Expert Coaching. Practical Resources.

March 18, 2020

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Eric Phinney

Meetings During a Pandemic

By now, if you are a board chair, you have most likely canceled any upcoming face to face meetings.  The question arises: what to do now? There are still critical matters of governance that need to be carried out.   Some organizations have already been using Zoom, GoToMeeting, or some other video or audio-conferencing platform and you will be able to adapt rapidly to the new normal.  For others this will be new territory. Let me share some practices I have developed over years of chairing a number of national boards that have been using this technology on a regular basis. 

1. Set Meeting times.   While you can pick up the phone or begin a chain of emails to find a common date and time, a better way is to sign up for a Doodle poll.   This online free tool will help your group discover the most mutually convenient time to meet. 

2. Select the Technology.  There are many platforms to choose from.    Some are free and some are subscription-based. My experience has shown that the ones you pay for are far superior. Not only do they offer many additional services, but they seem able to manage the bandwidth and connectivity in a superior way.  There are two types of technology you will find useful. One is video conferencing and the other is a way to handle documents. My top choices for video conferencing are Zoom and GotoMeeting. There are, of course, many others but these are the two that I encounter most often. If your board does not already have a dedicated portal for handling documents, Google Docs and Microsoft 365 are both helpful. Both of these cloud-based systems will allow you and your board to work collaboratively on multiple projects that range from your agenda to individual policies to draft, approve, review and monitor. 

3.  Set the length and agenda.  When we have face to face meetings, we are able to cover great numbers of items, and depending on meeting frequency, some boards have become used to meeting for full days or numbers of days.   When gathered around a group of computers in far flung places we find our attention spans are good for no more than about 90 minutes at a time.   One of the new roles of the chair will become determining the priority and length of time to spend on each item. In several organizations that I am part of, our first meetings will be to take our old agendas and divide them up into a number of smaller segments, beginning with the most urgent.    

4.  Set the culture and discipline.  Being productive in online meetings is a learned skill. Once you have done it several times, a new way of working as a group will emerge.   Here are some starters.   

  • Mute all microphones except the person talking.  Also, the use of headsets is recommended. 
  • When inviting comments on subject matter, the chair will need to poll the board in order by calling out each person’s name.   It is useful to refer to the attendees list and utilize that order so people see their turn coming. 
  • Utilize a person to act as the “engineer.” This is a support person who can solve connection problems, make phone calls to help people get connected, run PowerPoint presentations, start and stop recording, etc.   This should be someone other than the secretary, who has enough to do already. 
  • Utilize a conference camera and microphone if you do have several people in one location.  There are many of these for sale on Amazon and Ebay. In this time of social distancing this may not be needed. 

If you would like more help on this for your organization, please contact us at The Governance Coach™. 

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