A rise in the use of virtual trustee meetings could prove challenging for those involved but there are ways to improve their effectiveness, Aon says.
The consultant said that trustee meetings were switching to being held virtually and set out its top tips for making such meetings work as well as they can.
It suggested appropriate ways to combat the challenges including breaking meetings down into bite-sized chunks of no more than one or two hours.
Aon also suggested when conducting an online meeting, distractions should be avoided just as in a face-to-face meeting and noted that preparation is key.
Formality in online meetings was also suggested as a help to overcome the working from home challenges and continue operating as usual, as well as clarity on action points and considering all voices on a call.
Aon partner Susan Hoare said: "The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has just underlined the importance of business continuity for schemes - and trustee meetings are a key part of that and need to happen. They are essential for enabling trustees to keep on top of matters and in ensuring that there remains appropriate governance and monitoring in a fast-changing situation.
"Deferring meetings for what could be an indefinite period is no way to run a pension scheme's business. So in, the circumstances that we now find ourselves, we need to get used to meetings happening in a different way - but still as effectively as normal."
Aon's ten tips for effective virtual meetings are as follows:
- Bite-sized chunks - break down your meeting into bite-sized chunks of no more than one to two hours.
- Online meetings - hold meetings online, via web-based video conferencing - once a week/month depending on the level of activity on the scheme and starting with your most strategically important/time-critical items. Be clear at the start of the meeting what the objectives are and include timings on the agenda to ensure that time on the call is focused.
- Preparation is key - more than ever, make sure trustees have plenty of time to read papers before the online meeting, so that time is not spent familiarising everyone with the material. If there are only one or two papers (as the agenda is short), this might only be two or three days before the meeting - but make sure advisers and trustees are clear on what is expected. Try to keep ‘verbal update' items to an absolute minimum. Bear in mind that it is very easy to lose time - and people's interest - if there is no clear structure to the discussion.
- Video facility - use the video facility in your online meeting. It makes a huge difference in the way you connect with people. And make sure your camera is facing you and not something in the far corner of the room!
- Do not disturb - treat an online meeting in the same way as you would a face-to-face meeting. Turn on the ‘do not disturb' on your phone or messaging settings and stop email notifications. Avoid distractions.
- Offer help - some trustees will not be familiar with using an online meeting facility (or will not have one at all). If needed, let them do a trial run before the meeting - that way any hiccups can be smoothed out before the main session - saving potential embarrassment and time. Remind them of conference call details if they cannot connect but encourage online participation.
- Challenge for the chair - chairing an online meeting can be a fresh challenge. Consider which advisers need to be present on each call in order to minimise the number of voices.
- Any questions? - the chair will also need to pause or check more regularly if there are any questions - they will be getting less feedback during the discussion. Consider using ‘raise a hand'/'ask a question' facilities. Use this or agree a protocol for asking questions to avoid people talking over each other. The scheme secretary may be best placed to facilitate this.
- Formality - while ordinary meetings may be quite relaxed, a more formal style works better on an online meeting to ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to share their views.
- Clarity on action points - to ensure that the secretary can capture everything accurately, the chair may need to be more explicit on who is taking forward which actions and by when. Bear in mind that working out which voice belongs to whom can be difficult if there are 10 or more people on a call.
Last week, TPR issued a statement in response to the outbreak and the pressures the industry faces and to help minimise any impact to savers.
In the information for trustees, the regulator said it was currently engaging with the industry to understand this issues it faced but urged trustees to be "alive to the risks" faced.
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