Hybrid board meeting tips

M Muneer/Ralph Ward | Updated on October 11, 2021

Make optimum use of tech for better visuals, audio and video

Whether we like it or not, most companies are skewed towards having in-person board meetings probably at the insistence of the top executives who are getting back to offices for work. However, there are many grey-hair board members who feel otherwise and strongly argue for remote meetings for the benefits on time, travel risks, and costs to some extent.

If this stand-off continues, we are likely to see a hybrid board meeting for some time to come where some directors will be on-site and some remote. The logistics of making hybrid board meetings work requires more thought and effort than you may consider at first.

For instance, there are two easy approaches available to you. One, just continue your virtual format, but with a few in-person directors huddled in the boardroom. Or, return to the good old days of 2019, with the standard in-boardroom format, and remote directors dialling in. Neither will work well now though. Here are a few tips to master the hybrid model:

Assume you will need to innovate to give your directors the best of both in-person and current online meeting formats. There is no going back to the pre-Covid board models. Inside the boardroom, everyone is equal, at least as far as seeing and hearing the same things. Online too all participants are as well, and you have learnt fast how to make these virtual sessions better. Juggle your tech tools and meeting structure as much as possible to give both remote and in-boardroom directors the same experience. It is called “hybrid” for a reason.

Start with video. Most boardrooms today are outfitted with a single screen at one of the walls in the room. Not good enough now — you can’t have too many big-screen monitors. The image your in-boardroom participants see should be as close to life-size as possible — it is too easy to disregard postage-stamp size images on a tiny Zoom screen.

Ideally, every remote director should be seen on a dedicated, individual monitor in the boardroom, but this likely is not practical yet. Smoothen out your imagery even further by not including your in-boardroom directors all in one video grouping. Each should have a camera pointing at them. Everyone, in or out, being represented by their own large, personal video avatars is the goal.

Audio is next, and may be even more vital for keeping everyone informed — board members tip toward the older end of the scale, where hearing loss is often an issue. The standard-issue three-point conference phone (the ones that look like a Start Trek widget) sucks at sound reproduction long before the Covid era, and are intolerable now.

Aside from the sound fidelity issues, conference phones turn attendees into vague, disembodied voices for both in-room and remote directors. For over a year, we have been urging folks to focus on good headsets and microphones for remote participants, but now you should assure that each in-boardroom director has a microphone in front of him/her, and that sound levels are well-checked and balanced all around.

Here’s another field-levelling idea — how about headsets for directors in the boardroom as well? That way they hear their fellow in-person directors the same way remote members do.

Visuals remain important, and you will need to ensure that remote and boardroom members see the same things, at the same time, and preferably with the same tools. Do not mistake efficiency for effectiveness, and don’t throw away the benefits of technology. You have learnt to make far better use of your video meeting platforms and board portals over the past year, so don’t go back to someone in the boardroom sketching on a whiteboard.

Remote directors will be squinting to figure out all your flow chart scribbles. Use virtual whiteboards for such needs, and portal board book tools all around for documents, spreadsheets, agendas, etc. Since your remote members likely aren’t printing dozens of board pack pages on their home printer, why should in-boardroom members do so? How about everybody looks at their pads... or no one does?

You have made great use of these tech tools during the remote governance era, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for further innovation. The Cisco Telepresence and Webex Panorama platforms, with their “video walls” make it easier to provide effective director avatars, as do other similar products. And for video capture, there are cool new toys like the Owl 360-degree camera system that can scan the room to pick up whoever is speaking at the moment.

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

Published on October 11, 2021

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