Today, some companies have resumed in-person board meetings, while others have retained the option for board members to join meetings virtually. However, the virtual and hybrid board meeting experience can feel very different from in-person participation. While there are concerns around the effect on board dynamics and the use of technology, there are benefits too.
Based on a 2023 survey by Corporate Board Member and RSM, the most compelling benefits of digital technologies for board members include improved customer experience and cost savings. For companies that continue to offer virtual participation, similar benefits include flexibility for board members, time and cost savings, and efficient technology use.
If a company and its board decide to offer virtual participation, it’s important to consider best practices for planning and executing hybrid board meetings:
Adapt board meeting guidelines and protocols to a hybrid format.
The first step is deciding which type of board meetings—general board meetings, committee meetings and/or strategy sessions—can or should be hybrid. Then, the corporate secretary’s office should draft clear guidelines and protocols for how hybrid board meetings will be conducted, including pre-meeting expectations and process for joining and engaging virtually (and on video). Hybrid board meeting guidance should be reviewed with board members to ensure they are familiar with new rules and expectations.
Utilize board meeting management technology.
The right technology can help facilitate an inclusive and productive hybrid board meeting. Eighty-nine percent of Corporate Board Member readers said that digital technologies are “important” or “critical” to helping their company achieve its growth objectives in 2023, according to a 2023 CBM and RSM survey. Board meeting management technology, like Nasdaq Boardvantage, is built to improve management of meetings and materials, collaboration, decision-making, and corporate governance practices—all in one place. The platform is easy to use and integrates virtual meeting software. Plus, board members can vote on motions and sign approvals remotely through Nasdaq Boardvantage. It is also important to consider the technology that virtual attendees have access to within their virtual environments. They need to be present during the meetings, with audio that allows them to project their voices clearly.
Safeguard board meeting security and confidentiality.
Further, in Corporate Board Member and RSM survey, 66 percent of directors said they have significant concerns about cyber risk when implementing new technologies. Protecting the confidentiality of board conversations requires extra vigilance. Fortunately, virtual meeting platforms typically offer helpful functionality such as waiting rooms, password protections, and the ability to “disable” meeting attendees.
Adapt the meeting agenda to avoid virtual participation fatigue.
It’s a good idea to adjust the agenda to make the most effective use of virtual attention spans, as it may be challenging to maintain optimal focus compared to in-person participation. This can be accomplished by shortening sessions, building in additional short breaks and/or moving critical and strategic topics that may require intense discussion and debate to the top of the agenda.
Provide informal opportunities for board members to mingle.
A disadvantage of hybrid board meetings is the loss of the spontaneous face-to-face interactions that happen during meeting breaks and social activities. Corporate secretary teams can take proactive steps to build relationships between, and foster engagement among, all board members—whether in-person or virtual. Opening virtual meeting rooms where board members can chat with one another prior to the meetings or during meals and breaks is one idea. Another idea is scheduling social activities outside of meetings or creating opportunities for remote board members to visit in person. When utilizing a hybrid board meeting format, it’s important to conduct regular check-ins to ensure all board members feel included and valued.
Hybrid board meetings are here to stay, and there are clear benefits inherent in allowing board members some flexibility to join meetings virtually. The challenges of a hybrid board meeting format can be overcome by finding creative ways to foster collegiality and by implementing the right tools and protocols to ensure that board conversations are confidential and productive.
These best practices, among others, can help companies and their boards reap the benefits of hybrid board meeting formats without compromising efficiency, confidentiality, healthy group dynamics or the effectiveness of decision-making.
To discover more best practices and better understand the risks and rewards of hybrid board meetings, read Nasdaq’s A Guide to Planning & Executing Hybrid Board Meetings.