With the current uncertainty around the impact of Covid-19 and the limitations on travel and face to face meetings, most boards and board committees (as well as many other bodies) will for the foreseeable future have to meet virtually.
The Chartered Governance Institute has published new guidance on what constitutes good practice in the conduct of virtual board and committee meetings. Here are some of the main points from the guidance.
1. Before the Meeting
Setting up the meeting or call
- The call or virtual meeting needs to be set up and invites sent out. Circulate the link and dial in details for the meeting on the meeting invitation, on the agenda and by email in advance and also again an hour before the meeting.
- When setting up the meeting think about start times. The Chartered Governance Institute advises that recent experience has shown that there may be issues with starting calls at peak times, due to bandwidth limitations. It may be worth considering scheduling meetings just before or just after the hour or half hour – for example have a start time of 9:50 or 10:10 rather than 10:00.
- Schedule shorter meetings and include breaks as people’s attention span is shorter on the phone or video meeting than in person.
- The host should also have all of the access codes/PINs to hand and should open the call 10-15 minutes before the start time to allow a prompt start and deal with any issues with the technology.
- The host should also ensure that everyone has clear instructions about how to join the meeting and use the key features of the app (such as muting and unmuting their microphone).
- If possible have IT support on standby should there be a problem.
- Full instructions on how to use the software should be provided. It is helpful if there is a video tutorial to support users. Many proprietary videoconferencing companies have training videos and materials to support users
- Users should be provided with video-conference etiquette instructions, e.g, making sure that they are in a private/quiet area for participating in the meeting, instructions on interactive tools and use, muting when not speaking etc.
Supporting the Chair
- It would be good for the Chair and the host to agree beforehand they will communicate with each other during the meeting if needs be (ie text messaging).
- The host and the chair will need a list of all those due to attend the meeting so that either, or both can check who is on the call.
- Use a timed agenda and give presenters an approximate time when they will be asked to join the meeting
2. During the Meeting
- Any apologies for absence should be recorded.
- The virtual meeting app may allow the person hosting the meeting (and other participants) to see who is present at the meeting, when they leave and others join, and who is speaking. It may also be possible to message other participants within the app and to mute lines if needed. If not, a should to do a roll call at the start, to ensure everyone is present.
- At the end of the meeting (under “Any Other Business”) the Chair should ask participants by name if they have any other matters to raise. This also allows the Host to check if everyone is still on the call.
- If this process is followed then it should be possible to ensure a quorum is present on the call at all times. Details of the quorum required may be specified in the company Articles of Association
- If everyone is having to work from home it may not be possible to send out paper packs. It may be an idea to send PDF version of the papers out via email prior to the meeting.
- Screen sharing is a useful tool. Some of the virtual meeting apps allow documents to be shared on screen during the call to ensure that everyone is on the same page (or slide). If this facility is not used, the presenter should indicate which slide or page number they are on as they move through their presentation so that everyone can keep up.
- It is a good idea to agree in advance how participants can communicate with each other during the meeting. This will depend on the messaging options on the virtual meeting app used.
- Allowing everyone to have their say and facilitating an effective debate can be challenging when the meeting is being held over the phone or internet. There is a risk of people talking over one another and/or accidentally interrupting and people not speaking at all.
- It would be a good idea to circulate ground rules for participants.
- It is really important during virtual meetings for the Chair to be proactive in leading and managing the meeting assisted by the host.
- The Chair needs to be really clear when leading the meeting through the agenda.
3. After the Meeting
- It may be useful to ask for feedback to see what can be improved next time. Any issues can then be addressed before the next meeting and the ground rules updated if necessary.