The internet is an incredibly powerful tool, and for decades now it has enabled people from across the globe to work together. Never before, however, have they been able to work so synchronously thanks to the capabilities of visual collaboration. With an ever-expanding virtual work environment, there is no ceiling on how important a visually collaborative experience will be to companies moving their work online. We already see a massive market for the remote workplace, and in the future people will continue to engage in their workplace from anywhere. 

Visual collaboration doesn’t only help people connect from home, but it enables their connection to expand globally. In the future, people will be working around the globe with great frequency and virtual workspaces will be an invaluable tool to people who either cannot risk going to a physical workspace or are based in a different location. With this increased emphasis on virtual workspaces and their expansion, visual collaboration will be the next step that organizations everywhere take to increase their efficiency and upgrade their work environment. Collaboration is not something that can be circumvented. It is a necessary tool for any organization to function fluidly, so with an increase in virtual workspaces will come a natural dependence on visual collaboration tools to maintain a certain level of efficiency and communication. 

Three people all in different environments working on their respective devices together, demonstrating the ability to work remotely.

Visual collaboration is essential for a creative and collaborative work environment to flow properly and is something that not only attempts to replicate in-person collaboration but seeks to improve where it is possible. Improvements come in the form of functions like unlimited board space, smart drawing tools, and multiple modes of interaction make the possibilities endless for those being creative with visual collaboration platforms. 

Because visual collaboration is soon to become a vital addition to many different sectors, we have decided to make a comprehensive guide for anyone seeking to learn and implement visual collaboration. This guide will define visual collaboration and outline its main types and defining features, while also going through the various advantages and disadvantages it might hold in general and specific scenarios. For those very new to visual collaboration, we have included a section on possible questions to ask yourself to better understand the applications of these tools and to aid that we have provided some common applications and fields of use as examples. For people wanting to see more about how visual collaboration operates within a meeting, we answer some of those questions in our comprehensive guide about virtual workshops.

Definition and Defining Features

There are many definitions of visual collaboration, partly because there are many different tools and applications that characterize it, but also because it is so diverse and applicable, the definition is usually very wide-reaching. Our chosen definition follows as such: 

“Visual collaboration is the practice of workplace collaboration driven by technology. It hinges on the ability for people to collaborate using visual elements as tools to expand their understanding and communicative abilities. Because visual collaboration tools are engaged online, this collaboration is capable from any place, on any device, in any way they want”. The most common and well-known form of visual collaboration comes in the form of a digital whiteboard, where people can add notes and diagrams, to ideate together. Visual collaboration enables people to constructively probe to solutions that extend the vision of the entire team.

Representation of many different people working on the same workspace all at the same time, demonstrating the capabilities of visual collaboration.

Historically, whiteboards have been the pinnacle of collaboration in the workplace because they are a manipulatable space shared by all. Fast, easy, erasable, whiteboards have it all. We are beginning to learn that this is changing, however, and as we realize the collaborative possibility of shared, online tools we realize what can be improved upon from the current whiteboard. By visualizing our collaboration online, we can work together in methods more creative and far-reaching than ever before. Whether it be in person, remote, or a mix of the two, these capabilities represent the future of collaboration. Even for those people that rejoin their traditional work environments, there will be a realization of what visual collaboration tools offer that whiteboard and diagramming regularly simply doesn’t. Not only is the ability to work from a distance offered by visual collaboration, but the expanded functionality also has the potential to change the workplace permanently.

Visual Expressions

The features that define visual collaboration change depending on the specific tool being used, but there are some commonalities between most types of tools on the market. The first common feature comes right from the name — Visual. All of these tools revolve around the ability to collaborate with visual elements and given their online platform this is the most important part. In order for them to be effective, they have to be very visually pleasing, simple, and effective. There is a very fine line they must toe, balancing their complex functionality with an instinctive and natural interface. This is critical to get right to focus their user and improve usability and is common between all types of visual collaboration.

