The pros and cons of virtual board meetings

by Jo Ellis on Dec 20, 2022

virtual board meetings

How do you currently conduct your board meetings – in person, online or a mixture of the two? Here we examine the pros and cons of virtual board meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw much of the business world into chaos. Many of the problems caused by COVID-19 also impacted corporate governance

For months, having an in-person board meeting was simply out of the question. Vaccines and treatments have allowed most of us to return to face-to-face meetings. Still, some boards have decided they prefer the sheer convenience of virtual meetings.

Indeed, many boards have made this switch, although this movement has yet to be universally accepted. The reason for this delay is many-fold. Virtual meetings are convenient, accessible for the health-conscious, and can allow members who wouldn’t be able to attend a chance to participate from far away. 

This conundrum begs the question for all boards: Should a business switch to virtual meetings? Should it try to keep meeting in person or find a hybrid solution? What works best for a business, and how can that business arrive at a conclusion that will keep everyone happy?

Why virtual board meetings can work

Virtual board meetings hold many advantages over in-person board meetings that cannot be matched.

First and foremost, they are more convenient. An individual can log into Zoom and attend a meeting, participating as they want and with access to the same digital presentations as anyone in a board room. The excuse of “I’ll be driving” or “I will be running from one meeting to another” is largely gone.

This convenience also applies to staff. Gone are the days when a staff member waits nervously outside a board room, coming in for their presentation and leaving once they are done. Board members can now make a virtual appearance from the comfort of their own office and leave once their work is done.

Virtual board meetings also mean that travelling is a thing of the past. This reality can make employees and board members more productive and reduce expenses. Furthermore, board members can record meetings and allow other board members to review these recordings later.

The simple reality now dictates that more events are happening online and virtually. Younger demographics are primarily driving this trend. It is also caused by people who are busier than ever and appreciate being able to attend a meeting from their homes. Virtual meetings must be part of how a business operates if the company wants to recruit younger and more tech-savvy board members.

Read more: How to take minutes at meetings. 

The problems with virtual board meetings

As easy as they can be, virtual board meetings are only for some organisations. If board members manage virtual board meetings incorrectly, they can create significant problems from a corporate governance perspective.

As many have unquestionably experienced, virtual meetings may need more engagement. It can be far too easy for someone to attend a virtual board meeting but then not pay attention. Multiple studies have found that virtual meetings may cause disengagement and a lack of attention. Virtual meetings can cause people to become distracted, answer emails, or otherwise not pay attention to the task. The distracting nature of virtual meetings may mean that board members miss essential details, fail to ask the right questions, and do not live up to their responsibilities as board members.

Furthermore, virtual meetings mean people miss networking and face-to-face conversations that are typically engaged in before, during, and after a meeting. As a result, people can quickly become disconnected from fellow board members and staff, thus losing the ability to form meaningful relationships and ultimately find new ways to work together towards shared board goals.

Last, as good as technology has become, there are still problems. Internet connections become unreliable, someone leaves a microphone open, or people lose the password to the meeting. These problems can have a dramatic, negative impact on a meeting and force an otherwise productive group to get sidetracked by technological mishaps.

Read more: Can a director sit on multiple boards?

How to find what works for your board

The worst of the pandemic may be over, but its after-effects remain. How can a business balance the benefits of in-person board meetings and the convenience of Zoom meetings?

Basic corporate governance principles dictate that board meetings allow open conversation, facilitate easy exchanges, and ensure that business activities are monitored in line with a board’s fiduciary responsibility. These critical tasks may be completed virtually, but many businesses have found it is a more-than-optimal way of conducting business. It will require significant adjustments if a board shifts to virtual meetings.

A board must ask a few questions:
• Do board members and the company have the technology to ensure that board meetings can run smoothly?
• Are board members comfortable with virtual meetings?
• Will enough members see a benefit to doing so?
• What about a hybrid option that allows board meetings to be held in person but allows board members to attend virtually if needed?
• Has a board thought about exploring an alternating schedule in which some board meetings would be in person and others virtual?
• Would staff see a significant benefit or increase in participation if board meetings switched to virtual?

Read more: A guide to creating a board pack. 

The importance of board member training

Board member training requires that directors be as well-equipped as possible to serve on a board. It doesn’t matter if meetings are in-person or over zoom. Fortunately, formal director training is available. Download the brochure below for more information on the virtual director training options, and learn more about how to get the appropriate board member training for your directors. 

Diploma in Corporate Governance

Enhance your career as a director. Develop the practical knowledge, insight and global mindset to be a great board director.

Learn more

Diploma in Corporate Governance

Enhance your career as a director. Develop the practical knowledge, insight and global mindset to be a great board director.

Learn more

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