In today’s globalized world, it’s common for both corporate and nonprofit boards to have members spread all over a country, or even abroad. This poses challenges for organizing and conducting board meetings.
In order to get all your board members in the same place at the same time, you must reconcile the schedules of various people living in different time zones, organize trips, book accommodations and meals, etc. This is expensive and time-consuming. And when there are travel restrictions, it can even be unfeasible.
What are virtual board meetings?
It’s quite simple: virtual board meetings are board meetings held online, with some or all participants attending remotely through their devices. (Think of a board of directors on a Zoom call, with all board members sitting in their own offices, in front of their connected devices.)
In the first case, when some board members are physically together while others attend remotely, the meeting is called a hybrid board meeting. In the second case, when all board members are in different locations, it’s a fully virtual board meeting.
Virtual board meetings can be conducted on audio-only or video platforms. Boards can use basic audio and video conference software, such as GoogleMeet, Zoom, Skype or others — or they can invest in a specialized software solution that ensures a more efficient and secure online environment for their meetings.
Board portal software, which is a dedicated solution for all board management processes, always includes secure virtual board meeting tools.
Pros of virtual board meetings
Virtual board meetings offer several benefits for corporate and nonprofit boards alike. Let’s look at some of the main advantages of holding remote board meetings over in person meetings.
A virtual meeting doesn’t require attendees to spend time and energy traveling to a physical location, as is the case when the board holds an in person meeting. This makes it much easier for board members who have busy schedules to take part in board meetings.
As a consequence, there is increased attendance at each meeting, and each member’s engagement with the board is greater.
Simpler and more effective board governance
When organizing a virtual meeting through virtual board meeting software, board managers can create and share the meeting agenda and board pack much more easily than when organizing an in person meeting.
Besides, the dynamic agenda allows board members to easily send suggestions of items to be included, which can then be rejected or approved with only a few clicks. If there are any updates to the agenda, meeting attendees are automatically notified. Secretaries are spared the stress of reprinting updated materials last-minute, and board members don’t need to hassle to read the latest version of a document handed out just before the meeting.
Also, remote work features make it easy for board members and the board chair to view and edit board documents, and exchange feedback ahead of the next meeting. This results in a well-prepared agenda, and allows them to focus on decision making during the entire meeting.
During online board meetings, voting and e-signature features allow board members to make the most of the meeting time by easily voting on and signing proposals. Virtual board meeting software also makes it easy to assign tasks to board members during virtual meetings, as well as follow their progress on those tasks during future meetings.
All these features of virtual board meetings increase the effectiveness of board governance.
Though secure board portal software comes at a price, it helps corporate boards save resources rather than increase their expenses. This is so for a series of reasons.
First, conducting remote meetings means boards don’t have to cover travel and lodging expenses for board directors and members. This means considerable savings, particularly for boards whose members are scattered all over a country or even abroad.
Second, by using remote meeting software, board secretaries don’t have to print, bind and mail board packs to attendees ahead of the meeting. Instead, board portal tools allow them to upload and share relevant documents directly on the portal, without even the need to send out emails. The board saves not only on paper, printing and binding, but also in the time and effort spared.
These savings usually far outweigh the amount of resources spent on board portal software.
Ready background for future board assessments
Board portal software makes it possible to record a virtual board meeting, and with a few clicks, create meeting minutes from the recording. Besides, any votes carried out during the meeting, as well as documents, graphs, spreadsheets etc. can be stored in the portal. All this makes it much easier to carry out annual board assessments and audits.
Cons of virtual board meetings
Unfortunately, nothing in this world is perfect, and virtual meetings are no exception to this rule. There can be a few downsides to taking your board meetings online. But these challenges can be overcome, and the first step to that is knowing exactly what the risks are.
Technical difficulties that can get in the way of an efficient board meeting include: faulty internet connection, software malfunction and device malfunction, and security issues.
For instance, the board chair might be out of sync with the rest of the attendees because his internet connection is too slow; the board portal might have a glitch that causes voting tools to become unavailable; or a board member might be attending through his smartphone, but find the battery dies mid-meeting. Also, less tech-savvy attendees might have difficulty navigating a board portal.
When it comes to security, using the wrong software may render your board meeting vulnerable to hacker attacks.
When people are physically present at a meeting, they have no difficulty in reading the body language and facial expressions of others. In an online meeting however this can be an issue. And since body language and facial expressions are an important part of communication, this may negatively affect the way board members communicate among themselves.
How to overcome challenges and run efficient virtual meetings
Overcoming technical issues
Mostly, this is about preparing beforehand. Here are a few actions you can take in advance to reduce the risk of technical issues affecting your upcoming meetings and negatively impacting board member engagement:
- Know the software you are using. Explore and try beforehand all board management tools you are going to need during the meeting. Run a mock meeting in advance, if you can. And above all, when you choose your board portal provider, make sure they offer 24/7 support, so if there are any software glitches you can have them fixed as fast as possible.
- Check your connection and battery in advance. If possible, have a backup connection — such as an Ethernet port and cable, or 4G connection through a smartphone. And ask all remote attendees to do the same.
- Collect some feedback. If you have just implemented your board portal, or if there are any new members on the board, ask them if they are comfortable using the software. Do so a few days in advance, so that you can give training and assistance to anyone who needs it — but not so much in advance that the board member will have forgotten how to use the virtual meeting platform when the meeting date arrives!
If you are sharing confidential information during your virtual board meeting, use a secure platform. This will ensure among others that non-authorized users are unable to access the meeting, that only admins can record the meeting, and that the meeting is encrypted.
Free video conferencing tools are probably not your best option, since their security features are limited. Instead, it’s worth paying for secure meeting software such as a board portal.
Overcoming communication issues
In a physical meeting, attendees can look each other in the eye and read each other’s gestures. Unfortunately, this is not the case for remote meetings. This can lead to impatience and misunderstandings among board members.
It’s important that everyone taking part in a virtual meeting has extra patience and good will. This is really up to each individual, but you can greatly help by assigning a moderator to every meeting. Choose a moderator or someone who has great people skills, who will pay attention to each attendee, encourage members to have their say, and smooth over any misunderstandings that happen during the meeting.
If you take all these precautionary measures to reduce the risk of technical and communication issues, you can be sure to run efficient virtual board meetings.
What features of virtual board meeting software can be helpful?
Board portals offer dozens of different features to make board management simpler and more efficient.
The four most useful board portal tools are:
- the agenda builder, which allows admins to create and share meeting agendas.
- video integration, which makes it possible to conduct remote board meetings without leaving the portal.
- document centers, which are libraries for storing board documents.
and task managers, which are tools for assigning tasks to board members and tracking task progress.