During the thick of COVID, a Gartner poll indicated that 48 percent of employees expect to work remotely at least part-time after the pandemic subsides. That’s up from 30 percent before COVID-19. And now, those numbers have only gone up. Future-thinking organizations have become increasingly determined to embed remote work into workforce planning for both the short term and as part of more transformative hybrid-workforce models. But to begin doing this, it’s important to start with at intersection of where all employees — remote or in office — communicate, and figure out how to hold more inclusive meetings.
Two of the largest challenges employers note when considering remote and hybrid workforce models are culture and communication. While not impossible to nurture culture when employees are remote, many find maintaining cultural alignment and figuring out that uniquely defining way of how the company operates become more difficult without in-person collaboration – especially for new hires.
And then there’s communication — whether in person or not — it’s always a complicated matter. It’s a long held belief that meetings tend to function most efficiently when everyone is together, but that certainly no longer means we all have to be in the same physical room, does it?
What compounds both of these challenges in our new working reality is the issue of inclusiveness — critical to culture and key to efficient communication. Different from diversity, inclusion is the degree to which employees feel valued, respected, accepted, and encouraged to fully participate in the organization. A company’s workforce may be diverse, but if employees do not feel safe, welcomed, and valued, that company is not inclusive and will not perform to its highest potential.
So how do we create more inclusive remote or hybrid working environments? Let’s start with something we all do every single day — meetings! Remote work is here to stay so part of the approach must lie in how we conduct meetings. What follows is a short but immediately impactful list of some of the most effective ways you can start fostering more inclusive meetings — including tapping into one of the best-kept secrets of future workplaces.
1. Inclusive meetings requiring planning
Prep and send your agenda ahead of time: If you’re organizing a meeting, provide your meeting agenda one day ahead of time. By sending out an agenda in advance, you’re designing a more inclusive meeting.
Why? By default, we as human beings are introspective, and it doesn’t matter if you’re introverted or extraverted either. 87% of extraverts and 86% of introverts agree that they pay a lot of attention to the meaning of your own thoughts and actions. So while it may require more time to formalize an agenda, you’re also ensuring that your attendees have time to prepare and come to the meeting with more thoughtful inputs — introverts and extraverts alike.
Keep schedules in mind: In our new working normal, many of us have exchanged in-office colleagues for roommate-partner-coworker combos. Some of those new ‘coworkers’ are four-legged, non-humans and some are even mini versions of ourselves. Many parents are trying to keep their kids on track with virtual and hybrid learning while they work from home. And others might care for older family members. This could mean limited windows of quality meeting time during the day.
If you’re a meeting organizer, you can try to account for these various situations. Check in with your colleagues about the best blocks for meetings and avoid times when parents on your team might need to be more hands-on with kids — and you might find yourself with more engaged meeting attendees.
2. Welcoming one & all is at the heart of inclusive meetings
Take scheduling considerations to the next level by clearly articulating an ‘All Are Welcome Here.”
Often, people feel the need to apologize when a child, animal, or parent interrupts or disrupts. In these situations, how you respond can make or break your meeting vibe. Based on the situation, you can foster a welcoming environment with one of the following:
No need to apologize. X takes precedence.
I love having the opportunity to see X…
I know that X needs your attention. Please feel free to jump off if needed or turn your camera/sound off — whatever’s most convenient, and just rejoin when you can.
Not responding in one of these ways will only make team members working from home feel less than, unwelcomed, or like they have to hide away important parts of their lives.
Speaking of important parts of our lives…many video meeting tools allow users to change their display names, and as you might have seen, some people have added their personal pronouns. Begin with yourself and encourage team members to insert their pronouns, and you’ll start cultivating a culture that recognizes that you can’t assume someone’s gender, identity, or pronouns by looking at them. When you start welcoming one and all, you’ll soon find a team that’s all for one and one for all.
3. Don’t just be open, be accessible
If you’re in software or SaaS, you know how important Accessibility is for your products! Why should it be any different for how you operate internally and the tools you use with your own team? Look for video tech that can help everyone participate in meetings more meaningfully.
Some video conferencing solutions offer live closed captions, which appear as someone speaks, for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. There is also video meeting software available for people who are blind/have low vision and use screen readers that turn text, images, and other elements into audio or braille. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and BlueJeans all offer live closed captions that are created by artificial intelligence. Zoom offers live closed captioning if you type them in yourself or use a third-party service. All of these programs are also screen reader accessible.
The tools you or your company select to use are important. Advocate for more accessible platforms, and you’ll be demonstrating a commitment to inclusive meetings.
