The trustee of the future is ‘virtually’ here
27th April, 2020
9th March 2020 was the last time I got up at stupid o’clock, to get a taxi, to get a plane, to get a train, to walk through London, to sit in a room full of people for hours to talk shop, before reversing my way back home. I’m under no illusion that the illogical travel will not return when we are allowed around others again.
In the meantime, we are finding out that, whilst meeting in person is still the best in so many situations, there are alternatives that can and do work. Maybe they can’t replace entirely the stupid travel, but I expect we will see that reduce.
Counting the cost
Ignoring fees, that half-day meeting cost around £1,000 and while BA planted some trees to make my flight carbon neutral, it’s no surprise that the air and the water are cleaner now that there are much fewer flights, cars and buses than some weeks ago.
Large parts of the five or six hours of travel are wasted time. Even with modern technology it is just not possible to work, rest or play for much of the travel time. The 4am start and 10pm finish on a Monday has an impact on productivity for the rest of the week (unless you rinse and repeat and just delay the inevitable come down). Business travel costs money, productivity, pollution, health and relationships – when you are travelling to be there for one relationship you are inevitably not there for another, whether it be your client, protégé, spouse, child …
This is nothing new, but as we all focus more on ESG, mental health, work life balance etc. the costs of travelling to stay connected become more real. In many ways we have spent a few decades trying to use technology to make us more connected on the move, always contactable and always available. All so that we can make better use of that travel time.
Perhaps if we truly believe in ESG, mental health and work life balance beyond fads and buzz words, we can take some positives from the enforcement of COVID-19 and actually use that same technology to make us travel less, reduce the time we need to be connected and increase our availability for everyone, including ourselves. The millennial panacea.
Of course, virtual meetings (regardless of the software used) are not a direct replacement and they do need careful management. In particular, when it comes to trustee meetings there are likely to be attendees who are not up to speed with the virtual world, not using cutting edge technology and having perhaps little need for the fastest internet connections. While trying to avoid the noise of the countless top 10 tips for working at home and online that we have all read, we have been building a set of protocols to allow us to retain our effectiveness as a Trustee and Chair of Trustees online, including:
- Ensuring validity of virtual meetings: the veracity of decisions taken without everyone being present in the same room and unable to add wet signatures to deeds, resolutions, etc.
- Directions on how to test functionality: the virtual equivalent of having a big enough table and sufficient chairs.
- Step-by-step guides for the uninitiated: same principle as always, just making sure attendees know how to get there.
- Guides on best practice before, during and after the meeting: the subtle differences, like more breaks and avoiding the temptation to multitask – staying in the present.
The modern world will need online trustees for the long term. We are adapting and learning to optimise that experience. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a virtual solution for making sure everyone is adequately fed and watered but I’m sure it’s coming.