Virtual board meetings are great because they can help increase attendance, allow flexibility in scheduling, and save time on commuting. But, at the same time, they pose unique challenges that include tech issues, security concerns, and the lack of in-person non-verbal cues. Whether you have been hosting remote board meetings for years now or just starting to make the transition, there are a number of things you can do to ensure they are as effective and successful as possible.
With the remote work revolution that has occurred since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, the boards of organizations and nonprofits worldwide have had to transition from in-person to remote board of director meetings.
Virtual board meetings are great because they can help increase attendance, allow flexibility in scheduling, and save time on commuting. But, at the same time, they pose unique challenges that include tech issues, security concerns, and the lack of in-person non-verbal cues.
Whether you have been hosting remote board meetings for years now or just starting to make the transition, there are a number of things you can do to ensure they are as effective and successful as possible.
Before we get too deep into how to hold effective remote board meetings, you'll want to check in with your organization's bylaws and state regulations to ensure there aren't any restrictions on virtual board meetings.
Most states allow boards to host remote meetings so long as all members can respond in real-time and clearly hear everything that is said. That being said, it's important to be aware of the specific laws in your state and how they apply to corporations, associations, and nonprofits.
Beyond state laws, you'll also want to check in with your organization's bylaws. For example, there might be guidelines for the process of holding a vote that you'll need to incorporate into your virtual meeting. In some instances, you might find that virtual board meetings are entirely prohibited.
In general, though, you'll likely find that prohibitions against virtual board meetings have been altered since the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak. This forced businesses across the world to figure out how to continue operations while most people stayed at home.
Functional technology is one of the most important aspects of an effective remote meeting. Nothing can disrupt the flow of a meeting like tech problems, and a truly remarkable amount of time can be lost due to troubleshooting one issue after another.
You can deal with this by anticipating potential problems and doing a tech check before the meeting begins. This way, you won't waste valuable meeting time trying to figure out why none of the board members can't hear what's being said.
Not only should you check your own software, camera, microphone, and speakers before the meeting begins, but you should encourage everyone else to do the same.
You might be wondering how to deal with this if some of your board members aren't particularly tech-savvy. You can provide clear instructions for each participant that walks them through checking their equipment and software step by step.
Once you can rest assured that the technology will work in your favor, the next best thing you can do to host a successful meeting is to make an agenda ahead of time.
Meetings can meander aimlessly when you don't have a plan in place until the clock runs out. Instead of leaving your board meeting feeling like nothing got accomplished and time was wasted, you can create an agenda in advance that will help give the meeting structure.
About a week before the board meeting, you can send the agenda to everyone in attendance. This allows everyone to look over the agenda and suggest additions or changes well before the meeting begins. It also ensures that everyone can prepare for the meeting, do any research they need, and create questions ahead of time.
When creating an agenda, you'll want to go beyond a simple bullet-point list of items. Instead, go the extra step and give each topic a quick goal and a time limit length. You can then put them in an order that provides a natural flow to the meeting.
Now that you've created an agenda that will maximize efficacy and efficiency in your virtual board meeting, you must stick with it. Consider adding a few minutes of buffer at the end of each item time limit to account for transition time; otherwise, try to stick to the schedule as best as possible.
You'll likely find that everyone is much more relaxed when they have had time to review the agenda and know that it will actually be used. When they have certainty that the issue they think is important will be brought up a few items down, for example, they can relax and focus on the topic at hand.
Are your board members sprinkled around the country or even the globe? If so, you'll need to put extra thought into it when you schedule your meeting. You'll want to be respectful of what time of day each member is expected to sign on and participate, avoiding early mornings, late nights, and common break times.
Of course, it might not be possible to accommodate everyone's ideal time when you have many people in multiple time zones. You might even consider using a digital scheduling tool if it's really difficult to pin down a time that works for everyone.
Virtual meetings have many benefits, but one of the drawbacks is that it isn't as easy for people to be fully engaged when they are only seeing the other members through a screen. On the other hand, in-person board meetings offer many more opportunities for natural conversation and non-verbal cues that simply can't be recreated in the digital realm.
For this reason, it's a good idea to deliberately encourage engagement from everyone in attendance. You can do this in a number of ways, including pausing every once in a while and making sure that no one has any questions or comments they'd like to add.
Some people find it useful to give everyone a chance to speak at the beginning of the meeting. This can be just a short comment or check-in that helps everyone tune in to the meeting from the start.
