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Flexible Working

08 April 2020 by Peter Swabey

As we all adapt to new ways of working, there are both advantages and disadvantages to take into consideration.

As is my habit, I cast my eye back to last month’s article to see what I had said and, perhaps more importantly, whether I had committed to say anything in particular this month.

I hadn’t – which was just as well, as I think we have all been through a period of enormous change to our working lives compressed into a very short space of time. We have all had to learn to come to terms with new and, for many of us, different ways of working. For some of us, of course, working from home is a normal part of daily life – for many members their home is their office; for others this is a new skill that has to be learned. If I can share a secret, just between us (and don’t tell Sara!), I have always found working from home very difficult, which is why I try to do it as little as possible. There are just so many distractions and I find it much easier to have the discipline of going into the office. Fortunately, my wife is also working from home and her example keeps my nose pressed firmly to the grindstone (other than when it is my turn to make tea).

If some of us, as governance professionals, find the new conditions difficult, imagine how hard it is for board members, some of whom (say it quietly) are not quite as technologically adept as they might be and others of whom, who may be very technologically adept, are struggling to cope with the variety of different systems which the companies with whom they work are asking them to use, in some cases more than one per company. In the last couple of weeks I have found myself using Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp, BaseCamp and some other proprietorial systems, all the time trying to remember the relevant login and functionality for each one.

And if that were not enough, we all have to remember that virtual meetings are not the same as being in the same room together. Eye contact, body language, tone of voice and so on are major parts of human communication, but now no longer available to us, or at least only in a less immediate way. This is why we have worked with Lorraine Young to produce a new piece of guidance on ‘Good practice for virtual board and committee meetings’, looking at some of the practical and legal issues that need consideration and offering insight into how virtual meetings can be made as effective as possible. We have sought to offer help with such critical issues as:

  • choosing the right technology and communication channel
  • structuring virtual meetings and avoiding complexity
  • the value of preparation
  • establishing ground rules for the meeting
  • clear instructions on accessing the meeting
  • the necessity for good boardroom practices.

None of these are simple and neither, unfortunately, do they have intuitive answers.

This new guidance, together with our guidance on AGMs, about which I have rambled on page 27, can be found on our new Coronavirus hub at icsa.org.uk/about-us/coronavirus-update-from-the-institute, where you can find all our latest news as well as links to other sources that we think members may find useful in this difficult time. Please let me know if you have any ideas for more.

Sara has mentioned in her column how important partnerships and collaboration are to the Institute. It has been really important to see, over recent weeks, how so many organisations have pulled together and pooled their expertise to help others. The supplement to our guidance on AGMs brought together the work of nine partner organisations and I am grateful to all of them for their contributions. Similarly, the government has reached out to seek views on the legislative changes that may need to be made. The policy team and I will keep working on these issues and are picking up questions raised through the member helpline, but if you do identify any issues that you think we should address do, please, let us know by emailing policy@icsa.org.uk.

The changes that we have all had to make to our working patterns have meant that some of the projects on which I thought I would be giving you an update have had to be temporarily set aside, but rest assured that they have not been forgotten and I hope to be able to update you on some of them next month.

In the meantime, in the words of Sergeant Esterhaus in Hill Street Blues, “let’s be careful out there”.

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