We are seeing unprecedented challenges across all industries and sectors. Many organisations will quite rightly be focusing on the immediate threats of coronavirus but effective governance should not be overlooked.
We believe effective governance starts in the Boardroom, or as is the case at the moment, the ‘e-Boardroom’. Many organisations will be holding Board and Committee meetings remotely for the first time.
We’ve set out some key considerations and pitfalls based on our experience so far.
Before the meeting
- Ensure everyone can access the meeting. Do a quick test run facilitated by your IT department. This is best done individually, particularly with those less familiar with using such technology.
- Arrange for available IT support throughout the meeting so they can troubleshoot as needed (especially where the meetings take place outside of hours and IT may not normally be in work).
- Consider dial in options. Video conferencing or webinars are useful to have papers on screen and the Clerk can move through the relevant papers as necessary. It also creates a sense of community.
- Check that your governing documents allow for the operation of e-meetings.
Tips for papers
- Share papers in PDF format in advance to check everyone can receive sizeable documents and so everyone has these with plenty of time to read and prepare (this is no different to in person meetings).
- Make sure papers have covering papers with concise synopses and clear recommendations.
Tips for presenters
- Reading verbatim is never a good use of time during meetings, particularly on a call. Prepare for calls so it can be as engaging as possible.
Tips for chairs
- Body language is difficult to read, even on video calls. The chair will need to allow a formal opportunity for Board members to speak after each presentation.
- If multiple people speak at once, the Chair needs to step in and state an order for people’s contributions.
- The Chair should summarise the discussion giving a final chance for challenge if required and to make sure the minutes reflect the discussion held.
- If the meeting duration is lengthy allow time for comfort breaks.
- Do due diligence before the meeting so all opinions are informed ones.
- Ensure everyone who needs it has time on the agenda.
Tips for members
- Send written questions in advance, especially where these relate to matters of fact or matters of clarification. This allows the presenter to specifically address them. Make sure you still make your contribution in the meeting where your point relates to the decision.
- Always send corrections (for example of spelling or grammar in a formal annual report) in writing upon reading the document.
- Dial in from a quiet room with a setting that you are content for your fellow Board members to see and always dress appropriately.
- Make sure that you have access to refreshments as you would for any meeting.
- Remember to mute your microphone when you are not speaking to avoid unnecessary noise.
- If it is video conferencing, remember that you can be seen as well as heard, and act accordingly.
- Using video will help reduce the likelihood of multitasking and will improve concentration.
Some points for the future
- E-meetings have the potential to revolutionise governance, and in the long run will become a core part of the Board member engagement strategy.
- The UK currently has a target to be carbon neutral by 2050. Many of the practices we are following now regarding remote working and use of technology will contribute to this. Looking forward - if half of all meetings become remote, this would make a genuine contribution to reducing traffic related pollution.
- It is possible that the more remote and flexible working practices we see as a result of the current situation will help in Boardroom diversity. The greater access there is to the top means more opportunity for all.
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