Whiteboard, even if you’re a distributed team

A lot of us are out here, amongst all the strangeness of the world, trying to figure out how to help our teams adjust to collaborating remotely. It’s long been my observation that nothing beats people in a room together communicating via ad-hoc scribbles on a whiteboard.

Seems like a good time to survey the landscape and see if the situation has improved!

On one end of the spectrum are Google Draw and Jamboard. The former seems better for attempting to draw technical diagrams. I think it’s actually better for ironically creating WordArt. The latter seems like an honest, lo-fi attempt to re-create whiteboards online and collaboratively. I don’t think these tools cut it. But, they have the advantage of ubiquity: a lot of companies use Google Suite, so these could come in handy, in a pinch.

Another wild card is to use design software your team might have in place. Sketch or Figma are inherently about visual communication. If everyone has a license and some patience, this could work! If anyone can put some boxes, arrows, and text together, you can basically whiteboard.

I’ve used Whimiscal to create non-trivial visual communications. It works great, it’s easy to share with people, there is some multi-person editing. It’s easy to get started in Whimsical and it has some depth, but not so much depth that it’s intimidating or overwhelming. Pricing aside, this is where I’d start with my current team.

I have not kicked the tires on Miro, but the concept is intriguing. Looks like there’s real-time, collaborative visual communication/editing. They also brag a lot about their integrations with adjacent project/collaboration tools such that one can embed JIRA cards, mockups, docs, etc. in a whiteboard. If you’re already using this, I’d love to hear your experience with it!

Finally, you don’t need software to share ad-hoc scribbles. You can draw on paper, capture it with a camera, and share that image almost anywhere. You could use sketching/drawing tools to do a fancier version of that. If you have a whiteboard at home, you can draw on it, take a photo, and share it.

It doesn’t matter if the tools aren’t that great or if your company hasn’t adopted any of them. Taking the initiative to collaborate, or having the insight that communicating with words is not cutting it, is much more important.