How to host a remote video council meeting using Zoom

How to Hold a Virtual Town or Parish Council Meeting

Following the Government’s latest guidelines, stay at home restrictions are still in place and the UK is being encouraged to work remotely as much as possible. Thankfully we live in a world where we can stay connected whilst also staying safe, however, it is also important to ensure that normal duties and obligations can continue as much as possible. 

As of 4th April 2020 the Government has temporarily removed the requirement for local authorities to hold meetings in person, allowing instead for regular meetings to be held remotely. You can view the guidelines from the NALC here

We know this is easier said than done and so we have written a guide with tips and tricks on how to get started with hosting your own online meetings with councillors and other members of staff alike. 

Preparation

It may be the first time that some or all of your attendees have been part of a video meeting therefore it is important to be patient and prepared to ensure the meeting runs as smoothly as possible. With just a few tweaks your online meeting will be able to run much the same as it would in person.

Choosing where to host your meeting

There are many different video platforms both free and paid for which can be used to host your meeting, within this guide we will be focusing on using Zoom. We’ve chosen Zoom as we believe it to be both user friendly and the most efficient for the purpose at hand. And because it’s what we’ve been using here at Scribe! 

So what is Zoom? Zoom is a simple easy to use cloud based video conferencing tool. It allows participants to join online meetings via a video and audio link, you can check out our guide to get started: “How to create remote virtual video meetings with Zoom for Parish and Town Councils”

It’s worth watching the guide to get an idea of how you’ll create the account and initially get up and running with Zoom. The team here at Scribe have been using Zoom throughout the pandemic and have found it to be easy to use as it allows us to link up from home and chat each day much as we would normally do in the office.

Zoom also allows you to record your online meeting meaning that all discussions can be either made available for public viewing (if you don’t want members of the public present at the actual meeting) and it’s a great way to look back and record times/points of agreement or disagreement on decisions or votes made.

Scheduling your meeting

You can schedule the meeting directly from the Zoom app on your computer/device or by logging into your Zoom account (the above article covers how to create an account if you don’t already have one) on their website. Here you can give your meeting a name and schedule the start time and finish time, if you already have a scheduled date for your meetings then providing everyone can still make that date you don’t even need to disrupt your calendar or delay normal proceedings. You can also personalise the settings turning different features on and off; such as allowing participants to join with video (camera access) and/or audio (microphone access). If hosting the meeting you can even arrange to put your participants in a virtual waiting room prior to the meeting so that everybody joins at the same time. You’ll be notified of members’ arrival once they are loaded into the waiting room and they’ll only be allowed “in” the meeting room once you allow them. 

Once your meeting is scheduled you can send a meeting invite to your councillors who will be your participants via email either from the scheduling screen or under ‘meetings’ within the Zoom dashboard. If your meeting is open to the public to attend you can include the invite link on your website and/or social media so that they too can join your meeting remotely from home. If you only wanted to have part of your meeting open to the public you could schedule a slightly later start time for them to join. Like the original participants (Councillors) they too would be held in a virtual meeting room until such time you permit them to join the online meeting and allow them in.  It’s like a holding pen until you’re ready for them to join that particular part of the meeting which has been agreed to be shared/ broadcast to the public. 

If you have any documents i.e reports which need to be shared with the participants/Councillors you can include these with your meeting invite, we find Google Docs a really good way to share these and it also allows multiple users to edit the same document at the same time. Of course you can always email these before a meeting too should you not want/require others to edit. 

Practice makes perfect

It’s a great idea to hold a practice meeting ahead of your scheduled meeting. This will reduce the chances of your Council meeting being delayed and it will allow the meeting host (usually the Clerk) and the attendees to become familiar with the video platform and the different settings available.

Ahead of the meeting it’s a good idea to make a decision on the meeting etiquette and outline this clearly to all participants. As it’s likely to be new territory for people having a meeting in this way, plus a different way of voting on listed agenda matters; we recommend considering the below to ensure your meeting runs as smoothly as possible.

