Virtual Board Meetings Are Here To Stay
Since the disruption caused by the Covid-19 virus many businesses have been forced to adopt alternative means to meet up with corporate governance commitments, one of which is board meetings. While travel restrictions have been removed in many countries, many company executives still prefer to convene and discuss both critical and normal business items virtually. Many boards and their corporate secretaries have had to engage in a rapid learning process in order to make the switch to fully virtual board meetings or a hybrid version whereby board members can opt to attend in person or virtually.
A virtual meeting is when people around the world, regardless of their location, use video, audio, and text to link up online. Virtual meetings allow people to share information and data in real-time without being physically located together, while a Board meeting is a formal periodic gathering of a Board of Directors. Most of the organizations, being public or private, profit or non-profits, are ultimately governed by a body commonly known as a Board of Directors. The members of this body periodically meet to discuss strategic matters. When this meeting is held using video, audio or text to link up online, then it becomes a Virtual Board Meeting.
Some businesses already have a significant history of using video conferencing for both meetings and webinars. But since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of video conferencing has increased significantly. Computerworld reported that in the week of 14–21 March, 2020 there were 62 million downloads of video conferencing applications: the highest download rate ever recorded for the software. Even the UK House of Commons resumed siting during the pandemic using video conferencing technology in place of gathering at Westminster. In Nigeria, the Nigerian Stock Exchange published guidelines to guide companies virtual, board, committee and management meetings. These adjustments made it possible for businesses to make critical decisions in line with corporate governance obligations despite the challenges put forward by the pandemic.
Considering the above trends and the situation today where most restrictions have been lifted, it is clear that more businesses have adopted digital processes in running their businesses, including the ways boards and leadership teams meet. This however comes with its challenges as virtual meetings are normally harder to organize because they require a lot more collaboration and better preparation to ensure the time spent online is put to proper use.
In this blog post, we have pooled some tips from www.boardintelligence.com that can help companies organize successful Virtual Board meetings:
- Use Your Time Assertively:
Organizing, attending and staying focused during meetings generally can be very challenging whether its done via video conferencing or face to face. Now that we are confined to our homes, this is even more challenging as there are lots of distractions to contend with. This means a lot more discipline will be required, here are a few tips that can help here;
- Plan a meeting that is deliberately shorter.
- Clear the decks; this entails clarifying questions around the Board papers sent earlier, which need to be dealt with before hand.
- Board members should agree on last meeting minutes beforehand.
- The meeting should start with the most important issues on the agenda
- The Board Chair should be clear about what he/she needs.
- Demand More from Your Board Papers
Focus and attention is in shorter supply in remote meetings, so its better to provide a pre-read that can be used to guide the meeting instead of having lengthy presentations during the meetings. For this tip to work out, board members must fulfill these basic requirements;
- keep it short, maybe 4/5 pages maximum.
- Keep it to the point.
- Make the “ask” of the Board clear.
- Send messages upfront. A one page executive summary of the key messages is ideal.
- Get The Right Tools & Support
All Board members including the Company Secretary must work as a team to pull off a great virtual Board Meeting by ensuring that the right technology is put in place. A few things to consider here include;
- Allocate a meeting assistant, this person will facilitate aspects of the meeting such as ensuring everyone joins the meeting on time and their technology is working. The assistant will also alert the meeting chair about questions/comments as well as when technical issues arise.
- Choose the right conferencing tool, preferably an app that supports video. All team members can be involved in sourcing for the right solution and getting set up. Also, carrying out a test of the app prior to the meeting can be helpful.
- Use a digital board portal as this will make it easy for the team to exchange questions, ideas and collaborate without meeting face to face. It is also secure and allows for last minute changes to be made easily.
In this era where full time work from home or the hybrid option of work has been fully embraced by many organisations worldwide, boards have followed suit by embracing online meetings. Virtual meetings have so far proven to be a time saving option for many, and has enabled more frequent gatherings where critical decisions are made and issues resolved. But does it affect performance? According to corporate governance and board performance expert, Professor Richard Leblanc, face-to-face get-togethers are not necessarily best, even for boards but Board members will need to become accustomed to frequent video meetings and we believe the tips stated above can help improve the entire virtual meeting process and experience. All Board members must be involved to make this work. And as stated by Professor Richard LeBlanc “Directors need to treat a virtual meeting as seriously as an in-person meeting. Prepare, do the reading, come prepared to dialogue.”
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