A Guide to Managing Virtual Board Meetings

7 min read
Aug 2, 2021 12:00:00 AM

The governance provided by directors / Trustees is an integral part of organisational leadership. Providing a meeting environment for effective governance became a significant issue for boards during Covid-19. Board Directors are known to be less technology literate on average than their Millennial counterparts and the sudden move to virtual board meetings from home left many awkward silences during virtual board meetings.

It appears that governance leaders will need to adapt as a recent McKinsey survey suggests that 90% of organisations will adopt some combination of remote and on-site work as they emerge from lockdown restrictions.  Therefore, board chairs and CEO’s will need to understand what is required to run and how to participate in a virtual meeting.

Our in-depth guide provides you everything you need to know to optimise productivity and engagement in your virtual board meetings.

An Introduction to Virtual Board Meetings

Research shows that being in the same room is the best, followed by, all participants being virtual, with the hybrid being the most difficult of all board meeting formats to manage. 

Both the virtual and hybrid require a heavier reliance on technology and more active facilitation by the Chair or an experienced facilitator.  

The Benefits of Virtual Board Meetings

Virtual meetings improve scheduling options, as anyone can join from anywhere this increases the availability of your board and management team while concurrently reducing time constraints and travel expenses, or underlying health concerns.  

There can be improved governance

Mission-driven organisations take great advantage of remote meetings to maintain an open line of communication and make time-sensitive decisions whenever necessary. When you are using the most appropriate tools, board leaders will have greater control over meetings and they will be able to maintain the focus. This supports governance greatly.

Board leadership will benefit from the ability to keep in touch in a secure environment without having to waste time coordinating in-person meetings.

There is an advantage to having a centralised platform where ideas are openly discussed and everything is recorded for reference.

How? By providing many great options, such as chat features, minute-taking tools, agenda builders, and more. These features will make it easier for you to plan the meetings and execute them so insightful conversations can take place and produce effective strategies and decisions.

The Drawbacks of Virtual Board Meetings

Though technology-based solutions are truly amazing, they are not perfect. In shifting to virtual board meetings, you need to understand the drawbacks so you can prepare. Here are some of the key obstacles you should know about:

1. Information security

Many sensitive topics are discussed during board meetings. When you go digital, there’s a risk to proprietary and confidential information which may mean board members are a more reluctant to discuss sensitive and controversial issues.

Because of this underlying information security risk, you need to make sure the security protocols are updated and risk factors are properly addressed. Whatever virtual board meeting software you choose to use, you need to make sure it is secure and that the transmitted information will be protected.

Therefore, any platform you choose must have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certification that encrypts all browser data.

2. Reduced engagement

This is the biggest drawback to virtual and hybrid meetings.

If the virtual board meeting is to be successful, everyone needs to pitch in, share their insights, and be actively participating. This issue is also present in hybrid meetings where only some of the attendees participate remotely. On many occasions, they only listen and vote when necessary, but they don’t actively have a part in the discussion.

To solve this issue, you have to incorporate video into the meeting and make sure you’re taking the necessary steps to encourage engagement and participation throughout. Remote attendees are an important part of the conversation and they need to feel like it.

3. Technological reliance

When you adopt new technology, you will have to jump through a few hurdles. When it comes to virtual board meetings, organizers need to be hyper-aware of the technological requirements and make sure everyone has access to the technology they need to attend the meeting. It’s important to note that not all members are tech-savvy, so they may require some training and guidance.

Whenever you bring in a new technological tool, you need to have it tested by someone on the team before you run with it. It’s not uncommon for boards to have an audio-visual person in the meeting to help attendees troubleshoot any issues. In fact, we encourage it because it makes everything run a lot smoother.

Attendees who are not tech-savvy should be provided with adequate instructions not only for joining but also for participating, voting, sending documents, etc. Otherwise, you will have to address all these issues in the meeting and a lot of valuable time will be wasted.

How to Organise a Successful Virtual Board Meeting

Virtual board meetings are very different from traditional in-person meetings. That means there are many specific details you need to take into account to maximise productivity and engagement. In this section, we will discuss the actionable steps the leadership needs to take to organize successful virtual board meetings.

1. Check if the organisation allows virtual meetings

The first thing you need to do is check if the organisation allows virtual meetings. Some organisations and corporations don’t allow them in their internal bylaws, which is why you need to check. Even if you are allowed to do this, you need to become familiar with the internal rules and local regulations as well.

