Meetings are amongst the most frustrating elements of modern business. They can take too long, are often unfocused, and do not always achieve what they set out to. This is mostly because the entire meeting process has hardly changed in decades and is lacking in the digitisation that has transformed other areas of business. Camilla Braithwaite, of online board portal provider eShare, explains how board meetings can become much smarter.
eShare launched research earlier in 2018 that examined the cost of unnecessary and inefficient meetings. It emerged that the average office worker spent almost one day in unnecessary meetings every week, at an average staff cost to each organisation of more than £35,000 a year. The CEO and other board members’ time is significantly more costly than that of other employees, so it stands to reason that their time should be utilised as efficiently as possible.
When you factor in the potential travel costs and time incurred by non-executive directors on a board that might be located in a different part of the country (or even world) to the other board members, the issue is intensified even further. How can organisations make use of digitisation to ensure their board meetings are smart, effective and make the best of use the attendee’s time?
Meetings and modernisation in business
A major part of the problem is that meetings (and board meetings especially) are an element of business that hasn’t seen as much modernisation as they could have. Digitisation and digital transformation are terms that are espoused by most businesses to greater or lesser degrees and many areas of business have been genuinely transformed.
However, board meetings are not one of those areas and they still follow mostly the same processes and procedures they did decades ago. Making them more efficient can have a major impact on any business – freeing up time that can be spent more effectively elsewhere and having a knock-on effect with other meetings across the organisation. If board meetings are focused, efficient and effective then departmental and other meetings should follow suit.
Most issues with board meetings can be addressed by embracing more fully the new technologies that are available. Preparation for board meetings can be lengthy, in terms of reading all the relevant materials and feeling informed enough to contribute fully in the meeting. But board members don’t need or want to carry around huge reams of paper to read through, so why shouldn’t all meeting materials should all be accessible via tablet or smartphone?
This makes it much easier for board members to read materials in advance, doing so during travel downtime and when it is more generally convenient. People can also make amends and annotations while on the move. Furthermore, this is also a big win for support staff – printing out agendas and meeting materials is not only costly, but it takes valuable time to prepare and print everything.
Improved collaboration, heightened security
During the meeting itself, online meeting tools allow board members to collaborate and annotate documents more easily. Actions can be easily agreed and captured so they don’t have to rely on someone’s faulty memory to refer to what was discussed. This means board members can benefit from the improvement in information flow that aids decision-making, as well as better collaboration and a smoother overall meeting process.
Security is also hugely improved. This is very important, given that in a board meeting, the board members will discuss the overall strategy of the business, profits and losses, staff remuneration, sensitive client information, IT and data security – essentially anything and everything that a business would want to be kept private and confidential. However, there are occasions when confidential information somehow finds a way into the public domain. This is not through any nefarious means necessarily, but through human error and a reliance on meeting processes that are at best old-fashioned and at worst, obsolete and a major risk to data security.
Using online board portals will provide a vast improvement in data security at a senior level. Board members have greater access to all of the information they need in a highly secure manner. The best board portals on the market will host data in secure data centres, ideally with the ISO27001 security certificate. There is no danger of leaving confidential materials on a train or hotel reception because if a phone or tablet is misplaced, it can be locked remotely almost immediately.
There is also a need for improved governance in modern business, and a more digital approach to board meetings will improve transparency and governance. Online board portals help embed governance into a firm’s leadership and its meeting and decision-making processes, demonstrating clearly who said what in a meeting and providing insight into how certain decisions were reached.
Just because board meetings have always been approached in a certain way, that does not mean that they should continue to be approached in that same way. Making board meetings more digital will not only free up senior executive time that can be spent elsewhere, but it will also improve governance and security at a board level. Board meetings are long overdue to be digitised and doing so will provide countless benefits to any businesses.