Why Your Board Should Avoid Hybrid Meetings

  • By: OnBoard Meetings
  • July 28, 2021
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Get the COVID vaccine. Check.

Decide how to run your business — with employees who show up in person, work remotely, or a combination of both. Check. 

Conduct board meetings, project check-ins and daily SCRUM meetings without penalizing remote team members who can’t hear, see, or engage properly in your hybrid meeting. Check?

A hybrid meeting approach sounds like the best of both worlds, right? Surely, you know how to run a board meeting effectively and can still accomplish your goals, whether some members gather for an in-person meeting, while others attend virtually from a remote location. It can’t be that difficult, right? 

Not so fast, meeting experts say.

According to OnBoard Chief Marketing Officer Rob Kunzler and Accord Limited President and CEO Pam Knecht, hybrid meetings put remote participants at a disadvantage and create inequality in your boardroom. Hybrid participants are frequently forgotten about, struggle to have their voices heard, or experience technical issues that bog down the entire group. 

Instead, OnBoard recommends adopting a meeting structure where you conduct board meetings either fully in-person or fully remote. For instance, host your most important, strategic meetings in-person so everyone can fully engage, and use a strictly digital approach for your run-of-the-mill, less-important meetings.

Why Hybrid Board Meetings Aren’t the Best Option

Conducting a board meeting with some directors in the room, while others dial in through a virtual environment, isn’t quite as simple as flipping a switch. Hybrid meetings create a few challenges for board members, such as:

  • Difficulty re-creating face-to-face meetings
  • No ad-hoc chats or post-meeting conversations
  • Less conducive format for complex discussions
  • Must quickly adapt to new technology, formats

Think about how we communicate. We use verbal language to express our points of view, but our body language, facial reactions, and tone of voice give a multitude of signals to others about what we’re thinking and feeling at a particular moment in time. Verbal and non-verbal reactions can demonstrate understanding, confusion, emphasis, or apathy.

Nodding our heads tells the person speaking that we understand, or to please continue their train of thought. Making eye contact with the speaker shows attentiveness and interest in the topic. Listeners who display puzzled facial expressions give speakers cues on how their message is being received, and when it might be necessary to rehash a difficult point.

Remember the time before COVID, when a quick chat in the breakroom with a trusted colleague solidified your total understanding of the key takeaways from a board meeting? How about gathering the entire team for brainstorms or whiteboard sessions, and making sure all participants get the chance to share their ideas or voice their opinions?

Communication is an ongoing process, whether you’re conducting in-person meetings or virtual board meetings. Hosting a hybrid meeting adds a variety of new wrinkles to the mix, such as remote board members inadvertently misusing the mute button, faltering internet connections, low-quality screens and speakers, or meeting organizers who simply include the wrong link in the meeting invitation.

Just remember good decision-making requires trusted relationships, and most good relationships are built in person.

Advantages and disadvantages to remote and in-person meetings

Remember the old adage, “You can’t please everyone all the time,” before you decide to try the hybrid meeting approach. 

Even though you think you can accommodate everyone’s needs for conducting in-person and virtual board meetings at the same time, something ultimately goes wrong, and it leaves everyone feeling frustrated.

In addition to worrying about wrong meeting invite links and poor internet connections for the remote members, you need to think intentionally about designing a hybrid meeting, so in-person attendees remain ever conscious of their remote counterparts. For instance:

  • Do you require every participant to log in to the meeting online, whether in-person or remote, so everyone can be seen and heard? 
  • Can the in-person attendees face one another and their individual video cameras, while still practicing social distance?
  • Can you schedule breakout sessions that include remote and in-person members, so everyone’s ideas get heard and no one feels like an afterthought?
  • Do you need to assign an in-person intermediary to act on the behalf of remote attendees, giving them a direct line to better communication and reducing their feelings of isolation?

Fallout from the global pandemic certainly changed the way we do business in the U.S., which some organizations used to their advantage. Companies, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and others used digital technology like board portals to continue operating, communicating, and conducting business without missing a beat. 

Some, according to our Board Effectiveness Survey, even discovered a few unanticipated advantages when using board management software, such as:

  • Increased meeting attendance
  • More attendee engagement
  • More evenly distributed interaction 
  • More just-in-time education
  • More participation from committee members and outside guests

In addition, survey respondents reported the following:

  • 79% reported improved board effectiveness in the past 12 months, with 59% citing the shift to remote work as the primary cause
  • 66% saw improvements in board collaboration
  • 47% spent more time discussing strategic issues

Solutions When Everyone Can’t Gather Together

As everyone returns to work in some format, now is probably a good time to reduce the number of meetings. It’s likely you no longer need that extra meeting time, especially after putting in all the extra effort to make good communication happen during the pandemic.

You know what’s possible in a virtual meeting environment now. Your team can share ideas digitally and discuss them as a group in a shorter meeting. You can do a daily check-in on Slack, Microsoft Teams, or some other instant-messaging service, instead of scheduling an unnecessary project check-in meeting. You can implement a board portal for your organization to brainstorm ideas in one central hub for all members to access at their convenience.

Results From OnBoard’s Board Effectiveness Survey

As we mentioned above, OnBoard recommends adopting a meeting structure where board meetings are either conducted fully in-person or fully remote. While we realize hybrid meetings aren’t going away anytime soon, just understand this type of meeting structure requires proper planning and execution to be successful.

As a result of findings from its 2021 Board Effectiveness Survey, conducted among approximately 300 board directors, administrators, and executives, OnBoard recommends that boards: 

  • Carefully consider the optimal formats — or combination of formats — for hosting meetings in a post-pandemic environment to best suit the unique needs of your organization.  
  • Collaborate to establish common priorities and goals to ensure directors can dedicate the valuable meeting time needed to focus on vital strategic issues.  
  • Move beyond talking about environmental, social, and governance issues, and take actionable steps to improve in those areas.  
  • Commit to making meaningful investments to improve board composition, engagement, and education.  
  • Give administrators and directors the best tools available to do their jobs, and make sure they’re able to maximize the full capabilities of those tools for more effective governance. 

About The Author

OnBoard Meetings
OnBoard Meetings
At OnBoard, we believe board meetings should be informed, effective, and uncomplicated. That’s why we give boards and leadership teams an elegant solution that simplifies governance. With customers in higher education, nonprofit, health care systems, government, and corporate enterprise business, OnBoard is the leading board management provider.