While we've been operating remotely at GitLab since the beginning, for a long time we had our board meetings in person at our CEO's home and executives called in over Zoom. The result was a hybrid call, a combination of in-person and remote with suboptimal experiences for both.
As the largest all-remote company in the world, we run our entire company without an office - getting together only 1 week a year for our annual get together known as Contribute - but this crucial quarterly meeting was being run differently from everything else.
In April 2019, GitLab transitioned our board meetings to all remote. This means that none of the attendees are co-located. By doing so, we've made it as easy as possible for the right people to attend our board meetings, including board members, observers, executives, and anyone doing a deep dive, which can include directors, managers, and, in some cases, individual contributors.
As an internal strategy consultant at GitLab, I got the opportunity to moderate our last board meeting and it was a really incredible experience. Based on that experience, I've got a couple of tips and tricks that might be useful if you're suddenly transitioning your board meetings to all remote.
Board meetings are meetings
At the end of the day, a board meeting is a meeting, but it is possibly your company's most important meeting every quarter. At GitLab, we run our all-remote Board meetings like we run all our other all-remote meetings.
This starts with making sure meetings are not for presentations; they're for discussions. When you get everyone on the same call at the same time, you're not just asking for time, you're asking for synchronous time and attention. In that time, you want to make sure you're focused on doing only things that can be done with all the people on the call.
In order to make sure our board meetings are efficient, we use an agenda to keep us on track and manage time. For the GitLab board meeting, we ensure that our members and observers have access to the agenda and the materials at least one full week ahead of the meeting so there is ample time to review the information.
Our agenda has a couple of different sections:
- Questions, organized by topic
The materials section helps people avoid having to dig through emails to find the right link or reference. For us, this section includes:
GitLab board Members are asked to add questions in the agenda beforehand. GitLab executives are asked to respond to questions in the agenda prior to the board meeting. We move through the agenda from top to bottom. During the meeting, board members verbalize their questions and our executives respond, even if the questions have already been addressed in the agenda. This is because we recognize that it's easier to give better context and additional details when speaking. Sometimes board members may feel their question is answered by what's in the document already or reframe their question based on the additional information they've been given. In all cases, we strive to make our board meeting more efficient for all folks in it by ensuring we're spending time on things we can only accomplish when we have this particular group assembled together on the same call.
Logistically, our Board meetings occur over Zoom. You can help make this transition easier by offering to practice a Zoom set up or do an audio check with participants beforehand. We sent all our board members headsets to ensure they have access to high-quality audio. For the CEO recorded video beforehand, we use an unlisted video on GitLab Unfiltered.
Keeping the conversation flowing with a moderator
I strongly suggest having someone moderate the meeting. At GitLab, that is our chief of staff but I've heard this can also be the CFO, CEO, or a board member.
Think about who might be the best person for this in your organization. Depending on the role, this person may still need to contribute to the meeting but with the added responsibility of keeping the meeting running on schedule.
The moderator makes sure to start the meeting on time, helps move through all agenda topics, and ends the meeting on time. Since the moderator helps ensure you're moving through the agenda in a timely fashion, it's a good idea to audibly keep time for folks throughout the meeting. Try a phrase like, "We’re about a quarter of the way through the meeting but still on the first agenda item. Let's keep that in mind as we move onto this next item." The moderator must constantly be doing the mental math assessing what is left on the agenda and the time alloted.
The moderator should keep an eye on all participants - not just the speaker - to gauge how the discussion is going. This is best done using Gallery View (aka Brady Bunch view) to see all the meeting attendees.
You can transition, too
Transitioning to remote without warning can be difficult on all parts of the business. With these tips, your board meetings can be one less thing to worry about.
If you're looking to improve your all-remote board meeting, whether it's your first or your fifth, I am always happy to share more about my experience and can be reached at Emilie(at)GitLab.com.
For help with all other facets of the transition, we’ve covered all the bases in GitLab’s Remote Playbook.