Another way you can encourage engagement is by making sure that everyone has access to the information and tools they need to fully participate. Send out any relevant materials ahead of time or make them available on the virtual meeting platform you're using.
If you're looking for more tips and tricks to encourage participation in virtual meetings, check out our recent post with tons of fresh ideas.
For a meeting to go smoothly, it's essential that everyone can clearly hear what is going on at all times. Otherwise, you'll find constant disruptions of "can you say that again?"
On top of that, many states have regulations about online board meetings that require everyone to hear what is being said clearly.
There are a ton of different platforms you can use to host remote board meetings, and taking the time to find one that works best for your needs is well worth it.
There are platforms you can use that allow everyone easy access to board documents, for example, that can avoid misunderstandings and confusion that can disrupt the flow of the meeting.
An essential element of any successful remote board meeting is the detailed documentation of what is discussed and any decisions that are made. Without clear minutes outlining action points and the next steps, you're setting yourself up to have a less efficient meeting next time.
This is also important if any members are unable to attend your meeting so that they can catch up on what occurred.
When taking minutes, it's a good idea to use a template so that they're consistent and well-formatted. You'll also want to have one person designated as the minute-taker so that there isn't any confusion about who is responsible for this task. Commonly, the secretary will perform this role.
Minutes should also always include key details and use an objective voice. Once the meeting is over, minutes should be proofread and then shared with all other members using a safe and secure platform.
Hosting successful remote board meetings is a bit of an art, but once you have built a system that works, you can rely on it over and over again.
One thing worth implementing right from the start is a set of best practices and guidelines that you can give to everyone in attendance. It can also be useful to send out these key principles to everyone from the start so no one feels singled out if you end up having to address an issue down the road.
One commonly accepted piece of virtual meeting etiquette is muting your mic when you aren't contributing to the conversation. This can help make it easier for all board members to hear what's going on because it reduces background noise.
There are a lot of things that can create awkwardness in video meetings, and muting your mic can reduce the chances of an uncomfortable interruption.
It can be oh-so-tempting to work on other things when attending a virtual meeting, particularly if the item being discussed isn't very relevant to you. However, the entire flow of the meeting will be seriously disrupted if everyone only has half of their mind on the meeting while it's going on.
As a part of your guidelines, you can encourage people to only have their virtual meeting platform open while the meeting is occurring. This way, it reduces the temptation to check off other tasks on the to-do list at the same time.
You might also choose to encourage other board members to be thoughtful of their surroundings before they sign on to the meeting platform. Distractions can come in many forms, whether it's a barking dog, street noise, the distant murmur of a TV in another room, or a messy desk. While your organization is free to have its own standards of professionalism when it comes to virtual meetings, it can be useful to the flow of the meeting for people to be in relatively clean spaces without a ton of distractions.
Additionally, it's a good idea to ask your participants to avoid sitting in front of a window when they're logging on to the platform, as the bright light can make it hard for everyone to clearly see.
Of course, not everyone has an executive office to sit in while they're signing in to a board meeting. One way you can reduce distractions is to encourage your members to utilize custom backgrounds that can help simplify the visual environment.
A conversation protocol can be a good idea during in-person meetings, but it's practically essential during virtual conference calls. This is because the non-verbal cues we are able to pick up IRL simply aren't as present online, making it possible for an entire meeting to be filled with people starting to talk at the same time and getting caught in the rabbit hole of "no, please, go ahead…" and "no, you!"
What are the standards for your meetings? Should people raise their hands when they have something to contribute, or should they just hop in when they want to add something? Will you go around the room and ask people for feedback one by one, or will they follow a specific procedure to get the attention of the group?
You can determine what makes sense for your board meetings, but it's a good idea to have a system in place ahead of time.
There are so many wonderful benefits to virtual meetings compared to in-person events, but one of the major drawbacks is that it can be hard to digitally create the same level of engagement. If you feel like people are having a hard time participating or relaxing during your board meeting, you might be looking to add something extra.
While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, we have a suggestion that's sure to perk ears– pizza. After all, when your directors are making influential decisions that impact the resources and operations of a company, the last thing you want is for them to be distracted by their grumbling stomachs.
If you're interested in adding a little pizzazz to your conference call, let us cater your next meeting and deliver piping hot, fresh pizza right to each member's door. This way, you can have an effective meeting and bring the group together in one fell swoop.
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