Teamwork Enablement

Another consistent feature of all visual collaboration tools is their teamwork abetment. Visual collaboration tools center around the ability for a team to function fluidly together. Allowing people to use these tools together, in real-time, streamlines the team’s progress and capabilities when working online. Visual aids help promote a team’s understanding of each other and the point at large, which aids in their ability to both communicate and proceed with efficiency. When you are able to actually work on a canvas in real-time with your teammates, you are able to hit your teamwork goals much easier than if you are trying to complete the same task outside of visual collaboration. Teamwork is a central pillar to visual collaboration, and functions enabling it can be found throughout most visual collaboration tools.

Communication

Another mainstay for visual collaboration tools is their ability to effectively create communication. Regardless of the tool you end up using, one of the principal features visual collaboration provides is a heightened ability for teams to communicate. Visual aids are one of the best forms of communication between people, and when collaborating online they provide an excellent source of shared understanding. As many companies move forward utilizing online workspaces, they will continue to struggle to find the communicative click that is inherent when working in person. This goal can be reached with most visual collaboration tools and the communication boost they provide.

Knowing the definition and some of the most common defining features of collaboration tools, hopefully, you can better understand what visual collaboration looks like and how it can be utilized properly. Now we turn to some important questions to ask yourself when evaluating the possibilities of visual collaboration.

Questions to Ask

There are many question marks surrounding visual collaboration, especially since many individuals and companies are only beginning to implement it at larger scales. These questions are critical in determining if visual collaboration is right for you and if it would make an effective addition to your toolbox. Below we will outline a few important questions you should ask yourself before diving into visual collaboration and should help inform your decision.

Person pondering the options around her representing the questions they have about visual collaboration.

What type of visual collaboration are you looking for?

There are a couple of different kinds of collaboration, and you must first determine which of them you are looking for. Whether it be digital whiteboards, real-time collaboration on documents, or project management, this is the first thing you have to uncover to see how visual collaboration will work for you. This will change for everyone depending on your individual needs, and determining what kind of tool is compatible with your needs is critical. Once you figure out this precursor, it should help inform what specific functionality you are looking for and narrow your search significantly.

Does visual collaboration integrate into your current infrastructure?  

This question has multiple aspects and might be worth a greater dive. Not only does visual collaboration integrate into your current infrastructure, but what do you already use to collaborate? What works well for you currently and what is a struggle? Will using a visual collaboration tool solve these pain points? These are all important questions to ask to determine how collaboration tools will gel within your workflow. You could easily find a visual collaboration tool that fits into your infrastructure, or at the least, you could make one fit. They are, after all, incredibly versatile. The real question is, will this tool actually drive your content and productivity forward? It can be easy to use a new tool and assume that it will be automatically life-changing, but you also need to consider the possible impact it can have on your future content and progress. Evaluate if this is a logical next step for you and try to diagram out the impacts you can expect to see. 

A great, and easy, way to test out if a product is right for you is actually giving it a test trial. The majority of programs either have a free trial period for experimentation, free features that you can use to test it out, or are simply free to use. This can give you insight into how much it will actually help you and integrate into your structure. If through this test or your evaluation you determine it will target your pain points, look specifically for the tool that directly addresses them while also maintaining your current collaborative possibilities. 

How easily will it be implemented, and will people actually use it?

Sometimes within a larger company atmosphere, it can be difficult to integrate new tools and technology, so consider how willing your team is to adopt something like this. For the most part, visual collaboration tools do a good job making themselves inherent and easy to adapt to, but it’s worth thinking about how easy it would be for your team. 

A follow-up question to “does it integrate into your infrastructure” is “will people use it”? It could be a possibility that you simply want to integrate it into your system because you think it would help a ton, but other people don’t really see a need for it. Ask yourself, is everyone itching to use this new tool, and will they jump all over it, or am I reaching for strings here? (maybe cut out that paragraph, seems weak)

What kind of access is possible through the platform? 

If you are working on the go constantly, it could be important to prioritize a visual collaboration tool that has multiple points of access and is easily utilized from anywhere, and maybe even from your phone. Another consideration is what scale of collaboration you will need to support. Most tools on the market can handle teams of any size, but it is worth taking into consideration the scale of the team or project you are looking to take on. This is an important consideration when you weigh up the pricing (something we will touch on later). Some tools are free to use, some are free with paid features and some are simply paid subscriptions that you must have to use. Every tool is different, and considering the scale of your needs will be important to evaluate if adding this is worth it.

