When typewriters were first introduced, the improvement over hand-copying scrolls was overwhelming: Producing a page of text took a fraction of the time, everyone could understand the results, and scribes would no longer have to sacrifice decades of their lifespans (and, often, their eyesight) to the grueling task of copying. The very monks who copied ancient scrolls, however, actually opposed the upgrade; they were losing their way of life. The transition to paperless meetings is meeting with comparable resistance. Responsible stewardship, however, calls for making the switch. With the right software, paperless meetings save time and money while protecting the natural environment.
Public boards often consist of overworked executives who sit on several boards simultaneously. Their time is precious, and they expect it to be respected. Imagine flying across the country to get to a meeting early and finding everything disorganized when you walk into the room. The chair might say, “I meant to bring copies of the budget, but I left them at home this morning.”
High turnover is the price for keeping board meetings the one (and only) place where the clock seems to be turned back to the pre-digital era.
Paperless meeting software saves time in the following ways:
- Before the meeting, the chairperson and any assistants will gain countless hours (and their dignity!) by creating digital agenda board packets that they post on a board portal to distribute. Gone are the days of printing hundreds of pages, punching holes in them, putting them in binders and mailing bulky boxes to each board member’s physical address. Nor does anyone have to walk down to City Hall with a roll of tape and a box of thumbtacks; posting the agenda on a public-facing website (for which meeting software provides space) satisfies the requirements of most states’ open meeting laws. And when there’s a last-minute change to a document, a simple click of the mouse prevents the frantic scramble to mail it out in time. In a 2017 survey by Edis-Bates Consultancy, 40% of London-listed companies were distributing board documents electronically.
- If the board is editing a document together between meetings, they no longer need to endure the time-consuming nightmare of sending a series of versions to each other by email, inevitably losing track of which version reflects which changes. Rather, the best board portal software for facilitating paperless meetings includes a collaborative editing feature that keeps everybody on the same page. As one person makes changes, the version that everyone sees on the portal is refreshed in real time, with color-coded indications of who made which changes. You won’t miss playing “Who’s on first?”
- A PowerPoint presentation can be posted on the board portal, too. Now people can pay attention during presentations, take notes right on their own copy of the slides and not worry about jotting down every word of information presented. The Advisory Board has found committees to be far more focused as a result.
With robust infrastructure, paperless meetings save organizations lots of money over time. In the UK, the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) has been helping British municipal councils hold paperless meetings for more than five years. Savings have averaged 50,000 pounds (64,500 US dollars). Consider these cost savings:
- No more printing voluminous copies (sometimes in pricey color) and incurring high postage costs to get out agendas and packets. When you make last-minute changes to documents, you avoid the extra cost of getting a rush job at the printer and sending contents out by overnight mail.
- It’s easier for someone to attend the meeting virtually (as permitted by open meeting laws), rather than flying in to attend. She would not miss any handouts and would be reading the same text as everyone else.
- It takes so much less time to prepare for board meetings and to do board work between the meetings that many organizations find they need less staffing.
- The savings compound when you double-dip, using the same software to perform numerous other board functions. What will you spend to keep your board materials secure in cyberspace? What will you pay to ensure that all of your materials comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements? The best software for meeting management, such as Diligent’s BoardDocs, solves those problems for you.
Save the Environment
Using no paper clearly saves trees. The transportation of materials for old-school meetings leaves its mark on the physical environment: Petroleum fuels the trucks that get mailed documents to their destinations – let alone the flights that send those documents beyond local addresses. Most board members travel extensively; the simple bulk of paper board packets adds considerably to the plane’s weight load. And that’s apart from emergencies: One company in London had to rush last-minute documents to a board member off the coast of Australia, so they sent a helicopter to drop all the papers.
In addition to being the right thing to do, taking pro-environmental measures attracts young people who might not otherwise participate – the online agenda also pulls them in. Younger adults grew up terrified that the earth would become uninhabitable. Many of them took a pledge upon graduating from college that they would work only for organizations that are not damaging the environment. If you want to bring young blood into your group, the litmus test may be green.
Even More Benefits
The benefits of paperless meeting software extend even farther. If you leave paper documents behind on an airplane or at a coffee shop, shady characters can get them and read them, whereas digital documents are protected by encryption if a laptop is stolen. Carrying heavy packets of paper is not worth the backache. Meetings themselves will feel calmer.
Paperless meeting software saves time, reduces costs and protects the environment. In our experience, boards that have made the switch never look back.