I know we’re all supposed to be fed up with remote board meetings. A quick check on Google for “Zoom fatigue” shows there are a lot of people who are sick to the back teeth of video calls.
Zoom fatigue has even set in at Zoom itself, so much so that the company now bans video calls internally every Wednesday, and encourages its staff to switch to audio-only breaks during meetings to disrupt the repetition of regular video meetings.
But for me, Zoom and Teams during the pandemic have been godsends and are likely here to stay, including for board meetings and regular standing committees.
Etiquette and best practice
The ubiquity of Zoom and Teams means it’s easy to overlook how beautifully simple both packages are to use. Unlike a lot of software, they require little in the way of IT training and are pretty straightforward. Their simplicity has led to their mass adoption and with it the rise of video call etiquette, like raising a hand to speak, or using the chat facility to announce when leaving a meeting early.
My personal professional situation perhaps explains why I value Zoom and Teams so highly. I was appointed in March 2020 to lead Bowel Research UK, a new organisation that funds life-changing research into bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, just as the Covid-19 pandemic broke. Bowel Research UK was at that stage in the process of being created following the merger of two well-respected charities: Bowel & Cancer Research and Bowel Disease Research Foundation (BDRF).
On the point of arrival, just when the world was locking down, I had not met in person my staff, trustees and committee members, our donors or volunteers. Yet I was tasked with taking some very important decisions ranging from staff furloughing to what our fundraising priorities needed to be. Zoom and Teams were essential to put faces to names and, even with their restrictions on reading body language, they offered much more than a temporary solution.
It is worth pointing out that remote board meetings require good board management practices, such as great chairing to keep the meetings focused, regular reminders to mute microphones and strict time allocation per agenda item. We found that both Zoom and Teams actually helped board paper handling, with my directors able to show on screen which parts of their papers they were talking to.
With seven out of 12 of our trustees working as NHS professionals who were inevitably having to cope with pressures of dealing with Covid, strict time management and good preparation were even more essential, so we made sure board papers always went out in good time, and agendas were well structured for board members and directors to speak to certain items should they need to leave during a meeting.
Functional vs face-to-face
Of course, the platforms have other in-built advantages, such as getting meetings to start and finish bang on time, which certainly aided attendance. We were frequently able to have all our board members at our quarterly board meetings, even at the height of each Covid wave.
Zoom and Teams played their part when we formed separate working groups to handle the branding and marketing and messaging decisions ahead of the formal launch of Bowel Research UK in September 2020, and were indispensable for the many impromptu meetings we needed to call as we approached the launch.
Naturally, nothing beats those get-to-know-you properly moments you have over coffee before or after a face-to-face board meeting. Our video meetings might be very effective and functional, but they can never replace the natural, informal communication that happens when colleagues gather in person.
I confidently predict that when the lockdown ends on 19 July, Zoom and Teams won’t be quietly abandoned and will remain a key part of our board and committee meeting operations, even as we finally start to also meet regularly in the flesh.
Rebecca Porta is CEO of Bowel Research UK.