Multiple people putting a lightbulb together representing their individual access to the task and the togetherness provided by visual collaboration.

Do you require a level of data security?

If you require data security through your work, you might need to research if these platforms will provide the security and privacy that you require. This is another thing that is worth wondering, and if you do require a certain level of security, consider if the tools you’re looking at encrypt their data and take other measures to keep your information safely stored. 

Some platforms have various safeguards like firewalls, 2-factor authentication, and password protection among others, but this might not be enough for you depending on the needs of your work. This also might be plenty for you, but it’s worth doing your research on what is provided to see if it meets your specific needs. For example, someone who is simply doing content creation writing posts, and making videos won’t need an extreme level of data privacy, but people working in the healthcare industry with the need to protect patient information would need suitable protection.

Pricing

One of the most taxing questions you need to ask is about the pricing of visual collaboration. Using visual collaboration tools can be an advantage and a disadvantage depending on your needs and how you rationalize it. This makes the question of pricing a necessary one if you are weighing visual collaboration. You need to ask yourself, what are you willing to spend on this and what must the ROI look like to make it worth it?

Using visual collaboration, especially the pricing of it, can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your needs and how you look at it. The total cost of having an external meeting/workshop adds up quickly when you consider the transportation, accommodation, meeting space, and resource installation required. When using a visual collaboration tool, however, you can almost cut the entirety of these costs, and holding the same event virtually (no matter how large) will always be substantially cheaper. The next question is if you can achieve the same goals you would normally when transitioning to a virtual space. If you think you can achieve the same effect while using a visual collaboration tool instead of a physical meeting space, then it could end up being an outstanding alternative for everyone involved.

Person weighing different bags of money, where one is larger than the other.

While pricing can be an upside, it can also be a burden. Visual collaboration costs, and if you’re a company that needs to have a lot of people using the tools, it will cost a lot. Most platforms charge per user, which means that there is a significant tradeoff companies have to weigh if they are to implement visual collaboration tools. The question of pricing is an important one, and when determining your return on investment from visual collaboration you need to evaluate how many people will be using your tool, how long they will use it if you plan to onboard more people, and how all of your costs will add up. These are all considerations to make when utilizing visual collaboration. For the most part, these tools can be used for free, but in some cases, they are charged on a subscription basis, and in others, there are premium/privacy features that are only accessible through a paid subscription. Sometimes you can avoid worrying about pricing altogether, but there is a good chance it’s something you will have to consider. Each tool prices its features differently, so you have to do your research beforehand to understand what cost you will be picking up.

All of the above are examples of good questions to ask yourself before you commit to using a visual collaboration tool, and they are important to weigh each side during your evaluation. Now that you’ve done your research about what to ask yourself, it’s time to discover the different types of visual collaboration platforms.

Visual Collaboration Platforms

As we’ve seen, visual collaboration has a broad definition and encompasses a variety of different tools. While there is plenty of diversity within these tools, we are going to group them generally into two different categories, and for the most part, these categories will encompass the goals and ideas you have about visual collaboration.

Project management

Person working on their digital tablet with visual collaboration graphics and elements, showing how expansive the virtual workspace is.

Project management tools provide a great opportunity to integrate visual collaboration techniques, and there are many tools currently on the market that attempt to do just this. Some examples of project management tools are ClickUp, Monday.com, Asana, and Trello, just to name a few. These platforms are a mix of project management tools and task managers that infuse the ability to collaborate visually to increase their attractiveness and usability. All of the tools in this category have mastered the visualization of your tasks and deadlines and then enabling you to organize them briefly. The format of the organization is key for these tools to function properly and creating an instinctive and visually pleasing display makes it incredibly easy for users to quickly adopt.

The difference between these tools and other collaborative platforms is they involve a persistent, living workspace where everyone can contribute actively and at any time. This is a common feature of visual collaboration tools and helps set them apart from other competitors. The nature of these tools allows you and your team the flexibility to complete a litany of different tasks ranging from planning and scheduling to personal and team-based task management. There are unique and helpful visual elements that allow you to quickly visualize tasks, schedules, and specific people’s contributions which help you pivot between different tasks you have and moves your team’s greater understanding forward. If you need assistance organizing and planning any project or a specific trajectory, these tools make a fabulous addition. There are many different reasons you could choose to utilize project management tools, and for many, they might just be a simple addition to an already functioning workflow. Visual collaboration possibilities, however, take these tools to the next level and create useful applications for anyone.

