Like almost everything else this past year, board management has changed. Board members sitting around a long table in a room somewhere—having flown in from all parts of the country and even the world—seems like a quaint relic from another era. Boards have made the shift to meeting remotely, and CEOs have learned to manage their work differently. Even after the pandemic subsides, the lessons learned will provide new flexibility for association executives in the future.
So, what are the best ways to manage a remote board? Here’s advice from two experts in the field.
First, recognize that everyone has virtual meeting fatigue at this point, says Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE, CEO of the association consultancy Vista Cova, which focuses on group facilitation. People learn and engage better in experiential formats and not in passive ones, he says. If a board meeting is mainly report-outs on Zoom, “you’re going to have people go numb within 10 minutes.”
Shorter meetings are one way to combat Zoom burnout, says Paul Lockhart, vice president of sales at Passageways, a provider of virtual meeting technology. To make virtual meetings effective and productive, Lockhart recommends about 40 minutes of engagement followed by a 10- to 20-minute break, rather than trying to replicate three- to four-hour board meetings online.
Aplebaum and Lockhart offer these tips for streamlining virtual meetings:
Eliminate or at least condense presentations. Send PowerPoint presentations and other documents out in advance to keep engagement, collaboration, and alignment high. That way, Lockhart says, when the CEO starts the meeting, everyone is prepared and has had a chance to review all the materials and ask clarifying questions in advance, which leads to better engagement and focused decision making.
Present a short introductory video by the CEO. This can provide quick perspective on the information board members get before the meeting. The CEO can tell the story about the documents’ purpose and highlight what members should be looking for. The video, which can be as low-tech as a cellphone or Zoom recording, adds a personal touch and positions the CEO as the arbiter of knowledge and the board’s strategic partner, Aplebaum says.
Add recorded narration to PowerPoint slides or other virtual presentations. “We’ve seen a lot of people doing that in this remote environment,” Lockhart says. Board members can watch the presentations before the meeting, which gives them time to reflect on the information and be better prepared when it’s time to discuss it.