  1. Participants must mute themselves when they are not speaking- this will prevent any background noises interfering with the meeting. (When participants are muted they can temporarily unmute themselves by holding the spacebar.
  2. When a participant would like to speak they indicate via the video function by say raising their hand or using the chat feature to say “I’d like to comment”, this will prevent people talking over one another.
  3. Make a decision on how to vote on topics within the agenda, there are a number of ways this is possible.
  • Use the ‘chat’ feature of Zoom, members can state their vote and it will be documented for all to see
  • Perform a role-call of the members asking to state their vote
  • Allocate hand signals for ‘for’ and ‘against’ (thumbs up and thumbs down)
  • Create a Google Doc where all members can add their vote

(It is a good idea to confirm the votes back to the participants to ensure they have been noted correctly.)

  1. If members of the public will be attending, discuss how they will be able to interact with the meeting. As the host you can control how participants can join. They can participate in the meeting with video and audio off and this is controlled by the host and can be turned on or off at different parts during the meeting. Alternatively the ‘chat’ feature can be used during the meeting or you can ask that questions are submitted in advance. If part of the meeting will involve discussing confidential information which members of the public should not be part of, we suggest either asking the public to leave the meeting whilst these are discussed, once they have left you can ‘lock’ the meeting under the participants tab. Alternatively you can host a second meeting exclusively for your council members.
  2. Allocate a moderator for the meeting, the moderator’s role will be counting votes, taking minutes, and assisting the chair in controlling who is in the meeting and who is speaking. The Clerk is usually the moderator. 

Starting your meeting

As the host we recommend joining the meeting 10-15 minutes early to allow yourself sufficient time to choose the correct settings etc before the other participants join. A few settings you may want to review are listed below :

  • Once the meeting window opens if you select ‘participants’ from the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, a new window opens. You should then choose ‘more’ at the bottom right. You can then tick or untick the settings you wish to apply to people being able to join with or without sound. If for example you didn’t want public participants to be able to actually speak but just observe, this could be prohibited by unticking “allow participants to unmute themselves”.
  • Record – Zoom provides the option to record your meeting. You can then refer back to the meeting if needed, alongside this if anybody is unable to attend the meeting they can watch the recording at a later date. You can choose for the meeting to be saved onto your Zoom account or directly onto your computer.

How to leave the meeting

Participants can leave the meeting at any point by selecting ‘leave meeting’ at the bottom right hand corner of the Zoom screen.

When the meeting has finished the host can end the meeting by selecting ‘End Meeting’. This would automatically end the meeting for all participants. 

And that’s it! Hosting your online Council meeting is easier than you think and as mentioned above, practice makes perfect. It can be really daunting for people who are using this type of platform or software for the first time so having patience and using ours (or other) online guides to circulate with members ahead of time can help everyone to feel as prepared as they can be. These are unprecedented times and everyone is facing new and more diverse ways of working, hopefully it will help us to adapt and be more flexible with work in the future. 

Psst… Have you heard about the Local Council Clerks’ Community group on Facebook for Clerk’s and RFO’s? With nearly 600 members and constantly growing it’s a great place for tricks, tips and support and all things Local Council! Come and join today here!

How to Create Remote Virtual Video Meetings with Zoom for Town and Parish Councils

In these challenging times it’s important to stay connected as much as possible.

Here at Scribe we have been working on ways to keep our customers connected. Zoom is a fantastic way to stay in touch wherever you are in the world! We have put together a quick tutorial in how to use Zoom to ensure your Town or Parish Council can resume business as usual.

How to do Remote Virtual Video Meetings with Zoom for Town and Parish Councils

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a simple to use online video service which allows you to host meetings, webinars and conferences! It is available on most computers, smartphones and tablets therefore it is easily accessible too!

What can Zoom do?

Zoom allows you to host meetings, conferences, webinars and more using video or audio, it also allows you to share your screen, files and chat. You can host unlimited one-on-one meetings, or you can invite up to 100 participants to your meeting on their free plan, we will talk more about pricing later!

How do I get started?

Firstly, you need to go to zoom.us and click ‘sign up’ at the top right-hand corner to create your account, Zoom offers a few different options when signing up. You can create an account using your email address, alternatively you can sign in using your existing Facebook or Google account – if you have either of these it is a great way to sign up as your information and profile picture will be automatically added to Zoom.

Zoom offers two different control dashboards, you can either use the dashboard on their website or alternatively you can download the Zoom application onto your device. To do so head to resources at the top right-hand corner and select download Zoom, once the application has downloaded you are ready to go!

