When it comes to running board meetings, as with many other general business practices this year, organisations have had to change the way they do things due to COVID-19.
For many, the pandemic has only heightened the necessity for key strategic decisions to be made with more urgency, flexibility and collaboration.
While limited travel opportunities, social distancing requirements and general health concerns have put a stop to most face-to-face meetings, the business of business has gone virtual.
In May, the Australian Government made temporary changes to the Corporations Act to allow companies to hold formal meetings entirely online rather than face-to-face. In July, the arrangements were extended for a further six months until 21 March 2021. The Australian Institute of Company Directors wants the change made permanent.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has also thrown its weight behind virtual meetings. In August, the Commission said virtual technology was a valuable tool for addressing the challenges of COVID‑19 and strongly encouraged organisations to hold either virtual or, where possible, hybrid meetings.
With the opportunity to host an unlimited number of attendees, utilise private chat features to enable attendees to post questions, and run live polls and voting, many organisations are finding virtual meetings can be a more efficient and cost-effective option over their traditional counterparts.
However, before you send out the invites, there are a few things to do to make sure your virtual board meeting achieves your goals.
1. Include clear instructions in your notice-of-meeting
It’s important to make it easy for participants to attend your meeting, especially if many are using new technology for the first time.
Your formal meeting notice should include clear instructions on how to observe, vote, make comments and ask questions during your virtual meeting. Not only is it important in terms of meeting the needs of your board members, it’s also expected under the law with the Corporations Act (section s249L(3)) saying the explanations should be “clear, concise and effective”.
You should also include an email address or another secure way for participants to make a submission or vote on board issues.
2. Run a concise agenda
A concise agenda will lead to a better online board meeting. For online conferences and events, we usually recommend reducing your agenda items by around 20% compared with a face-to-face event. This may not always be possible in a board meeting, but allowing prior submissions and voting may help keep your online board meetings on track.
Correspondingly, you should allow for a similar increase in the amount of time you allocate for discussion and questions, because virtual meetings between remote attendees may require more moderation, explanation, reiteration and debate between directors.
A great advantage of virtual board meetings is that anyone, anywhere in the world can attend, as long as they’ve got an internet connection. Just make sure you take time zones into account when you’re sending out your meeting invites.
3. Establish the ground rules
To make sure your meeting flows it’s important to set some ground rules that everyone is aware of at the start of the meeting.
Ideally, all attendees should turn on their video camera so everyone can be seen and heard.
The chair should recognise each speaker before they address the meeting to avoid people talking over each other. You may want to use a visual cue, such as raising a hand. If your video meeting software allows, speakers may be able to hit a ‘raise hand’ feature in your video conferencing system, or signal their desire to address the meeting in a chat feature.
Attendees should mute their microphone when they are not speaking to avoid any background noise.
It’s also good practice to establish maximum speaking times for each agenda item and speaker, and a staff member should be allocated the job of timekeeper.
4. Touch base with your attendees
It’s a good idea to touch base with all attendees in the lead-up to the meeting to test their internet connections, make sure their webcam and audio are clear, and that they’re generally on top of the technology.
If you’re concerned the reliability of their connection is not up to scratch, some video conferencing services will let you run a teleconference over the phone simultaneously so everyone can still be present.
Plan and test how participants will interact through elements such as polls and chat so you can keep your meeting flowing at crucial times.
5.Take advantage of the technology
To comply with the recent changes to the Corporations Act, organisations holding a virtual board meeting must ensure that they provide attendees with an opportunity to speak, vote by a poll rather than a show of hands, and otherwise participate in the virtual meeting as required.
So it’s important to make sure your video conferencing service lets you hold a formal poll or vote during the meeting. ASIC also recommends, where practicable, voting via online or other means should also be available prior to the virtual meeting.
If proxy voting is required, ensure your video meeting provider can offer it. You can also use online polls to ask for feedback on proposed actions.
Chat features may be useful for interactions such as asking for a motion, having someone second a motion, or to provide other brief answers to questions.
Make sure your video conferencing service lets you easily share screens and documents, and switch from video to slides (or both). Some services also let you use your virtual meeting space to manage shared documents and other resources in a central, secure location as opposed to just sharing them via email.
Some video conferencing services will also offer the convenience of providing a recording and/or transcripts of your meeting.
6. Troubleshooting and contingency plans
Make sure your video conferencing service has IT support that you can contact immediately in case of any technical issues that may arise during the meeting.
Some providers offer local support and can troubleshoot to ensure important presentations and critical investor communications run smoothly.
For more information on how to use Redback Connect’s online video conferencing platform to run your important remote meetings, contact one of our consultants.