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Virtual board meetings

By Rick Christie, CFInstD
24 Mar 2020
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2 min to read
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On line, or “virtual” board meetings, are now becoming more popular, thanks in part to the improved platforms (Zoom, Go to Meeting etc.,) and universal high-speed internet, now available, but also to save costs and time.  In addition we now have the added urgency occasioned by the COVID 19 virus which has shut down most face to face meetings. That said, the technology ‘promise’ of virtual meeting products – still hasn’t seemed to have reached the experience expectation that was set some years ago. 

Some meetings can be where some directors may be there with management in person, with others joining via a video capable internet platform, and/or others on a phone link where there is insufficient or unstable coverage.

They are however not ideal and in normal times should probably not be used to excess – we have probably all experienced that sometimes the best business discussions happen in the less-formal environments that can precede or follow physical board meetings. But the disadvantages of virtual meetings can be mitigated by some simple protocols to enable meetings to run smoothly, and most importantly enable a proper decision or consensus to be reached on important issues.

  1. It is preferable for the chair of the meeting to be there, in person, with the management, and some chairs will ask another director to chair the meeting if they cannot be there in person.
  2. It is essential that the board members have already had significant face-time with each other, and management, before scheduling virtual meetings. This is particularly so for new directors. The science suggests that virtual engagement or meetings can be highly effective once people have physically met more than 3 times…
  3. Chairs need to be especially vigilant to ensure that all directors are present throughout the meeting, positively seek input from each director on major discussion points, and be watchful that directors on a voice link unmute when they are responding.
  4. Management need to ensure that they can simultaneously project powerpoints to those online by video, whilst maintaining visual contact. Most platforms will allow this. For those on the phone, an email with the powerpoints should be available for reference.
  5. The minute taker should work with the chair and management throughout the meeting.
  6. The chair should ensure there are sufficient refreshment/toilet breaks throughout the meeting and check that all directors are present when the meeting re-convenes. If the link drops out for one or more directors, consideration should be given to temporarily stopping or rescheduling the meeting.
  7. It is most important to ensure full participation when a major decision point is reached. Silence should not be taken as agreement.

Last, it is up to the chair to ensure that the virtual meeting is justified with rescheduling being an option, if possible. Also, the chair has the primary responsibility for ensuring that the meeting runs smoothly and that decisions are taken properly and efficiently.

Author: Rick Christie CFInstD is a non-executive director with extensive experience at senior executive and board level.

Rick is also a mentor on the IoD's  Mentoring for Diversity programme 

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