General counsel should ensure a sound virtual meetings policy is in place, writes David Mousavi
When the COVID-19 virus came to Canada it wasn’t entirely clear how much our world would change. But once our country was ordered into lockdown and social distancing measures were implemented, it became clear that meetings or gatherings of any kind would never be the same. For many organizations, this meant that important business would not get done, particularly at Annual General Meetings where the Corporations Act required such meetings to take place in-person, without an organization’s by-law to the contrary.
Thankfully the Ontario government recognized this obstacle and addressed it on March 30 with emergency orders allowing for mandatory meetings to take place by telephone or a “virtual setting” and suspending the timeline that required corporations to have an annual meeting within 15 months of their last annual meeting. The emergency order was set to expire on November 21. However, with recent temporary legislative amendments, the date permitting virtual meetings has now been extended to May 31, 2021 – signifying a further shift in Ontario’s economy towards a virtual world.
With the emergency order in place and the passage of time, many organizations have started using virtual meetings for most, if not all, their meetings and not just limited to annual ones required by law.
Now more than ever, organizations need to have a sound virtual meetings policy in place to ensure information is kept secure and confidential while important business can be carried out. Here are just some of the issues that should be considered when drafting your virtual meetings policies:
- Use only a secure virtual meetings platform authorized by your organization: Your organization’s information is critical and must be kept secure and confidential. Ensure that the platform you are using meets your organization’s information technology standards and is authorized. While other platforms may be preferable, ensure your personnel understand that platforms that have not been properly vetted may be a cybersecurity risk.
- Ensure your virtual meeting technology works prior to your meeting: Virtual meeting platforms require the use of the audio and visual devices on your computer, laptop, or mobile device – depending on what you are using. While these platforms are incredibly functional, they do fail at times, particularly if you are running multiple platforms that may also need to access your audio and visual devices. Often restarting your computer can help with restoring functionality but ensure that you check your technology prior to your meeting as it will save time and ensure your meeting is on schedule.
- Ensure you are prepared for a professional meeting: Although virtual meetings can be conducted from the comfort of our own homes, we still have to ensure a high level of professionalism is maintained. Dress appropriately and professionally, keep your camera on at all times where possible, and make sure the background in your video is appropriate and there are no distractions for other participants.
- Conduct during the virtual meeting: During the meeting, participants (aside from the speaker and Chair) should keep their microphones muted at all times, and only unmute them when they wish to speak. Often many forget to mute their microphones and this can lead to unnecessary noise or feedback that could disrupt the virtual meeting. Eating food, typing on keyboards, and many other activities that may seem minor can easily become distractions. If your platform does not have a function that allows a speaker to indicate they wish to speak, have participants use the chat box to indicate their desire to do so. By using the chat box feature, all participants can also see the order of speakers.
- Further possible security measures: Although virtual meetings offer flexibility and convenience as to where participants can be located, such as at home, there is a possibility that individuals not part of the meeting can overhear sensitive information that is discussed. In some cases, it may make sense to require the use of earphones to ensure information shared or topics discussed during the virtual meeting are not inadvertently disclosed to unauthorized individuals. A general rule against taking screenshots should also be considered.
Although the pandemic has required organizations to shift to the virtual world, the past several months have shown that virtual meetings can be a practical and effective means through which important work can be done and that our shift may be more permanent than originally thought. These are just some of the considerations you should take when developing the right virtual meetings policy for your organization.