), monitored 24/7, or include Single Sign-On (SSO) and two-factor authentication? While those features often get pushed to the background, they are likely crucial factors in your IT team’s procurement criteria and getting approval for company-wide use.

How InVision’s tackled online whiteboarding

InVision Freehand was originally developed for internal use, helping InVision’s design and product teams improve visual collaboration. It’s been modernized and is now a tool that allows remote workforces from a myriad of industries to ideate, collaborate and share ideas in a single online canvas. 

Further resources:

Explore the template gallery

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Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard