Board meetings were traditionally held in person, unless geographically impractical. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that. Many knowledge workers had to switch to remote work for health and safety reasons. Subsequently, virtual board meetings have also become a lot more common.
Despite the apparent novelty and complexity of the process, it is possible to run productive, remote board meetings. When appropriately conducted, virtual board meetings can be more successful and effective than in-person meetings.
This article aims to provide an all-around perspective on virtual board meetings including practical tips you could incorporate into your online meeting process to make them even more efficient.
Benefits and drawbacks of the virtual meeting
Many organisations that were previously accustomed to holding their meetings primarily in person were forced to a sudden shift to virtual meetings at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. And while virtual board meetings offer various benefits, such as connecting members across multiple locations without the time and travel costs of commuting, they also present some drawbacks.
Virtual meeting advantages
Virtual meetings provide several advantages, some of which include:
- Better attendance: When compared to in-person meetings, virtual board meetings demand less of a time commitment. Board members can attend from anywhere with a computer and an internet connection, rather than spending their valuable time travelling to a remote site for a meeting. Virtual board meetings are convenient, leading to better attendance.
- Increased diversity: Holding remote meetings, using virtual technology, makes it possible for boards to hire directors from various backgrounds with different skill sets and experiences, regardless of location.
- Better governance: With the right tools, virtual board meetings can be planned and run more efficiently than in-person ones. Additionally, an online client portal like Agility provides directors with easy access to board papers and other documents before, during, and after a board meeting. As a result, they spend less time looking for necessary materials and more time making decisions and acting on behalf of the organisations they serve.
Virtual meeting disadvantages
While there are several advantages of virtual meetings, there are also some drawbacks:
- Security risks – Board meetings frequently feature discussions involving confidential information. This data is being transmitted online during a virtual board meeting, putting the company at risk of a data breach. This risk can be mitigated by implementing appropriate security measures (including secure online board meeting software storing all data and documents utilised during the meeting).
- Less involvement – Some board members might not be as accustomed to, or comfortable with, online meeting protocols. Furthermore, when you’re not in the same room as other participants, reading social and physical clues is more challenging. For these reasons, some board members might be reluctant to speak up, leading to other directors dominating the conversation and potentially less informed decisions being made.
- Technology issues – Anytime technology is involved, there is a risk that things can go wrong. For example, internet connections can be lost, devices can start rebooting unexpectedly, and some board members can find it challenging to adopt new or unfamiliar technology.
Four tips for running a successful virtual meeting
Adopting some proven conventions makes it possible to prepare for and conduct a virtual board meeting that’s as effective as a meeting held in person. Outlined below are the four tips for running a virtual meeting.
1. Create a clear, concise, and organised agenda
As a rule, people tend not to spend enough time planning meetings. Thorough preparation of an organised agenda and supporting reports is the foundation of successful in person and online board meetings.
- Involve the chair and board members in the agenda-setting process – This will ensure that all the relevant topics are covered, thus increasing engagement and making everyone feel their opinions are valued and heard.
- Make sure the virtual meeting is focused and on schedule – It is the chair’s responsibility to follow the agenda as closely as possible. The meeting should begin and end on time, and every topic should be discussed within set time limitations.
- Ensure attendees have a copy of the agenda and all relevant supporting documents and reports beforehand – All attendees should have access to all board meeting papers 4-7 days in advance to prepare accordingly. This will also allow them to initiate productive discussion and provide insightful feedback on the business.
- Select an appropriate time for the meeting – Choosing the right time to host a meeting is critical, especially if some board members are in different time zones. It is important to ensure each meeting is accessible to as many attendees as possible.
2. Improve your technology game
Advise your board to use appropriate virtual meeting technology and equipment and offer technical support to set it up and get it working. Use video whenever possible rather than audio alone to increase and enhance engagement. There are many options available for video conferencing, including Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams.
When using video conferencing technology, ensure all participants follow these guidelines:
- Activate the technology early enough to make sure all the audio and video equipment is working and only then join the meeting
- During meetings when you are not using a microphone, mute it
- To participate or ask a question, raise your hand or send a message using the chat function
- Make sure to dress accordingly and be camera-ready
- To eliminate distractions, close all browers, windows screens and alerts that aren’t necessary during the meeting
- Send a message via the chat function if you need to take a break to assist with meeting timelines
3. Maintain attendee engagement
During regular in-person meetings, attendee engagement is mainly driven by the activity and energy within the boardroom. In online or virtual meetings, this is not as tangible and can be challenging to recreate. To encourage participation and engagement in your virtual meeting, use the following strategies:
- Encourage the attendees to partake in the discussion by commenting and asking questions – Remind the attendees that they should not wait until the end of the meeting to make comments or ask questions, maintaining the interactivity of a meeting is important. Instead, encourage participants to send a message in the chat or raise a hand whenever they have something to say.
- Regularly follow up with remote attendees – Remote participants may find it challenging to interject, so check in with them after each topic and ask for their opinions or if they would like to ask a question. This enables them to participate without interfering with the meeting’s flow.
- Keep the conversation flowing – To prevent your meeting from lagging, the chair should ensure the agenda is followed. This will enable effective discussion. It is critical to maintain everyone’s engagement and make an effort to involve attendees when they’re participating virtually.
4. Keep your virtual meetings concise
Focusing on small screens not only requires higher concentration but also drains attendees’ energy faster than in-person meetings. Moreover, the lack of face-to-face interaction can make online board meetings less engaging.
Schedule shorter meetings to help attendees stay engaged and focused during a virtual meeting. And if you find it necessary to schedule a longer meeting, consider dividing it into several shorter sessions.
Finding a new normal is still a challenge for many boards. Some have permanently transitioned to virtual formats, others have gone back to in-person meetings or are experimenting with a hybrid format. However, as people’s expectations change and they get used to new technologies and ways to do things, the situation will constantly evolve.
And while we all are still adjusting to the new normal, virtual meetings are here to stay. They are a powerful tool in the arsenal of any progressive board, which should strive to continually improve efficiencies and outcomes. Going online is a great way to potentially boost attendance, reduce costs and futureproof the organisation.