Meetings of all sizes have gone virtual this year, including board meetings. And while some types of events are still struggling to find their footing, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Upside of Virtual Board Meetings,” several organizations have found virtual board meetings to be more productive than meeting in person.
Authors Keith Ferrazzi and Sarah Zapp note that there are obvious benefits to holding virtual board meetings, like reduced travel and increased attendance for board members. But there are less predictable benefits, too.
“Shifting to virtual has allowed boards to improve governance and collaboration through shorter agendas, crisper presentations, more inclusive bolder conversations, and broader exposure to key executives and outside experts,” write Ferrazzi, who is founder and chairman of business consultancy Ferrazzi Greenlight, and Zapp, CEO and founder of Beyond Board, a national community of board members and board-eligible executives.
The authors spoke with Jim Citrin, head of Spencer Stuart’s North American CEO practice, who said he’s heard from a number of CEOs and board members who plan on continuing to participate in board meetings virtually post-pandemic, citing increased focus, connection, and decision-making when speaking over Zoom. In terms of improved decision making, the authors cite how eBay conducted part of its recent CEO search entirely online and was able to reach a “successful conclusion much more rapidly and efficiently than the four to six months typical of major CEO searches.”
The authors note that when social-distancing measures are relaxed and board members feel the urge to meet in person, they might want to consider continuing the virtual route, considering the success various boards have experienced during COVID-19. “This would be a mistake,” they said of reverting to in-person board meetings. “We believe remote will become a feature of boards for years to come.”
Here are a few of the practices Ferrazzi and Zapp say lead to efficient virtual board meetings:
Place importance on pre-work.
“Beyond reading materials in advance, boards can encourage members to exchange feedback ahead of the meeting, using file-sharing services and secure chat platforms,” the authors write. “That allows all board members to weigh in and means the meeting itself can be shorter, more focused, and result in better insights.”
Shorten the agenda.
Removing items that are not critical to the meeting “can bring a necessary focus — and save time,” the authors write. Since so many are now suffering from Zoom fatigue, focused agendas created in 15-minute increments are more important than ever to keep members on the task at hand. “While board members have a duty of care, the executive team has a duty not to bore them into covertly checking their text messages,” Ferrazzi and Zapp write.
Try to replicate the dinner experience.
In pre-COVID-19 days, bonding often happened over dinner. While that is difficult to replicate virtually, Ferrazzi and Zapp say it’s not impossible to find personal connection online.
“For example, board members could schedule rotating chats where two board members spend 25 minutes in a video chat with an executive,” the authors write. “This can be done for an entire meeting, allowing board members to have informal discussions with executive team members to get a deeper and informal conversation similar to what they would have had over dinner.”