Whiteboarding/diagramming

Arguably the flagship of visual collaboration tools is those that focus on virtual whiteboards and diagramming. The main players in the virtual whiteboard market are Mural and Miro, but this is a very lucrative idea and unexplored area (for the most part) so many different companies are starting to adopt their own versions of virtual whiteboards. For example, Microsoft has a Teams feature called Microsoft whiteboard which allows for some basic functionality around using a whiteboard collaboratively.

Digital whiteboards are an ever-growing atmosphere that both attempt to recreate the collaborative and creative ability that a real whiteboard possessed while also unlocking new possibilities through cutting edge technology. The whiteboard is the pinnacle of collaboration, allowing entire teams to ideate and brainstorm together on a shared plane. In the absence of in-person workspaces, however, it seems like the traditional whiteboard may not uphold the same functionality that it once did. When people can’t come together and share a workspace, they require a replacement that is more suited for their current circumstances. With that specific necessity in mind, digital whiteboards have been gaining traction as the future of collaboration within the work environment. Visual collaboration tools like online whiteboards had their hands somewhat forced from the COVID-19 pandemic, but this has unveiled a world of possibilities for them going forward. The workspace may be changed permanently because people now realize what is possible when you transition your collaboration online

Two people working together, one on a whiteboard and one on a computer, showing how visual collaboration within a virtual whiteboard can function.

As stated earlier, visual aids can be some of the best collaboration and learning tools, and they often make understanding and learning much easier for people, especially when that learning is done online. Digital whiteboards provide malleable, manipulatable, and editable visual changes, which makes people’s understanding of complex things far simpler. Not only is there a visual aid to accompany their understanding, but they can actually edit and manipulate that element, which through the interaction provides an even deeper understanding than was possible before. One of the big problems around online collaboration is that, well, you aren’t physically present to collaborate with your team. This is something that video conferencing software seeks to improve, but video conferencing alone cannot complete the job of replacing face to face contact. While this replacement is partially incomplete, using visual collaboration tools can make working from a distance far easier and they can be a natural successor to the traditional whiteboard. 

These visual collaboration tools function in multiple different ways, the main one’s being as whiteboards and as templates. Their applications stretch as far as you need them to, and their principal function is to allow many different people to edit and work on the same board, whether that be a blank whiteboard or a structured template. This is the closest thing to simulating the actual ability of multiple people working on the same whiteboard in person and can enable greater possibilities due to the functionality of multiple people making individualized edits all at the same time. On virtual whiteboards, people can add, delete, edit, and manipulate all sorts of items, shapes, charts, diagrams, sticky notes, or media. The list goes on. These features may seem basic but they are not to be overlooked. Having different ways to interact with your board provides an amazing learning and participation tool. Not only is this a groundbreaking tool, but it is a platform that can be utilized from anywhere in the world, on any device connected to the internet. The possibilities that this creates for teams is not only dependent on the ability of the current team, but this allows for collaborative expansion beyond their walls, even their borders. The cutting edge technology enables the expansion of work beyond borders, all around the world, which is something that has never before been possible in the workplace.

Given their collaborative nature, most instances of use will occur within brainstorming or ideation scenarios, places where teams and people are dependent on their ability to collaborate and add knowledge on a shared board. In this case, visual collaboration through a digital whiteboard is the ideal platform for their team to function fluidly and create anything they need. This is not the extent of the platform’s ability, however, and there can be some very unique and creative examples of use. These could come in the form of digital media/art editing, where you could upload an image or a screenshot you are critiquing and make comments on specific portions of the piece. You could also have endless scenarios of business implications, where using any sort of business optimization sheet, customer journey map, or product planning template to evaluate solutions with your team. This is another beautiful possibility with visual collaboration, is the ability to work on a given canvas or template that you either create yourself or workload from an established database of pre-used and pre-created templates.

