How Visual Collaboration Supports and Engages Hybrid Workforces

BrandPost By Nathan Rawlins
Aug 10, 2021
IT Leadership

Both employees and managers say collaboration among remote and onsite teams has suffered. The right tools can make a significant difference.

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Credit: iStock

Half the human brain is devoted to vision, according to MIT. This processing power illuminates why video calls (versus audio alone) were so important in the past year and, perhaps, why people became so fatigued by them. The hybrid workforce is here to stay and so are these types of meetings, but video calls are not enough. To be at our best, our very visual brains need more than just screens full of faces.

Organizations have realized they need a better way to work together to build the next normal, a way that enables teams to work more effectively and efficiently from any location. Visual collaboration solutions help teams see and communicate complex processes more clearly while also fostering engagement. Visual ways of working are especially important to engineering and product teams who thrive on diagrams, mapping, and whiteboarding.

The struggle to collaborate, engage and produce results

Research from Lucid on how the pandemic affected teamwork revealed that 75% of employees believe collaboration suffered most. They missed random in-office moments — like meeting up in the kitchen or ducking into a meeting room —  that bond people and inspire spontaneous ideas and strategies. Additionally, they found meetings less collaborative and work overall more siloed.

Managers in the survey were more worried about productivity. For example, 43% of the C-suite said they were forced to delay major launches, campaigns, or initiatives as a result of employees working from home and collaborating virtually.

Even before the pandemic compelled the global transition to remote work, collaboration was increasingly challenging for cross-functional teams that were distributed across locations, time zones, languages, and approaches. The fully virtual environment amplified the need for solutions, and companies were quick to implement a range of technologies.

Now, the emerging hybrid model calls for solutions that better replicate and enhance in-person interactions, while also improving alignment for remote workers — a need acutely felt by teams that tend to operate in a linear way.

Take the typical software engineering process. Customer-focused teams pass insight to developers who turn that information into code. Testers verify, hand off to production, and operations takes it from there. The lack of in-person interaction is especially difficult for this type of workflow, especially in Agile environments where teams frequently change or people work on multiple projects.

The power of visuals

Productivity and collaboration go hand-in-hand, but the research shows that a lack of visual tools negatively impacted both. This is not surprising given that 65% of people are visual learners, according to SSRN. An examination of our social media-driven world highlights the significant influence of images: Hootsuite reports that 1 billion people use Instagram monthly, and TwitterBusiness says that Tweets with images gain 55% more engagement than those without.

Market intelligence from 451 Research found, “Visual collaboration tools can provide more flexible digital environments that allow users to think creatively; a more enjoyable work experience for some who find traditional work tools frustrating; and easy-to-use visual components that aid in brainstorming, planning, collaboration, and problem solving.”

In the context of a hybrid workforce, the power of a common visual language breaks down physical and digital communication barriers so teams get the big picture, achieve a shared understanding and align on next steps.

Engaging with visuals

In addition to supporting collective connection, visual collaboration platforms provide a common language for teams across departments so they can connect and align.

For example, nearly all respondents (93%) in the survey from Lucid identified a virtual whiteboard as an effective way to communicate. The majority of managers and employees are already using this type of technology to be productive.

Many say that drawing is their favorite way to explain an idea and that images are better understood by more people than text alone. Because visuals force simplicity, people can distill complexity down to its most essential elements faster with images than with words.

Intelligent diagramming is another way teams are enhancing creativity and moving into action faster. Visualizing data in the context of processes, roadmaps and strategies makes it more digestible and actionable. A view of steps, relationships and dependencies also reveals gaps that would not be as obvious when written.

Another advantage of digital whiteboards is that they maintain records, not only of ideas workshopped together but also of individual thoughts that might not have made it to the discussion yet. This is especially important to hybrid workforces that are more productive when they have a chance to collaborate both in real time and asynchronously.

Giving everyone a voice

CarGurus’ chief enterprise architect found a way to rebuild the company’s enterprise application stack using a virtual whiteboard and remote teams. To start, they needed knowledge and input from various teams across the organization. All individuals easily contributed on their own before the group collaboration started.

Prior to this session, brainstorming happened with 10-12 team members in a room for several meetings. With a virtual whiteboard in hand, the company conducted its multi-phase deployment planning through Zoom, where they “spitballed” ideas in meetings that “felt like real whiteboarding sessions,” something they didn’t originally think would be possible virtually. Plus, this approach gave everyone a voice.

In a traditional meeting room with so many people, having a say was often challenging. With a virtual whiteboard, each participant had the opportunity to contribute. They could even review the plan before the meeting and add any questions, concerns or ideas directly to the board for further discussion during the live session.

451 Research says, “Eliminating digital tedium and creating a more engaging, flexible and collaborative method of work motivates employees to get to higher-order tasks more quickly.” The firm believes visual collaboration tools are here to stay and will have a lasting impact both on employees and business outcomes.

Learn more about how virtual whiteboarding supports and engages hybrid workforces.