Flexible work and the hybrid AGM: Coronavirus (COVID-19) set to be a catalyst for faster pace of workplace change

As workplaces swiftly prepare — or enact — their business continuity plans to safeguard against the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), a hyper-speed evolution to a more flexible, mobile workplace is underway.

Many businesses have deployed a remote workforce in response to the outbreak and more are preparing to do so, skilling up employees with the required technology and quickly setting up home or off-site offices.

This is fast-tracking a previously very gradual move to greater workplace and workforce mobility, adaptability and agility, Governance Institute of Australia CEO Megan Motto said.  

“We are currently witnessing COVID-19 acting as a very effective catalyst for a major workplace transformation,” Ms Motto said.

“We are seeing organisations reacting swiftly to this current challenge, examining how they can best protect their business, employees and clients."

“They are looking at their IT systems and capacity, and the alternatives to working face-to-face in a traditional office environment. In many cases this will involve enabling their workforce or team to work offsite, including from home or split between different offices and sites.”

There are a range of considerations for those moving to work offsite, as outlined in Governance Institute’s Good Governance Guide (members only) on dealing with flexible working arrangements. 

And it’s not just the creation of a more nimble workforce that is currently taking place with the traditional business meeting also undergoing a major overhaul as gatherings in close quarters become increasingly unpopular — and in some cases prohibited.

Some companies are currently investigating the option of holding a hybrid AGM — where some shareholders are physically present at the meeting but others attend, vote and submit questions online.

BoardRoom’s General Manager, Corporate Governance, Martin Jones said the hybrid meeting had gradually been growing in popularity, particularly as attendance had been dropping off at traditional AGMs, but COVID-19 has now pushed many businesses to look at their options “far more seriously.”

Under the Corporations Act, the format of the AGM must be formally communicated to shareholders and investors in the notice of meeting 28 calendar days before the date of the meeting.

So for those planning a May meeting, there is still time to make a decision on location and format.

But as Mr Jones notes: “For those who may still be deciding on their options, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you decide to go down the physical presence AGM now, but then in May decide not to do so, the meeting can be adjourned — but must be completed by the end of May.”

For information on issues that companies in the UK are currently considering click here to read the guidance note produced jointly by The Chartered Governance Institute and Slaughter and May.

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