Team management and digital boards are the two main types of visual collaboration tools penetrating the market today, but they are obviously not the only ones to exist. When you are thinking about engaging in visual collaboration online, your mind should immediately turn to these types, and how they may apply to your existing needs. If these don’t target your existing need, there are still many possibilities we simply haven’t touched on.

Advantages and Difference Makers

We have already gone through some of the questions you have to ask yourself, some unique types of visual collaboration, and some of its important defining features. As we learn more about visual collaboration and what it has to offer, we will outline below some of the top advantages visual collaboration tools bring to the table and how they make them complete difference makers in the workplace

Universal Access

An apartment building with people in their windows all working together from their individual workspaces.

Universal access through real-time whiteboards and templates means that your workspace is a living document, always accessible and usable. This allows people to engage in learning and participation whenever the moment strikes. Having the ability to collaborate not only in real-time but anytime, is priceless and opens up a world of possibilities. Before visual collaboration was a reality, both having your workspace be a living document and being able to work remotely were both impossibilities for many sectors. This was especially present for places that emphasize collaboration and creation. The COVID-19 pandemic forced people’s hands in making them work remotely, but where one door closes, another opens. This increased population of remote workers allowed for visual collaboration tools to excel in bringing people together in another way, stemming innovation and showing people first hand what is capable through visual collaboration.

The flexibility offered is a massive upside and enables you to expand your team like never before possible. Visual collaboration allows people from anywhere on earth to work together in a collaborative capacity, which was something that until now was the missing link in intra-continental work environments. Not only does it allow people to work from anywhere across the world, but it allows collaborators to take their work with them anywhere they want to go. This is an extension of the workspace being a living document, allowing people to take it with them everywhere they go. The mobility provided is a massive upside of using visual collaboration tools and something that cannot possibly be replicated through traditional collaboration methods.

Increased Efficiency in Remote Meetings

Through real-time collaboration, whether by digital whiteboard or some other platform, the organization of regular project management tasks becomes much simpler. This is achieved by the ability to store all communications, documents, and lists in a single, universally accessible location. Not only is real-time collaboration enabled, but there is an extra visual aspect that is added to increase the efficiency and understanding of everyone involved. This visual element is vastly important for people in understanding and grasping what is being asked of them and when that is added it allows contributors to do just that.

With easier organization, comes quicker project completion. Organization is a key component to completion and often is one of the first and most important steps to completing a project successfully. Visual collaboration enables teams to quickly pick up ideas and orient themselves towards their ultimate goal faster than ever. Increased efficiency is a critical effect and advantage that visual collaboration provides, and it’s one that is very important for teams to come by.

Person transitioning from their workplace to a vacation, demonstrating how quickly visual collaboration enables people to work remotely.

Another way visual collaboration increases efficiency is by providing instant feedback to your entire team. Working in the same virtual workspace allows you to evaluate the progress people are making and provide your own insight whenever it is needed. Feedback is a direct indicator of how well people collaborate together and is the best way to communicate your intentions and vision with everyone involved. With the workspace being a living document there is always a more recent version of your template or canvas, and with this being an ever-changing environment it is critical that you can provide instant feedback to your team. Regardless of the type of tool utilized, the ability to provide instant feedback and communication with your team is a critical addition to visual collaboration.

Engage your Team Remotely with New Techniques and Technology 

Visual collaboration enables teams to adopt entirely new technology and strategies at the snap of a finger. Nobody needs to be an expert on customer journey mapping, for example, you can simply pull up an established customer journey map template, read some simple instructions on how to diagram it, then get your team working. Having the ability to quickly transition and adopt new techniques and strategies is critical when working remotely, and visual collaboration allows teams to do just this. Having a completely online workspace helps this as well, and most work environments have transitioned to online work for the time being. When your entire work is online, it becomes much easier to navigate and use tools that may be harder to accommodate when working in person. This is an advantage that the remote workspace promotes, and one that visual collaboration takes full advantage of.

Integration and Collaboration Between Industries

Online collaboration, especially with a visual aspect, has the ability to create an entirely new sector of collaboration between companies, where this was very difficult before. These tools make sending and sharing information incredibly easy, and because of that, they may open doors for clients and companies to collaborate in ways previously unexplored. Where before this was obviously possible but only through an in-person meeting or presentation, visual collaboration allows for streamlined integration of ideas and collaboration between parties. 