This is very important because it will help you be in compliance with internal rules and local regulations, which will make your board members feel a lot more confident. Take the steps to make sure proper procedure is followed so you can operate ethically at all times.

2. Choose an appropriate time for the meeting

Choosing the right time to host the meeting is essential and this is true for any kind of meeting, especially if some of the board members are in different time zones. You have to make sure the meeting is held at an appropriate time for anyone while respecting their break times and lunch hours.

While it may not always be possible to accommodate everyone, you have to do your best to make sure the meeting is accessible to as many board members as possible. If the divide is significant, it is a good idea to set two separate virtual meetings.

3. Create a clear and organised agenda

As a rule, people do not spend enough time planning the meeting. Preparation with an organised agenda and supporting reports is the backbone of the virtual board meeting.

Here are some tips to help you create a strong and effective agenda to engage all attendees:

   • Involve the board members in the creation of the agenda. This will ensure that all relevant topics are discussed, increasing engagement and helping everyone feel heard and appreciated.

   • Ensure the virtual meeting is focused and on schedule. There’s a schedule for a reason, so you need to make sure it is followed as closely as possible. The meeting should begin and end on time, and every topic should be discussed within the set time restrictions.

   • Provide attendees with copies of the agenda and all relevant documents beforehand. All attendees should have access to the agenda and the relevant documents at 4-7 days in advance so they can prepare properly. This will also allow them to provide insightful feedback and raise productive questions.

4. Up your technology game

This is not a place to penny pinch, recommend to your board the equipment that you have found works well and provide them with technical support to get it working. Where possible use video rather than just audio as it improves engagement. Video conferencing tools, such as Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams are widely available.

Visual interaction between attendees leads to stronger connections. Additionally, it allows everyone to see nonverbal body language cues which are important indicators of disagreement, enthusiasm, boredom, and impatience etc. This isn’t possible if you only used audio.

These are some of the most important rules all attendees should follow when you adopt video conferencing tools:

   • Start the meeting early, test all audio and video equipment before joining the meeting.

   • Mute the microphone when you’re not using it.

   • Send a message in the chat or raise your hand when you want to participate or make a question.

   • Dress properly and be camera-ready.

   • Close any tabs you don’t need to eliminate distractions.

   • Notify whenever you need to step away by sending a message in the chat for accurate time-taking.

Good etiquette matters during virtual board meetings, so you need to lay down the groundwork and make your expectations clear. If everyone is mindful, the meeting will run smoothly and the goals will be achieved.

5. Promote interaction among attendees

As we’ve already discussed, engagement is one of the biggest challenges of virtual meetings. That’s why you need to promote interaction and these tactics will help you out:

  • Encourage everyone to speak at the beginning. Doing this won’t only establish collaboration from the get-go, it will also remind everyone who is present. Encourage everyone to announce they are present and say hi.

   • Encourage everyone to comment and ask questions. Don’t ask attendees to wait until the end to make comments or ask questions because they may forget. Not to mention, if the meeting was long, they won’t be encouraged to make it longer. Instead, encourage them to raise their hand or send a message in the chat whenever they want to say something.

   • Regularly check in with remote attendees. It can be challenging for remote attendees to interject, so make sure you check in with them after each topic and ask for their thoughts. This allows them to pitch in without breaking the flow of the meeting.

  • Always keep the discussion moving. The last thing you want is for your meeting to lag. That’s where the agenda comes in, so make sure it’s being followed so the discussion can have a good flow.

Don’t forget that board members provide a lot of valuable insights. That’s why it’s so important to keep everyone engaged and make the effort to include them when they’re joining remotely.

6. Consider the meeting from the remote participants perspective

In designing the meeting, think of what remote participants need to see in order to fully engage? They should be able to see the faces of in-room attendees, shared presentations, physical documents handed out, content created during the meeting on whiteboards or flipcharts, etc.

Use a dedicated facilitator. Despite the effort you may put into meeting design and logistics, often the in-person attendees to dominate the discussion. A facilitator needs to draw the remote participants in, keep them engaged and ensure their voices are heard, not interrupted or talked over. At times, the facilitator may need to call on in-room or remote participants to ensure that all voices are heard.

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