Technology to master during the lockdown

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Those of us who work as Independent Non-Executive Directors (INEDs) often seek assurance that the boards we serve have contingency arrangements such as business continuity plans in place in case emergencies occur which require staff to move out of the usual business premises for a short period of time.

But what happens when the middle-aged & only middling tech-savvy INED, who is used to turning up at the company’s boardroom for regular meetings of the board, all of a sudden finds themselves in a lockdown situation overseeing the management of an organisation no longer working in offices but scattered many miles apart in their homes?

Technology: Integral to business dealings during lockdown

Technology, that’s what. And I can tell you, hand on heart, we are immensely grateful for it. I had used Zoom without a huge degree of confidence a few times over recent years for meetings I couldn’t attend.

However, since the first covid-19 restrictions were imposed in March of this year, I have had to rely exclusively on remote meeting technology to fulfil my fiduciary and statutory obligations to attend and chair board meetings of the 5 organisations I serve as an INED.

In the process, I have expanded my repertoire of meeting technology exponentially, to use a word that seems to reflect the zeitgeist.

There are so many different variations available – the aforementioned Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Go To Meeting, Webex, and more. They all work well provided your broadband coverage is stable.

In general, and I mean the vast majority of the time, the technology is totally reliable and the meetings are conducted just as well, if not better than being present in person.

This goes to show the importance of technology, but I’m sure readers of this publication need not be told that.

It’s a strange and welcome experience to be able to sit in one’s own house and conduct business through the means of technology within a fraction of the time it once took to travel to meetings.

It’s stranger still to occasionally glance out at the car that used to transport me to meetings and see it standing idly in the driveway while the much less expensive piece of technology that is the laptop is merrily whirring away in front of me doing its thing keeping me connected to the world of my work.

The advantages of remote meeting technology for me include:

A. Being less tired from the early starts and journeys involved in travelling to meetings in different parts of the country.
B. Personal safety is increased both in terms of avoiding the hazards on our roads and the prospect of catching colds and flus, as well as the dreaded covid-19, from the traditional handshaking and backslapping involved in greeting colleagues at meetings.
C. Eating healthier food of your own choice rather than the traditional fare of tired sandwiches offered at meetings and potentially having time to exercise more.
D. Not having to dress up as much, although I do generally stick to a minimum sartorial standard of a shirt and blazer and I will don a tie when I chair meetings to give a slightly enhanced air of authority. Oh, and I do always wear trousers, just in case you think otherwise.

The list of disadvantages is so short to my mind that it doesn’t need a list format but the main one I see is being unable to network or interact on a one-to-one basis with colleagues unless you specifically arrange a call with them.

There is also the probably groundless suspicion of those of us who didn’t grow up with much technology of never being sure that somebody is not surreptitiously listening.

As you will have guessed by now, I am a big fan of online meetings and I highly recommend that they continue at least 50% of the time into the future.

In case there are a few people out there who may need a few low tech tips I’ve learned for using remote meeting technology, here goes:
1. Rely on your company’s board secretary and ICT people to set you up properly for the meetings. They are the professionals and they know what they are doing. To over-engineer or to download things you’re not sure of on your own if you’re not tech-savvy will lead to frustration, potential danger to your device and the white panic of being unable to join the meeting before it is due to start.
2. It’s a good idea to use a second screen or device if you have it to scroll through your electronic board papers during the course of the meeting, especially if you are chairing, as it’s not possible to see people offering to speak while you survey documents on the same device that is connecting you to the meeting. Otherwise, ask people to shout up to draw your attention.
3. Finally, make sure you know where the cursor is in relation to the mute button. Otherwise, everyone will shout ‘you’re on mute’ when you start to speak. It’s a good idea to remain on mute until you need to speak as it improves the sound quality for other contributors.
4. Know your data protection rights. Nobody has a right to record the meeting unless the consent of all participants is expressly sought and given.

About the author

A solicitor for 25 years, Patrick Gibbons has spent over two decades in the financial services industry specialising in legal and regulatory compliance, corporate governance, and risk management in senior management roles in a variety of regulated financial services firms, including Allianz, New Ireland, Scottish Provident and Royal Liver.

This was before becoming a full-time Independent Non-Executive Director (INED) in 2011, serving on boards of directors and chairing several Audit & Risk Committees in life assurance, pensions and investments, securitisation, and on a number of State boards, giving him diversity in sectors from healthcare to natural resources and climate action.


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