Your team heads into a meeting room together with sticky notes, dry erase markers, and big ideas to share. Each team member grabs a seat at the conference room table and gets comfortable. Your agenda is full of problems your team needs to solve and what better way to come up with solutions than with a collaborative brainstorm session? 

Team members take turns running up to the whiteboard, sketching their ideas, making to-do lists, and noting ideas worth exploring. The room fills up with brightly colored sticky notes that offer suggestions and points of view from each person. At the end of the day, you’re in a solid place with the next steps forward. Your team leaves feeling excited about what’s to come.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Here’s the best part: You can achieve these same results through an online whiteboard session – and you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room. 

In a world where work is distributed, online whiteboard sessions can be just as impactful and fun. Let’s dig into the specifics around what online whiteboards are, how you can find a tool that works for your team,  and how to implement them into your workflow effectively. 

What is an online whiteboard?

An online whiteboard is an app or browser-based virtual whiteboard tool. What does that mean? Picture a physical whiteboard inside a meeting room. Now picture that whiteboard within the frame of your computer screen. 

An online whiteboard is a shared visual workspace that allows for real-time or asynchronous collaboration. Regardless of where coworkers are located or what time zone they’re in, groups of people can share and contribute to the conversation in one place simultaneously. Live teamwork is at the heart and center of online whiteboards. 

In most cases, they’re used to facilitate brainstorming. Many online whiteboards have similar functionality to physical ones, including sticky notes, drawing and writing capabilities, commenting, and more. Online whiteboards are a nice addition to standard video and audio meetings and can add more opportunities for collaboration to your virtual meeting space.

Are online whiteboards good for collaboration?

According to Gartner, 80% of workers used collaboration tools of some sort in 2021, up from just half of the workers surveyed in 2019. With hybrid workforce models, cloud-based work, and teams spread across time zones, it’s not surprising that collaboration tools are at the forefront of helping teams do their best work together. And online whiteboards are just one of many types of tools that help support effective collaboration.

Online whiteboards are a boost for collaboration for various reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of these virtual tools:

  • They provide an opportunity for interactive learning and engagement: Connecting and collaborating with your teammates can feel nearly impossible in a digital environment, but it doesn’t have to be. Online whiteboards are great for interactive learning and give all attendees an opportunity to engage with content in real time. One article suggests that learning in the workplace is easier for 48% of employees who use collaboration tools, which also has a positive impact on productivity. Say goodbye to virtual meetings filled with distractions and encourage engagement and participation through an interactive learning session via whiteboard.
  • Setup is simple, inexpensive, and can be done quickly: While in-person whiteboard sessions can be valuable and fun for many teams, they often require some preparation and planning – from ordering supplies to setting up the room before the meeting. One major advantage of online whiteboards is that setup is minimal and can be done more quickly than in-person sessions. In some cases, virtual sessions may even be less expensive than in-person ones depending on the tool you use.
  • You can use visuals to convey your message and simplify complex ideas: Did you know there are different learning styles in the workplace? Visual learners are most receptive to graphics, maps, and other images, which means they may find online whiteboard collaboration sessions particularly valuable. But these sessions won’t just be for visual learners. Some ideas and conversations are complex and easier to break down using visuals. Whiteboards are great for storyboarding too.
  • Brainstorming sessions have proven to be rewarding when done correctly: There are a lot of mixed opinions on the effectiveness of brainstorming in the workplace, but when executed correctly, brainstorming often yields incredible results. According to Forbes, grounding your participants in data ahead of the session, leveraging experts, and using thought-starters can contribute to effective collaboration and successful ideation amongst teams. Take your brainstorming beyond sitting in a virtual meeting and conversing by adding a visual and interactive element to the conversation.

Online whiteboards are an excellent tool for collaboration amongst virtual teams and distributed workforces. Now, let’s talk about where you can find these tools. 

Can you get free collaborative whiteboards?

If you don’t have a budget set aside or aren’t sure if digital whiteboards are right for you and your team, the good news is that there are tons of free collaborative online whiteboards you can try. 

A quick Google search will return a host of results for you to choose from. Before you see what’s available to you, consider what types of features and functionality you need and how many team members. That will help you find a free tool that best suits your needs.

You could also create a list of free collaborative online whiteboards you want to pilot with your team and try out a handful of them. Free trials are a nice way to get a feel for the tools and what they have to offer before splurging on membership costs. Ultimately, what’s most important to know here is that free tools are available for use so you can start collaborating with your team in a virtual whiteboard session right away.

What are the challenges of free online whiteboards?

As with many software tools, free online whiteboards present some challenges, particularly around features and users. 

On free plans, you may not be able to take advantage of all of the feature capabilities of a particular tool, which can be restrictive and potentially make your virtual sessions more complicated and cumbersome. Depending on the size of your team, free tools may also be problematic if a tool only allows up to a certain number of users on a free version. Be sure to keep these things in mind when browsing the market for free online whiteboards.

Can you get collaborative whiteboard apps?

Collaborative whiteboard apps are a great option if better collaboration is a key priority for your team.  

Collaborative whiteboard apps are nice because you can download many of them directly, and often, you can integrate them with other apps that your team may already be using. Some collaborative whiteboard apps are browser-based, so if you’re looking for a downloadable app, be sure to check out what the tool offers before investing. 

When choosing which whiteboard app will work best for you, keep these three things top of mind:

  1. Your must-have features and functionality: Determine what features are non-negotiable, nice-to-haves, and ones you simply don’t need. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you’re looking for.
  2. The learning curve: Try to avoid burdening your team members with a tool that will require too much training. Strive to find a tool that fits the current skill set and workload of your team to make it easier to integrate into your work.
  3. How much budget you have: Know how much you can spend on a tool while keeping the number of users and functionality in mind so you can plan for the future. For example, don’t use up all of your budget and not save enough money to add new users to the tool as you grow your team.

You can browse your favorite app store to see what’s available to you right away today.

Use Wrike when you need more than a collaborative whiteboard

Online whiteboards can be a handy tool for virtual collaboration efforts and brainstorming. But sometimes, your brainstorm sessions may turn into more long-term, complicated projects and initiatives. So how do you ensure that you maintain momentum and follow up on tasks once they’ve been assigned out post-whiteboard session?

A project management solution like Wrike is the perfect way to extend beyond your collaborative whiteboard. You can use Wrike after you finish your virtual whiteboard session to:

  • Assign follow up tasks to team members
  • Track workloads in real-time to ensure a healthy balance 
  • Provide feedback to your team members 
  • View data and files in a centralized location 

Move from generating great ideas on a whiteboard to executing on them with a free trial of Wrike today.