Innovation and changeDigital TransformationWhy the time for digitisation in board meetings is now

Why the time for digitisation in board meetings is now

eShare’s Camilla Braithwaite explores why public sector board meetings need to be brought into the 21st century by adopting a smarter and more digital approach

eShare shared 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.

In the public sector, with its seemingly relentless series of meetings, this is even more of a problem. The austerity backdrop of the last decade that demands public sector management ‘do more with less’ – means spending such time on unnecessary meetings can be an enormous drain on an organisation’s resources. Furthermore, because board members’ time is significantly more costly than that of other employees, it stands to reason that their time should be utilised as efficiently as possible.

How can public sector organisations make use of digitisation to ensure their board meetings are smart, effective and make best use of the attendee’s time?

The board meeting time loop

Many elements of the public sector have truly embraced digitisation. There are all manner of public services that are run almost fully digitally now, and they are more efficient and effective than ever, having a significant impact on improving citizens’ lives, from online tax submissions to digital health services.

There are also elements of back office operations that embrace digitisation too, with great advances especially in the use of mobile technology. But one area that seems firmly rooted in the past is that of meetings, especially board level or senior management team meetings.

Such meetings still follow pretty much the same process they have always done. They can take too long, they can lack focus, attendees don’t always have the required information with them, no-one can remember the action points from the previous meeting…the list of faults is extensive. In a modern workplace and with a backdrop of central government demanding ever greater efficiencies, meetings are ripe for digitisation and there are a number of ways in which public sector departments can do so.

Embracing digitisation

Few people ever said ‘I wish had more big bundles of paper to carry around with me’, so it feels like a no-brainer for board meeting materials (known as board packs) to be accessible via tablet or smartphone, so that meeting attendees can read through in advance more easily. This would be an immediate time-saver for those attending meetings, now able to better utilise travel time to read required materials and also annotate them whilst on the move. It is also a real asset to those who prepare board packs.

This can be a timely and inefficient process, with any last-minute amendments potentially resulting in a complete reprint. With board packs sometimes running to hundreds of pages in length this is an obvious resource saver for support staff that prepare and print materials. It also fits very well with the green agenda in UK local government, saving thousands of sheets of paper for each meeting.

But embracing digitisation around board meetings has many other benefits too. It is easier to retain focus with the agenda to hand, so keeping the agenda in view at all times on a white board can help. The same applies to online board portals that allow the meeting Chair to control what attendees see – the agenda is always visible, keeping the focus on what is being discussed at that moment.

Online board portals tools also make it easy for attendees to collaborate and annotate documents or make notes against the agenda during the meeting itself. Additionally, actions can be captured and agreed removing the need to rely on someone’s memory to capture what was discussed at a later time.

Public sector governance

Perhaps most importantly of all, smarter and more digital approach to board meetings will also improve transparency and governance. Local authorities are each required to produce an annual governance statement, which details publicly the extent to which they comply with their own code of governance. Online board portal tools help embed governance into the leadership and their meeting and decision-making processes. Even making, agreeing and signing off this statement can be made easier by using a board portal.

With so many public services now fully digitised, it’s high time that internal procedures such as board meetings followed suit. As with most new technologies and approaches, users can be change resistant. But that is no reason to not push for change and there are always ways to help people embrace that change, such as good training and support.

Senior meetings in the public sector are an anachronism and need to be brought into the 21st century – doing so will save time and money and make the whole process infinitely more efficient.

Camilla Braithwaite is from digital meeting software specialist eShare.

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