We asked more than a dozen governance experts and directors about what's been working for them these last few months, and drew on our own experience coaching this transformation from traditional to remote meetings. Here are eight factors that contribute to an excellent virtual board meeting.
- Chair Should Set Expectations: In notifying members of an upcoming virtual meeting, the board chair should include some basic instructions and expectations such as: no multitasking, business casual dress, taking the meeting in a “closed-door” setting.
- Do One or Two Tech Run-Throughs: Have a member of the IT team walk each director through their set-up well in advance of the meeting. That means the videoconferencing platform and a “re-introduction” to the board portal software and any third-party apps in use to gather feedback, collect votes and the like. Liz Huebner said the company required just such a training in advance of their virtual board retreat in early May. “They put protocols in place even about how to signal when you want to ask a question.”
- Equip Board Members Accordingly: After the tech-check, consider mailing hardware (like headsets) or suggesting noise-cancelling software (like krisp.ai) to improve audio.
- Pass Legal Muster: Ensure your remote meeting passes legal muster (check this database for state laws and consult your own bylaws and legal team) and that your discussion and file-sharing platforms meet security requirements.
- Online Scheduling: Use an online scheduling tool to assure time zones are accurate and respectful when planning your virtual meeting.
- Video Camera Expectations: Encourage participants to keep their camera on for richer engagement and clarity of intent. “It creates a more human connection, allowing the board to get a feel for how the management team is doing,” says Hubert Joly, executive chairman of Best Buy. “It also ensures greater focus as everyone has to be their best. There is no hiding on a video call!”
- Staffing & Back-Up Plan: During the meeting, have a staff member on-hand to assist with any technological difficulties. Have a call-in number to join the meeting as a last resort.
- Up level Your Moderator: A moderator can assure all these systems above are in place and can help keep a meeting running smoothly without a hitch. By leveraging a professional remote board coach, you get someone with the permission to suggest it may be time for a breakout discussion if they gauge participation is lacking or to help re-energize the group, and otherwise facilitate bold and effective group discussion. Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automatic, the company behind WordPress, has run remote board meetings for years and swears by the use of a Chief of Staff to moderate.
- Feedback Protocol: Plan a feedback session the day after your first virtual board meeting. Request board members gather their thoughts and observations as quickly as possible, while their reactions are fresh in their minds. Participants could break into small groups to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and any possible solutions and report back. You can collect feedback via anonymous polling, but we suggest you get your board comfortable with open and straight forward feedback.
KEITH FERRAZZI is Founder and Chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight, which coaches teams and boards on increasing adaptability and collaboration to capture unexpected growth opportunities and avoid unsuspected risk.
SARAH ZAPP is the CEO and Founder of Beyond Board, a national community of today’s best board members and board eligible executives. She’s an award-winning journalist, start-up advisor, and speaker/panelist on the topics of building relationships and board diversification.