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Legacy Matters

October 07, 2020

It’s Not Too Late to Hold a Virtual Family Meeting This Year: Series Part 2 – Best practices for virtual family meetings

Has your family postponed this year’s family meeting because some members are not yet comfortable getting together or traveling? Thanks to the easy availability of video conferencing software, you can still host a family meeting this year.
 
In Part 1 of this series we discussed meeting ideas that allow the family to use technology to gather virtually for fun and development (click here to read this post). In this Part 2, we discuss how to plan for the business aspects of a family meeting that uses video conferencing.
 
9 Best Practices for Virtual Family Meeting Sessions
 
Certainly, the family meeting best practices we have discussed in our previous blog posts (5 Best practices for Planning Successful Family Meetings, and Four Best Practices for Holding Successful Family Meetings) still apply to virtual meetings, but we may need to apply them in a different way, as outlined below.
 
  1. Decide what topics you need to discuss now via video conference. Identify those topics that may be better suited to discuss another way such as through email or telephone calls. Also consider topics that are better discussed in person and consider holding those topics for a later time.   
  2. Invite the right people for the topic. Only invite people who are absolutely necessary to each meeting to keep the meetings a manageable size. Notes and meeting information may be circulated to other family members who either cannot attend or who are not necessary to attend. 
  3. Space meetings over a few days instead of scheduling everything in one day. “Zoom fatigue” is real, as video conferences require more focus than in-person meetings do. After a few hours of back-to-back virtual meetings, no one is operating as effectively as if the meetings were in person.
  4. Design meetings to keep participants engaged. Reduce the information presented to focus on necessary updates and the decisions you need to make now. Use graphics to provide easier understanding of material. Use polling software or other technology to promote participant engagement. Keep the meetings short.
  5. Use the features of your technology.​
    • Privacy options. Password protect your meetings to keep out unwanted visitors. Use a waiting room where people wait to be admitted to the meeting. A plus for using a waiting room – it keeps people from accidentally joining your current meeting if they sign in early for the next one. Lock your meeting once it starts so no one else can join.
    • For effective engagement and collaboration. Help your family group collaborate efficiently by displaying documents on your screen or by inviting work on a shared whiteboard or document. Also consider:
      • Using polling and voting features or software to check for understanding and agreement.
      • Using the chat feature for people to ask questions of a speaker or offer additional resources on a topic.
      • Using breakout rooms for committees to have private discussions.
  6. Train family members to effectively use the meeting technology.
    • For speakers. Provide training and have presenters practice the meeting ahead of time to make sure they can use the technology and present their information efficiently and engagingly. 
    • For participants. Make sure all family members have the necessary technology to participate and provide detailed instructions to each family for the technology that they will be using. Also provide telephonic coaching for the family members who are not familiar with the technology that will be used (and possibly provide an opportunity for them to sign into a practice meeting in advance).
  7. Create an agenda for each session which also shows who is participating – This helps people know what they are there to accomplish and who is participating in the meeting with them (since you can’t always see everyone on the screen). It also allows the presenters to tailor the information discussed and provide the necessary confidentiality to those who are present.
  8. Use a facilitator – Just as in a regular family meeting session, a facilitator can be helpful in a virtual meeting session. Facilitators can:
    • Keep everyone brief and on topic.
    • Give everyone a chance to be heard.
    • Monitor the chat messages for questions or concerns.
    • Facilitate breakout rooms.
    • Help navigate technology issues.
  9. Provide “Zoom Guides” for speakers and for participants – Your family likely has communication rules for your meetings, but a virtual meeting may require a few extra rules. Items in the guide for participants might include:
    • Asking for coaching before the meeting if you are unfamiliar with the technology.
    • Waiting a few seconds to speak after someone stops speaking.
    • Having your video camera on at all times.
    • Muting yourself when others are speaking to prevent echo and distracting background sounds.
    • Remembering that the default chat setting in most video software is that your chat message is viewable by everyone. It is better to avoid sending private chat messages during a meeting.
 
Start Preparing for Your Virtual Family Meeting
 
Warner can assist as you prepare to host family meeting sessions via video conference software. Our attorneys have facilitated virtual meeting sessions for families and helped plan their virtual family meetings. Reach out to your Warner attorney for assistance or contact Jennifer Remondino, Chair of the Trusts and Estates Practice Group, at jremondino@wnj.com or at 616.396.3243. 

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