By Andrew Lees, a Principal at global headhunter Odgers Berndtson, discusses his three predictions for how Boardrooms will change in 2021
The global pandemic will forever change the world of work. The remote environment won’t stay as it is but will materialise into a hybridised form. Because of this, the concept of local and global workforces will increasingly become one and the same thing. And diversity and inclusion, once viewed as a distant subsection of the HR function, will become even more important than it already is, evolving into a long-term strategic imperative for nearly every organisation.
These changes apply to the workforce broadly, but they will also have specific outcomes for those at the top of the organisation. For the Board, a hybridised working world will have lasting ramifications, including on its composition, who the Board can hire, and the very dynamic of Board member relationships. Below are three predictions for how this will all play out in 2021.
1.) A new global talent pool
While many global companies have had internationally based Board members, increasingly, small to medium sized businesses are also looking at this model. The advantage for organisations is clear. They gain access to a broader pool of candidates and therefore a broader set of skills and experiences. They also gain the ability to augment their Boards with the knowledge of specific geographic markets. If a UK company is looking to enter into a U.S. market, why not appoint a U.S. Board member with the relevant experience and relationships?
With the adoption of technology and the enforced movement of Board meetings online, there has been less emphasis on members physically attending meetings. This has enabled clients to look beyond their local market and is encouraging candidates to think about companies located outside of their normal geographic sphere, as they don’t have to allocate two days to travel to and from a company’s headquarters.
For countries like Scotland that seek to grow their export markets, this will provide the opportunity to attract Board members from other economic centres. And as more companies consider the global talent pool to fill their Board seats, diversity at the top of the organisation will have the opportunity to grow organically.
2.) A new Boardroom dynamic
In a remote setting it is difficult to read the physical cues of others, to build camaraderie or trust. However, by not sitting around a table in person it is also difficult to influence or even intimidate other board members through overt body language. For many more reflective Board members this has proven to be a significant advantage. Having a loud voice and a commanding presence may enable you to dominate a physical room but it won’t work over Zoom. As a result, the remote environment has provided the opportunity for many Board members to be more open and have their voices heard.
This also has the potential to open the Boardroom up to a greater diversity of thought with the ideas and imagination of those who wouldn’t usually be forthcoming now providing more input into discussions. A possible and hopeful fallout of this is its effect on senior leadership culture – more open and honest conversations at the top have a tendency to filter down throughout the rest of the organisation, leading to a more inclusive culture.
3.) A rocky road for the blended Boardroom
While the remote environment offers a breadth of opportunity for the Boardroom, it will not be without its challenges. Boards are likely to gain access to global perspectives, a wider talent pool and increased diversity but there’s also the potential for a bias towards those who can attend in-person. As lockdowns end and Board attendance becomes split between those who are sitting around the table and those who are attending via Zoom, there is the strong possibility that those who are physically in the room will have their voices and opinions heard, over those who are not. The outcome of this is obvious. Those who cannot have their voices heard will be unable to offer as much of their insights and experience, leading to one-sided discussions and less diversity of thought.
What’s more, relationships between Board members are built outside of the board room, during social events, at dinners and at lunches. This is something that the remote attendee won’t have as much access to. The Boardroom dynamic is a critical aspect of the Board’s ability to function. If Boards are to operate effectively in a hybrid format then equal voice and opportunity must be ensured for all of those on it.