Tools such as WhatsApp, Slack and Microsoft Teams are not suited for Board communications. Meanwhile Diligent and Boardpacks only provide one piece of the governance puzzle.
What are we talking about?
New communication tools, including the recently IPO’d Slack and Microsoft (MS) Teams, which are replacing email for work communications.
What’s wrong with email?
Email was never intended to be the main artery of business communication. It is widely proven to be distracting, inefficient and even demotivating.1 It is also notoriously insecure, being the number one source of data breaches – something companies are keen to lock down. Although it is now ubiquitous across business, workers have begun to expect something better.
Tell me about Slack and Microsoft Teams
In a nutshell they are secure instant messaging tools designed for work. Connecting colleagues around a centralised structure of ‘channels’ or ‘teams’, they provide real time communication that we have come to use and expect in our non-working lives via apps such as WhatsApp.
I sometimes use WhatsApp with my Board?
Many people are using WhatsApp for work but most agree it’s not an ideal long term solution for work. It’s fairly chaotic in its structure and although instant, it’s mixed in with every aspect of personal life. This means lots of distractions and short, unconsidered messages that we can send to our friends and family but probably shouldn’t to other board members or advisers. It also quickly becomes a repository of board decisions that belongs to the directors rather than the board itself.
I remember I use Boardpacks for some of my boards. How is this different?
Boardpacks, Diligent and other meeting portals serve a specific function of storing and disseminating meeting packs and other board papers. However the life of a board is increasingly happening outside of meetings, with information sharing and important decisions being made on a weekly if not daily basis. This is where use of email and WhatsApp currently kicks in.
OK makes sense, so how do I get Slack or Teams?
Very easily but unfortunately whilst Slack and MS Teams solve the problems they set out to fix, it has become clear that they also introduce their own problems.
Good communication takes intention and consideration. As with WhatsApp, Slack and MS Teams are centred on immediacy, which results in messages being short and reactive. This massively increases the effort required by participants, with an increase in the number of messages received and a decrease in overall quality of communication, which is unsuitable for boards.2
Yes I already get too much information, don’t give me even more!
Exactly – a board member can expect to receive over 400 emails every week across work and personal life; the average board meeting pack is now 400 pages long; they will read 150 news articles a week… There is simply too much information already. What’s required is a solution that helps remove noise and increase the headspace of board members.
But if we use it sensibly can MS Teams provide some improvement to the way we govern our board?
Certainly a small and disciplined board could benefit from MS Teams, by removing security risks associated with email and consolidating scattered board information into a single place.
However most boards, particularly those with several sub-committees, multiple external advisers and a need to collaborate with the company, will struggle to work effectively with a tool which has been designed primarily for internal rather than external collaboration.
What is the issue with internal and external collaboration?
Slack and MS Teams are utilised by teams within companies to facilitate colleague to colleague back and forth and decision making. Users tend to belong to one company and are thus fundamentally internal.
Boards by their nature are groups of independent individuals that do not belong to a single organisation or existing structure. Therefore most of the communication on a board, happens between users from several, external, organisations.
So what options do I have as a board member looking for tools to help the board?
Boards must look for tools that provide the following key features designed for effective and modern board governance:
- Improved security over emails
- Structured but asynchronous (non-instant) communication
- Simple interface designed for older users
- Ability to at least replicate, if not improve, the board’s governance structure on the platform
- Ability to easily add external users such as advisers
- Inter-organisational connections for communication across ‘Chinese walls’
We are all frustrated with email, whether we realise it or not.