I’ve been the Chair of the Board for Daybreak Housing in Ottawa for the past two years. When I started my second two-year term as the Chair (I had served as Board Chair six year previously) we were not in a pandemic, in fact we were still months away from the first signs of COVID-19 coming ashore to Canada. Meetings were held with all Directors meeting around a table, sharing a dinner brought in as our meetings would take upwards of two plus hours and took place after the workday when many could not get home before the meeting.
Dinner was a social time for the Directors, time to catch up with each other and stay loose before the business of board took over. These meeting was a time for re-engagement, get subcommittee reports, staff reports and have guests appear when needed. We laughed, we talked about common interests, caught up on each other’s families and recent activities like vacations and work events.
This changed in March 2020, the Daybreak Board started meeting virtually and it was good. We knew each other and the adjustment was seamless, but I could tell we all missed seeing each other in person. Going virtual meant plans for in person events were cancelled one of the first was the summer BBQ for Daybreak’s residents, that was put off until hope fully 2021. Subsequently our Christmas dinner was cancelled but we were able to deliver full turkey Christmas dinners to each of our five homes. Our staff and volunteers out did themselves in trying make an unusual year of events as “as if it was a normal year as possible”.
By June we were able to delay our provincially mandated Annual General Meeting, this was different as we interviewed candidates for the Board remotely, something that was normally done face to face so the prospective Director the current Director can get those personal vibes which are so important when recruiting for a non-profit organization. By the time of our 2020 AGM in the fall we found four amazing new volunteers to join our board.
Since, the Board has worked well, the business of the organization has been taken care of but I have missed is being “with” my fellow Directors and the Staff for the past year. Gone is being able to drop into the office to sign papers. I haven’t been able to chat with the Executive Director and the Staff, they are so good at what they’re doing, but not being able express thanks in person is not the same as we’ve been forced to do since last year. I feel that the year could have been so much better.
Video meetings have shortened our meetings (a good thing) and have not stopped the business of the organization, as I mentioned a lot of good work has been done.
The Board has been unable to achieve what could have been done because we haven’t met in person. The dynamic of ‘knowing and connecting’ with fellow board members holds back the opportunity to really flourish as a team. The one facet the Board has missed has been the experience of meeting the new Directors face to face. We almost were able to plan a “Meet and Greet” in a local park last fall, there just wasn’t the comfort by all the Board to meet this way. The connection that the existing Directors have is regretfully missing with the new Directors.
Those of you that serve on a Board know some discussions are more difficult than others and the ability to ‘read the room’ is like having that extra Director, it gives you the ability to know how to direct the conversation. Sadly, Zoom has made meetings, all meetings, two dimensional; the unspoken emotion is lost through the bandwidth of video.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we held our annual orientation session, online, with a consultant that led us through the roles of our board and directors. The facilitator helped us to understand how to be a good board in a difficult time. It’s only been recently that I, as the Board Chair, realized I could have done more to create that bond and synchronicity between Directors. Scheduled one on one discussions, small conversations with a small portion of the board, all via video might have created a closer relationship between Directors in attempt to develop those working relationships.
The ability to meet and work in the age of video has allowed us to continue. We haven’t perfected the video meeting; technical capabilities hamper some from getting the most out of these meetings, while others have limitations because of inferior or lack of broadband access. Some prefer to walk into a room and work with others – when we’re all in a room everyone is on the same frequency or can adapt to the room, so the meeting operates on a bandwidth for the optimal success.
I hope after this year’s AGM to hosting Directors, old, current, new and the newest for a ‘get to know me’ session (in the safest possible way) when governments and regulations allow it.
Virtual was good, but better? Meh. What have your virtual experiences been like?
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