COVID-19, Global Warming and Board Meetings

Alan Hewitt  |  April 1, 2020

I am sitting here at my desk at home, into the second week of an effective lockdown in the UK. It makes me think about the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on all of us and how those effects may have a longer-term impact on our lives and changing behaviours along the way.

People are increasingly finding ways to communicate with each other, ensuring that friends and family links are maintained. Businesses continue to operate but, in most cases, with a significant portion of the workforce working remotely.

“The impacts of the growing pandemic are far reaching, but the biggest changes are in the business realm, where experts say increased teleconferencing, automation and e-commerce could become standard even after the virus threat is gone.”

Changing Behaviours

The Coronavirus and the required changes in the way that we live and work aren’t going to be short-lived, the medical experts are predicting another 4 to 6 months before we get back to normal. But what will the new normal look like? Perhaps we are at the beginning of a major shift in the way that we think about and execute work and collaborate with coworkers? We’ve had video conferencing tools for many years, but perhaps because of technical issues or a lack of comfort with the technology, we haven’t fully embraced its potential. It is clear to me that we need to change more than just where meetings are held, but how we think about where we work and how we interact with others.

On another note, there is an unintended beneficiary out of our current situation and enforced isolation – the environment. The pandemic is shutting down countries across the world, causing a significant decline in air pollution in major cities as countries implement strict quarantine measures and travel restrictions. Although the experts are saying the air pollution declines are just temporary, the pandemic’s rapid, and profound impacts on the environment could offer a glimpse into how we can achieve low-carbon economies to tackle the climate change crisis moving forward.

So let’s look for a minute at what is happening. The world is increasingly aware of climate change and its impact on our lives. COVID-19 is affecting every country on earth and driving us to find new ways to stay connected and manage our work from home, at least for another few months, or even longer. Will we be in this operating model long enough that our newly acquired behaviours make us question how we worked before?

Maybe, maybe not, but one thing for sure is it provides an opportunity for us to assess how we conduct our work, the effect those activities have on the environment, and how we should move forward. Should holding meetings virtually become the norm? At Praxonomy, we believe that whether board meetings are face to face or held remotely, technology plays a significant role. It’s long overdue that we make the shift away from paper-based information to online (save a tree comes to mind) and look more critically at how we run meetings. Meetings held virtually need to be better structured and better managed, for instance – greater facilitation by the chair of the meeting, and better discipline and engagement from those attending meetings. Technology alone is not enough to achieve these changes, shifts in mindsets and behaviours are also required. 

Negative Health Consequences

While the immediate health benefits of avoiding workspaces are obvious in the face of a frightening pandemic, it is also important to recognise the mental health consequences that can come with the lack of in-person interaction and prolonged isolation from working remotely. A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure company Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feeling as though they needed to contribute more than their in-office colleagues.

Moving Board Meetings Completely Online?

Moving board meetings virtual would help facilitate our desire to eradicate the ream of paper that we still see in many meetings today. It also helps drive the need for better structure in meetings to ensure the best outcome. Finally, less in-person meetings mean reduced travel, thereby making a small contribution to the overall ecological challenges that we face. 

The evidence does seem to suggest that, by making some of our short-term enforced changes permanent will reduce costs, help to improve the environment and make better use of peoples time. Having said that, we do have the take into consideration the potential mental health risks caused by a lack of face to face interaction. Perhaps an optimal approach would be a mixture of in-person and virtual meetings, for example, 1 in 4 meetings being held face to face, but still without paper, to provide the glue that helps to bind teams while driving for efficiency and effectiveness in the other 75% of meetings.

What do you think?

Alan Hewitt

Alan Hewitt

Alan is a Non-executive Director at Praxonomy. Alan has worked in IT Services and Consulting for nearly 40 years including 30 years at IBM, where he was an Executive Partner in IBM’s Global Consulting Business responsible for the development of the Workforce Transformation Practice. Since leaving IBM in 2010, he has worked as an independent Business Consultant working for major companies across industries and the world. Alan is a Fellow of both the IET and BCS.