How to start your first video meeting

On your Zoom dashboard select ‘new meeting’ this will immediately take you to the video view, here you can toggle your camera and audio on or off, you can also add participants by clicking the ‘participants’ option and selecting ‘invite’.

How to schedule a meeting for a future date?

On your Zoom dashboard click ‘Schedule’ it will then open the schedule meeting settings, here you can give your meeting a name, you can choose the date, start time and end time. You can also password protect your meeting; participants will need to enter the password to be able to join your meeting. You can also add the meeting into your calendar and from this invite the other participants.

How to join a meeting as a participant?

To join a participant simply open Zoom and click ‘join’ here you can enter the meeting ID and password (if the meeting has a password) it will then take you to your meeting. You do not need a Zoom account in order to join a meeting and participants can join using the Zoom app or via the Zoom website.

How to end Zoom meeting

When you are ready to end your Zoom meeting head to ‘end meeting’ at the bottom right hand corner. You will then be given two options, you can either leave the meeting but the other participants can carry on, alternatively you can end the meeting for all.

How much does Zoom cost?

Zoom offers a fantastic free plan, if you sign up for the free plan you can host unlimited one-on-one meetings, you can also have up to 100 participants in the same meeting. The main restriction with this plan is your meetings with more than 2 people are restricted to 40 minutes. If you are looking to host meetings which will last longer than 40 minutes you will need to sign up to Zoom’s pro plan. The cost is £11.99 per month per user, once you have signed up to a pro plan you can host meetings up to 24 hours long!

You may have read that Zoom along with other platforms have reported security risks, however, Zoom has many security features which we have highlighted in this post to ensure your meetings are safe. So you’ll have to make a decision on which to use however internally here at Scribe we are happy using Zoom.

Download a PDF of the tutorial here

Year End – Top Tips

We have been extremely busy here at Scribe with your year end queries so please do bear with us if you can while we respond to everyone! 

In the meantime here are some top tips based on our most frequent requests.
 

  • Make sure you have closed the previous year’s accounts and copied the annual returns data to the next financial year otherwise this will bring up an error message on your AGAR with no data in the 18/19 column.
  • Ensure that you have allocated within your cost codes for staff costs, precept and capital costs the correct type so that these feed through to the correct boxes on the AGAR. This can be completed within set up/cost codes. Any codes that would be included in other payments or other receipts can be left as ‘Default’.
  • If working on an Income and Expenditure basis ensure that before you run your annual return you click on ‘calculate’ or any changes or updates you have made will not take effect.
  • Once you have completed your year end you can close your accounts straight away. This will prevent any changes being made in error should you log into the wrong year! Once your audit is complete should any changes need to be made you can simply reopen the year and make your amendments and then close again.

You can visit our help centre with plenty of articles, including a section entitled Year End Help

A printable tick list is available here to ensure that you successfully complete all the steps required to complete year end

If you are still struggling or have any questions please feel free to get in touch. 

Easter Opening Hours


We will be CLOSED over the Easter period between Friday 10th and Monday 13th April.

During this period any urgent enquiries can be sent to [email protected] and these will be responded to from Tuesday 14th April when usual working hours 9.30am -3pm Mon- Fri will resume.

You can find a wealth of information and support online via our help guides and you can click here to access these.

As you all know given the current climate the Scribe team is working remotely and as this is our busiest time of year we really do appreciate your patience and support while we try to assist everyone who requires help.

Helping You Work From Home

With the Government advice to work from home we have been looking at ways how Scribe can assist you with remote working.

Scribe is already web based which means you can continue to access your Councils’ accounts from wherever you are, whenever you need. 

To allow others to also access Scribe and view the accounts during this isolation period we can also set up additional read only log ins for Councillors or Auditors temporarily at no extra cost. 

Please do contact us at [email protected] with the name and email address of the new user and make sure that your email is sent from the registered council email address so that we can identify you.

If you require temporary full access to the accounts to be given to an assistant or other member of the council to support or cover you during this time, this can also be arranged and you can contact us as outlined above to discuss. 

Create A product first!

Create a product first please!

Business as usual

We are operating as usual despite the current situation. We can perform setup and training remotely and are currently offering 3 months free access and same day account set up. Scribe accounts can be accessed from anywhere, on any device.