Pooling of Advantages

Image of multiple people all at home, yet displayed on a map working from across the globe.

Online collaboration allows for increased flexibility in the work environment, and this allows for a litany of diverse and intriguing opportunities. With a limitless workspace, there is ample room for experts to contribute to projects where their knowledge is needed and can collaborate with other experts as well. Visual collaboration tools allow teams to be formed based on their relation and expertise, something that can be utilized effectively when there is no workplace to meet at. With no physical boundaries, visual collaboration tools can bring together teams and people that would have never been able to work together before and can facilitate the creation of new and innovative content.

Visual collaboration not only enables experts and teams to connect where they would never have been able to before, but it adds a layer of collaboration and integration of thought that takes their participation deeper than possible just over the phone. When you have multiple people working on the same visual workspace together, watching each other share ideas and actively contributing with each other, it unlocks another level of ideation previously inaccessible at the remote level.

These are all immense advantages of using visual collaboration tools, and they both increase your efficiency while working and add another layer of collaboration and participation to the workspace. These, among many, are great reasons to adopt visual collaboration.

Possible Downsides & Solutions

Now that we have covered the advantages that visual collaboration presents to the workplace, we should touch on some possible downsides. While visual collaboration tools are widely applicable, they are not universal, and some will struggle to integrate them into their routine. What will follow are some possible downsides of using visual collaboration tools, and the solutions to help fix these problems.

Groupthink

Groupthink is always a factor to consider when collaborating, especially online, and visual collaboration is no different. When people are collaborating in the same space it can be easy to slip into a group mentality, and because of this, there are internal mechanisms within collaboration tools that help mitigate this possibility.

Online, it can be much easier for dominant personalities to create the direction of the meeting, and as a byproduct others may lose their opportunity to share or contribute. Sometimes, despite the increased ability for people to understand each other based on the visual cues they receive, there can still be a communication barrier that is inherent to working online. This is simply the nature of a virtual workspace at times and it can be a frustrating reality. Groupthink mainly occurs on platforms that involve real-time communication of ideas and critiques, mainly whiteboarding collaboration platforms. This is a lower importance issue when working with organization tools because they are less focused on the exchange of ideas than diagramming tools are. That being said, all online workspaces will struggle with this and while communication can be easier through visual collaboration, it can exacerbate issues associated with groupthink.

Multiple people with each other thinking and exchanging ideas, showing how visual collaboration works together.

Solution → A helpful way to mitigate groupthink during visual collaboration is by utilizing private or incognito mode (when tools allow this ability). These functions allow for everyone to add and edit the board without anyone else seeing their edits. Private mode was created to solve this exact problem (along with other applications) which is why visual collaboration tools build it directly into their program. When you turn off private mode, every participant’s changes will appear on the canvas. This gives people the ability to structure their own ideas and release their creativity freely, without the judgment, interruption, or pressure of others. Not only does this help solve problems arising from groupthink, but it also is a feature that helps promote individual thinking and creativity. People are initially forced to ideate and evaluate their own ideas, which means their contributions will be very centered and specific. When exposed to everyone’s ideas, then, people may realize something they hadn’t before, and connect multiple ideas together. Outside of groupthink solutions, incognito contributions help evaluate the quality and integration of everyone’s ideas.

Along with abilities inherent to visual collaboration that assist with this difficulty, there is more that you can do as a facilitator as well to promote inclusion and participation. Strategies as simple as asking specific people their thoughts or having everyone in the meeting share before moving on can help open people up who might not be as comfortable contributing in a group environment. Similarly, forming smaller teams to work within a larger dynamic can provide people with a more relaxed space to share and help them speak up to their teammates. These facilitation strategies help stimulate creativity for both individuals and the entire team and can make for a healthier, more enjoyable collaborative environment.

In this vein, we can see how both purposeful strategies from a leadership perspective and functions built into visual collaboration tools both assist in solving the problem of groupthink, one that is inherent to collaboration and exacerbated by an online workspace.

