Boardroom to living room: Will COVID-19 lead to a virtual way of working?

With countries around the globe finding themselves in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of businesses have had to relocate to the safety of their employees’ homes to conduct their operations remotely. For some companies, it continues to be business as usual, however boards are coming under increasing pressure to ensure their organisations survive at this challenging time.

Effective leadership is therefore required now more than ever. Leaders must steer the ship even when separated from their teams and working from home. As a result, directors are being forced to look at new ways of connecting with each other to ensure vital decisions can still be taken and effective operations maintained. Organisations that are used to running board meetings in a traditional way, have had their practices turned upside down and now need to adopt a fully online model of working.

Yet with the lockdown set to continue for longer, a permanent shift in boardroom behaviour, even when things do return to normal, is inevitable. So, will COVID-19 lead boards to adopt a virtual way of working in the future?

Embracing change now for long term gain

When not done well, remote working can harm a company’s productivity, effectiveness and culture. The danger of ineffective board meetings in the current climate, could lead to significant consequences in terms of operational inefficiencies, lost revenue and even reputational damage. And with a potential global recession looming following the impact of COVID-19, these are consequences that no company can currently afford. It is therefore a crucial moment for business leaders to take the right steps and provide effective systems and processes to empower their organisations - not only for their teams but for the boardroom too.

Content, collaboration, communication

Traditional board meetings have previously seen all (or nearly all) individuals physically present in the room in order to vote on and sign off on key decisions. All relevant documentation is sent to attendees beforehand and meeting minutes commonly printed and/or signed on the day. In times of COVID-19, this obviously places too many restrictions on a board and stymies it from making crucial decisions for the benefit of the business.

Virtual boardroom technology can replicate a meeting remotely. Technology such as board management software combined with web-conferencing tools enables board members to communicate virtually, make decisions and lead remotely in real-time. Board packs and relevant documentation can be distributed to members securely ahead of any meetings, ensuring good governance is still adhered to. This will also enable board members to fully prepare ahead of time to enable strategic discussions - rather than everyone rifling through documents in the meeting. Crucial documentation can even be electronically signed by members where required.

However, technology can provide additional benefits. And it’s these benefits that will likely cause a change in mindset and ensure use for boards in the future. Companies are now focusing on flexibility, agility, and resilience and remote working contributes to these objectives.

Meeting attendance is an essential part of a board member’s role. Yet, it’s well known that directors have busy schedules, which mean they can often miss board meetings due to other commitments or from being out of the country. Making it easier for members to attend by allowing virtual participants will enable directors to honour their board commitments more fully - and many boards will benefit from the ability to include directors in meetings from anywhere.

Members are not required to be technical geniuses either. Modern tools mean that joining meetings from anywhere with an internet connection is simple. Access is made even easier as directors can use their own devices to log into secure sites.

Technology also helps to address geographical challenges. A key benefit to holding virtual board meetings is that it eliminates the cost and burden of travel, enabling individuals to attend who wouldn’t otherwise be available to serve on boards. Businesses can bring in new talent with diverse perspectives and ideas, wherever they are based in the world. In the future, geography will not stop businesses from employing the best talent.

A new normal

With directors having to adapt quickly to ensure that board meetings can be held remotely, this sort of dramatic shake up in boardroom behaviour hasn’t been seen since the launch of the iPad a decade ago, when it became a transformative factor in the way board meetings were run.

As we transition into a new ‘normal’, it is likely that this sudden shift will change the behaviour of the board and as a result, the short-term changes caused by COVID-19 will lead to longer term adoption.

It is likely that this shift will break down some of the traditional mindsets preventing wider adoption of effective virtual meetings, resulting in a lasting and positive impact on business culture and working practices in the boardroom. The leaders that embrace online boardroom models will ensure their businesses are future proofed and are set to continue to thrive in these uncertain times - and beyond.