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Five Tips For Your Online Board


Expert insights from Alan Holmes CDir, INED and Executive Director, Websure. This blog has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland members.

The world is going virtual, and your next Board meeting (if not your last one!) is likely to be online. You are also likely to be at home for a time, so there are new things to think about. Yes, we will all have big questions to ask about risk, recovery and what resources we now need for this new world. But for now, let's just look at the practical side for Board meetings. 

The Online Board meeting could now become more frequent, and we all need to adjust, be flexible and learn some new skills. 

Here's how to make the Virtual Board meeting work in five easy steps:

1.    Good: Define 'good', and set boundaries
2.    Tools: Get the tools 
3.    Communications: Over-communicate 
4.    Regulations: Check your regulations
5.    Smile: Be sociable

Define Good and Set Boundaries

You need to promote good practice, and discourage the bad. Good is about setting standards and expectations that look a bit like this:

•    Make sure that you are in a quiet and bright place in your home. Not your bedroom! The kitchen table might work if there is nobody else in the house. 
•    Camera on, mike-off should be your default for video meetings. When you are speaking mike on, of course, but remember to mute when not speaking. 
•    Close the door, and keep distractions away (including spouse, kids and dogs)
•    Dress as you do normally for your Board meeting. 
•    Take breaks as you would in a Boardroom and have lunch (consider a communal lunch). Also, remember to have a supply of drinking water to hand. 

This is all common sense, but it does need to be outlined in advance of the meeting. This is best included as part of the Board pack e-mail, but it should be re-emphasised by the Chair at the outset of the meeting. It's also important to be upfront during the meeting and remind people (who need reminding!) of the agreed standards. 

Get the Tools 

You will need:

  • Videoconference: A videoconferencing tool of your choice (MS Teams, Webex, 8x8, Google Hangout, Zoom, etc). Your company will likely select their video tool of choice, and if you are on more than one Board you will likely need to be able to use several. Do your own dry run in advance, and make sure you know how to change screen settings and share your own screen if required. 
  • Cloud Storage. Again, your company will have their preference (MS One Drive, Google Docs, Dropbox, iCloud etc) and you will need to have an account with each and get familiar with how to access, share and amend documents. The company may also use a solution like Diligent, so make sure you are familiar with whatever platforms your Board will be using. 
  • High-Speed Internet. This is more important than ever now. Check your speed, consider switching supplier, or ask your existing supplier to check your service and configuration. 
  • A Headset! For sound quality, and to avoid background noise, but a good headset. Have a backup headset too. Again, a reminder to use mute! 
  • A Monitor: A large monitor and consider dual screen. Even if you have a laptop, you should buy a monitor and connect it for a better experience and for the option of dual screens. If your Board packs are online or delivered to an iPad, you will need a separate screen for video meeting access. 
  • Your desk. Make sure it's comfortable, and that you have a good chair (the one you sit on!). Consider a flexible 'standing desk' that allows you to adjust positions, especially for longer meetings like at year-end.

Over Communicate

  • Video is the key. A Board meeting does not have to be entirely on video, but at least part of it should be. There are many reliable platforms, and it can actually make for shorter meetings than phone if conducted properly. If appropriate a Board can record the video meeting, so it's retrievable for absentees and for the purposes of minutes. 
  • Written communications are more important than ever. In addition to the Board papers, make sure all instructions are written, ideally in an e-mail. Make sure everyone has written details and knows how to sign in and has all passwords in advance.
  • Check in with everyone. At regular intervals during a Board meeting, check in with everyone to make sure they are still with you and ask if they have questions. At the end of the meeting, or at the end of each section, make sure you get a verbal assent from all Board members to move on. Someone may have missed an opportunity to ask a question, may have dropped off the session, or may have sound or other tech problems. It's also an opportunity to ensure that all Directors voices are heard.  
  • Follow up with individual Board members as you normally would, by phone or video, whatever you think is appropriate. Remember that it might be some time before you get to meet fellow Board members in person. 

Check your Regulations

  • Make sure you check in with management on any legal, tax or regulatory matters that were designed for in-person meetings.
  • For regulated entities there's already guidance on signing requirements for Ireland and how these can be accommodated electronically, at least in the short term.
  • You will have company legal advice, and there are many guides being currently issued so keep in touch with the Institute of Directors. 
  • Don't assume an extension of any deadlines, and if you are availing of any make sure the Board's attention is drawn to that. 

Be Sociable

  • Plan some time around the Board meeting to recreate the social side of meetings. 
  • Consider having people dial-in 15 minutes early for a chat, this also allows for any tech glitches to be sorted.
  • It's unlikely that you will have a Board dinner any time soon, but see if you can plan a virtual lunch slot as mentioned above. You could also try for a separate video based social call for the Board, with time to catch up and, especially, to get to know any new Board members. 

There’s the five tips. Make them work! Try new things, encourage suggestions for new ways of doing what a Board needs to do. Of course, ask the members how they feel the meeting went and how you can improve the next one.