Opinion

Boardroom nostalgia

M Muneer/Ralph Ward | Updated on June 23, 2021

A post-Covid plan for in-person board meetings

With a devastating second wave and the prediction of a third wave, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a game changer in more ways than one. .

Businesses have moved beyond cobbling together short-term solutions into long-term rethinking of processes and structures. In the past few quarters, board meeting, as we know it, has got transformed. .

Remember the last proper in-person meeting of your board? Gathered around the table, flipping through your board binder, the chairman saying “next item on the agenda,” sitting on plush chairs listening through presentations, shooting comments back and forth, and so on?

Some people predict future board meetings to be totally virtual with virtual reality tools and so on. If the vaccination drive is speeded up and the waves ebb, a return to the old ways of boardroom meetings may be possible — perhaps in early 2022?

. For the boards of directors globally, the question arises — now what? You have had more than a year’s sabbatical from the real boardroom, convening online through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex and other digital tech. Is it time for your board to start thinking about a return to in-person board meetings?

Looking ahead

Here is a plan to decide whether to return to the old ways of board meetings in that future quarter:

Start your assessment with a review of just how well your board has learned digital governance over the past year. Most experts suggested last year that boards should put off some big decisions until they could again meet face to face. But as the months dragged on, some of these decisions couldn’t be deferred, and boards made an interesting discovery.

As they grew more skilled at online governance, more and more board actions that everyone assumed “had to be handled in person” actually could be managed virtually. Take an inventory of your board’s new digital capabilities over the past year, and weigh other in-boardroom “musts” that maybe aren’t.

Next, inventory your board members for their views and status. Every director we have talked to lately looks forward to finally getting back together face-to-face, but they also have many caveats. Most of your board members probably are of the older demographic that qualified for Covid vaccinations first, but they are also more likely to have underlying health conditions.

Find out who on your board is immunised, or when they will be. Also, be extra sensitive in gauging how, when and if each member feels ready to head back into a physical boardroom.

Look at current and pending regulations. Lockdown rules are shifting constantly worldwide, and not just in India, with bans and quarantine times in constant flux. Countries and airlines plan “vaccine passports” to ease international travel for those inoculated, but no specific global standards have been set. Assuming your board would meet at company headquarters, what will local travel rules there allow? Are hotels, restaurants and transport open fully enough locally to make convening practical? If not at the moment, when? Put together a checklist of factors that must be met.

Even if you hit the magical moment when you can hold an in-person board session, assume virtual meetings will be a major part of your governance mix for the near future. This can also mean customising hybrid virtual/in-person mixes, which offer a good way to ease into resumption. If the CEO and several directors are immunised and can make it to a central location, those unable to travel yet can Zoom in from their various locations.

Even if you are finally ready to bring the whole team back into the boardroom, exert enough caution. Vaccination is not totally guaranteeing you will be safe totally. Keep up the safety practices — social distancing, masking and sanitising.

Muneer is co-founder of the non-profit Medici Institute, and Ward is global board advisor, coach and publisher

Published on June 23, 2021

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