Last week, a recording of a chaotic meeting of Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire went viral. Some commentators deemed the recording amusing, others were appalled at the level of chaos. Now that the Parish Council meeting has shown us how virtual meetings can easily descend into disorder, there are lessons to be learned in the organisation of virtual meetings going forward.

To Zoom or not to Zoom?

Technology has come to the fore, and programmes such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom allow virtual meetings to be conducted as if individuals were in the same room. There is no doubt that such services have enhanced the way we maintain those social connections whilst working remotely.

There have, however, been many stories in the last year in relation to the security and privacy of several video conferencing and messaging platforms. It is important to carry out appropriate diligence to ensure that the platform you are using is suitable for the information being shared. Avoid platforms that lead to sensitive or personal data being stored on personal devices. Once you've chosen your platform, make sure you're using it in a way that does not create unnecessary security risks. Use features like passwords to prevent "Zoombombing".

Can meetings be recorded?

Jackie Weaver has found fame due to the recording of their meeting going viral on social media and dominating much of the news for a day or so. With meetings often containing large amounts of information it may feel practical for these conversations to be recorded, especially given the ease at which new technology allows us to do so.

However, the recording of calls and meetings may involve the collection of personal data. Has your organisation identified an appropriate legal basis and given participants notice of how their data will be used? A recent Brodies blog considers guidance published by the ICO on the wider data protection considerations brought about by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Separately, some meetings should generally not be recorded. For example, court proceedings may be conducted by telephone or video but recording of those proceedings is not permitted unless the court has given consent. There are also various issues to consider when deciding whether to record video call disciplinary & other employee meetings.

It is also worth noting that many conversations, especially those involving lawyers, will touch on sensitive information which should remain confidential. To avoid the risk of that information being recorded, if you have a smart speaker in the room in which you work from home or hold calls, turn it off during the working day.

Also think about the people you live with. Who can hear your conversations? Do you use the speaker on your laptop, or can you use a headset?

You have no authority here – what are the ground rules of the meeting?

It is important that each participant understands how the virtual meeting will be organised. The chairperson should consider devising ground rules for participants and circulate these before the meeting. For example, setting out how to get the chairperson's attention if you want to speak (hand signals or use of a 'chat' function can be helpful for a video meeting).

Read the standing orders – tips for holding an effective virtual board meeting

  • Clear instructions on how to access the meeting should be provided a few days in advance to ensure all directors are ready to join when the meeting is scheduled.
  • Consider using an online tool, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, where the chairperson can mute and unmute speakers to ensure all directors can contribute. These tools also allow for screen sharing which can be a useful way of sharing the agenda or presenting documents.
  • To avoid the confusion that may be caused with raising hands on video, the chairperson should ask each participant in turn for their vote on any resolutions.
  • Make a contingency plan – Having a list of all participants' telephone numbers can be helpful in case connectivity issues. Ensuring IT support is at hand will also be helpful.
  • Ask for feedback – at the end of the meeting give all participants the opportunity to provide feedback. You can consider any suggestions when you plan future virtual meetings.
  • If relevant, check a company's articles for any additional requirements relating to notice of the meeting.