Reliance on New Technology

Collaboration is inherently a group effort, and when technical difficulties arise, it can obstruct your effort to communicate and collaborate. Teams and individuals that aren’t well prepared to effectively use the visual collaboration tool of your choice can run into increased frustration and difficulty. This is an inherent struggle when you rely on technology to perform any work, and collaboration is no different. Using technology can be a steeper learning curve for some, which makes effectively participating in a meeting or brainstorming session harder than it has to be, even when the collaboration platform is functioning perfectly.

Digital collaboration is very different from doing the same thing in person, and by transitioning it online you miss out on important features of in-person communication such as personal context, people’s body language, and just the simplicity of talking face to face. Many of these downsides that arise from visual collaboration are simply due to a digital workspace and working online, rather than the visual collaboration tools themselves, and are simply a product of the lack of physical, in-person interaction. Online workspace’s lack these personal qualities at times, which can be a significant detriment when doing collaborative teamwork. Visual collaboration is hopefully an aid to these difficulties for you, and as you become more comfortable with the tools and their abilities you will begin to ramp up efficiency and productivity from you and your team.

Reliance on technology, however, is only half the battle. When you depend on technology more and more, you also expose yourself to an increased number of technical difficulties. This is an important microcosm of being reliant on technology and can significantly hinder your ability to collaborate and produce results. When working in person, a traditional whiteboard doesn’t glitch, kick people off, or shut down entirely. It just works. You should expect to encounter some kind of road blocks when working online and this is completely normal, any online application deals with the same issue. This, again may not be a direct result of visual collaboration, but because the platform is online it is inherently a struggle you can expect to experience.

Solution → The solution to these issues resides primarily in their use. The only way to overcome your reliance on technology and the issues that come with it is to continue to use technology and improve your ability to work with it. Many issues that arise from the use of tech are a result of it being new or foreign, not it being unusable or inapplicable. By integrating these programs early and often, people will feel far more comfortable using them and hopefully will be able to avoid many of the issues that come with them. There is no way to entirely circumvent the problems that are associated with technology, but in order to best avoid the effect of the problems, it’s important to acclimate your team to the tools quickly so they have a solid understanding of what they’re using. After that, it’s smooth sailing.

Two people working face to face, but one is working from home and the other is providing customer service to the other.

Additionally, if people are having trouble acclimating to their new surroundings, most tools have the ability to do an interactive guide of their entire platform. These guides help users understand the functionality and usability of the tools and provide a step by step process to becoming a visual collaboration master. Not only will the guides help, but some tools even offer customer service lines people can call when they are experiencing technical difficulties, which they can hopefully sort out.

Lower Group Potency

Due to the lack of a physical workplace, there are fewer opportunities for team members to interact and learn from each other, which can lead to the adoption of less thought out ideas and ineffective communication. Lowered group potency makes already sophisticated tasks far more complex when you take them online, meaning communication and achievement from a team becomes very difficult. The discovery of results doesn’t feel as real online, especially when you aren’t using a tool that allows for real-time collaboration, people can feel lost when going away from a meeting. The lack of in-person interaction and collaboration means it can be much harder to make sure people are on the same page with each other at all times. Not only is it harder to keep people organized, but it is also harder to maintain stable connections in the workplace. Without this environment and casual conversations, people feel less connected with their coworkers which makes their collaboration more burdensome.

Solution → A solution to lowered group potency is to create non-work interactions to better replicate a real workplace, and keep people involved as a team. One of the biggest downsides of the online workplace is that it lacks the informal social interaction provided when people work together in person. The best thing you can do is to replicate this environment, scheduling time for people to chat outside of the project or direct workspace, or plan events for people to come together and talk as a group about something completely different. It’s important to also take extra measures to ensure your team is fully collaborative, and everyone is participating. Similar to the first issue of groupthink, some things can go unsaid or unfinished when working in an online environment, and in order for this to function properly it is vital you make an extra inclusive environment for people to share and contribute to making sure nothing gets lost in the void.

Not only making an inclusive environment but making effective use of your task manager and the tools at your disposal can help provide people with purpose and direction when leaving a meeting. Making sure that expectations and next steps are not only communicated verbally but established in writing and in a task manager helps people focus their efforts both during and after your sessions.

Applications & Examples

As we have already discussed, visual collaboration has an incredible number of possibilities to expand work across the globe and in ways we haven’t seen before. These methods can be applied to a number of different industries, and below we outline how those possibilities play out in important ways for some very lucrative and important sectors of work

Education

One of the biggest places that visual collaboration contributes to is the educational world. Education is a very broad spectrum of application and visual collaboration tools, as we know, can be used in a variety of different ways to meet the needs of any teacher or student. Visual collaboration tools have the ability for any student, at any level of education, to engage visually with their class and their teacher about any of a variety of different subject matter. This could be as early as elementary or middle schoolers all the way through graduate and post-graduate studies as well. Thanks to the creative possibilities enabled through visual collaboration, students and faculty alike can effectively recreate the collaboration that naturally occurs in the classroom.

Teacher lecturing to multiple students who are displayed on computer screens, showing that you can teach using visual collaboration from a distance.

Visual has the potential to expand past recreating classroom collaboration and create new classrooms across the world. Something that has been very hard in the past to complete effectively at a distance is learning languages. Without visual aids, learning a new language is extremely hard, but visual collaboration may be the tool that unlocks this possibility. Until now, it has been borderline impossible to learn new languages with your teacher being a native speaker from their country. Visual collaboration tools allow people the flexibility and communication to reach across the globe and teach students from anywhere in the world, which hopefully will expand the wealth of knowledge language can grant people to new and exciting places.

We can see through these brief illustrations just how important visual collaboration is to education and the immense applications it may provide not only for learning assistance but for entirely new educational possibilities on a global scale.

Healthcare

Healthcare is another immensely important sector for people to be able to work efficiently, and visual collaboration can be incredibly helpful here as well. This is slightly different than other sectors because healthcare workers cannot be forced to primarily work from home: healthcare workers are required to be present and ready to help people in need. So if healthcare workers aren’t working remotely, how can they best utilize visual collaboration tools that specify the ability to work from a distance?

One of the most important and impactful practices in the healthcare industry is the interdependence and collaboration between experts and officials. This can be collaboration between two doctors, experts in different fields, different companies, or even different countries. This collaborative possibility means that there is ample exchange of knowledge between multiple sources, which can allow people to constantly learn and evolve their base of knowledge. In order to maintain effective communication and exchanges of knowledge, collaboration is required, and when different sources are able to do this from a distance, the resources you can draw from are greatly expanded and fully realized.

Where healthcare workers are required to remain working in person, they can still find creative and effective ways to utilize visual collaboration, and these techniques can engage an entirely new level of learning and knowledge for the entire medical community.

Business/Consulting

Business and consulting firms can profit greatly from the use of visual collaboration, and that stems from the efficiency granted when using templates and optimization canvases. Many large businesses operate on a global scale, and this means they require the need to collaborate from anywhere with anyone, something visual collaboration just so happens to specialize in.

For many businesses, it is helpful to visualize their wants and needs, as well as their goals and restraints. These factors, and many more, are all easily diagrammed through visual collaboration tools. They are extremely versatile and can allow for the diagramming, brainstorming, and ideation of solutions both internal and external. They can also be used to integrate and communicate between sectors and other businesses as well, helping understand the confusion and find mutual solutions at the same time.

Visual collaboration can be well utilized in many different ways for businesses because of the pure diversity of the solutions they need to find and the tasks everywhere in between. Along with diagramming, task management is vital to running a successful business, which is easily visualized with visual collaboration. Businesses operating at any capacity need platforms that are as versatile and thorough as they are, and visual collaboration tools fit the bill perfectly.

Multiple people working from home on visual collaboration platforms

Conclusion

In short, visual collaboration tools are an access point for the future of the collaborative workspace. With no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote work opportunities changing the workplace permanently, visual collaboration has a very large hole to fill in order to make up for the much-needed collaboration everywhere. The tools in this space do an amazing job of simulating an in-person collaboration experience and go further to build on top of that and increase efficiency in places you couldn’t in person. By improving on an in-person collaboration experience and expanding collaboration possibilities worldwide, visual collaboration not only has the capacity to change how you conduct business every day, but it can also change how the entire world works together.


18 Comments

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