4. Make feedback king
You can take a number of steps to make your meetings more inclusive, but don’t forget that one of the best ways to improve everyone’s experiences is simple… feedback. Just as in the many other aspects of our work, be sure to get your team members’ feedback about what’s working and what’s not.
If you’re a manager, start a conversation with your team about what they think could be improved on how video meetings are run — and make sure you’re inclusive of ways to submit that feedback! Why is this important? Studies show that the majority of women in the workforce feel excluded from decision making and uncomfortable expressing their opinions. In fact, a survey from Culture Amp showed two thirds of women feel they can voice a dissenting opinion without fear of repercussion (versus 80% of men), so be sure you’re practicing inclusion with this very activity!
Encourage team members to write out a few simple suggestions.
While organizations are creating settings in which people feel that they can speak up freely without fear of negative consequences, such environments take time to nurture. You could use a shared “whiteboard” like Padlet, which allows people to give feedback or make comments anonymously.
You could also deploy a survey that covers video meeting inclusivity. Afterwards, disaggregate the data to look at race, gender, and other demographics, and you might find larger quantities of feedback from particular groups, such as women of color or those who identify as LGBTQ+, common feedback themes or specific issues among particular identities on your team.
Looking at the intersections of all of this feedback can help you identify if there are pockets of people who are not feeling included in how you’re conducting meetings, and importantly, they may have suggestions that will make all the difference.
5. Don’t just hold but make space for more inclusive meetings
Hello quiet meeting people and those who have trouble getting a word in edgewise…this one’s for you.
As the meeting organizer, pay attention to who is speaking the most—and who keeps getting interrupted. A few different studies have found that women are interrupted more frequently than men, and that men specifically interrupt women more than they do other men. Other studies have shown how men dominate meetings, calls, and other contexts. A July 2020 survey by the nonprofit Catalyst with Edelman Intelligence found that 45% of female leaders (and 42% of male leaders) agreed that “it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings, and that one in five women reports feeling overlooked by coworkers during video calls.
To hold more inclusive meetings, at some point in every meeting, say something like:
Okay, let’s pause here, and I’d like to invite anyone who hasn’t had a chance to talk yet to come off of mute and share their thoughts. Not only are you opening the floor to all (as opposed to calling on a specific person who might not be prepared at that moment), you’re also demonstrating consideration to those who maybe just had a child potentially disrupt their train of thought by climbing into their lap — it’s happening more than you think!
You can also break groups up so that people who have trouble speaking in larger settings have a chance to contribute ideas with just a few colleagues. For instance, if you’re having the team brainstorm for an upcoming project, you could split them up into smaller breakout groups for a set period of time, and then have a representative from each group report back to with the best ideas.
6. Take cameras and hand-raising to the next level
First and foremost, use the tools and functionality you have at your disposal.
Consider including a note in the calendar invite for meetings that says turning your camera on is optional. By forcing people to turn on their camera, you get a peek into their personal life that they might not be willing to share. Maybe someone lives in a more crowded household, or they might have had a hectic morning that didn’t permit them to get ready in the way they’d like. Being able to turn cameras off without fear of rebuke allows all of these people to join without feeling self-conscious or anxious about their home lives.
Leverage all of the different features your video platform has to make it easier for everyone to contribute. For example, encourage the hand raise feature, allowing someone to signal when they have something to say, which can be useful for people who don’t like to interject.
The private chat function is also helpful for managers to help people who have trouble thinking on the spot. Rather than calling on someone without warning, chat them and let them know you’d like them to share XYZ in a few minutes. This will help them prepare, and they can also alert you if they need more time. As a meeting attendee, you can also use the chat feature to encourage a fellow colleague to share an important idea.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, if you want better quality, more inclusive meetings, you have to get emotional!
That’s right, one of the most important tools in the virtual meeting toolkit is EQ or emotional intelligence, and as we settle into permanent remote and hybrid work, it’s going to be imperative to demonstrate and help your team members build emotional intelligence and deeper human connection if you want more inclusive meetings. Becoming an emotionally inclusive and intelligent organization begins with putting such insights at the fingertips of every employee, where they communicate most often — and for most of us now, that’s in video meetings.
Do you use Slack calls, Microsoft Teams, and calendar invitations to arrange your meetings? Obviously you said yes, but you’re probably not optimizing your use of those tools by integrating emotional intelligence for your team. With a simple and easily integrated plug-in, you (and the rest of your meeting team because we’re all about including everyone!) will have the kind of information needed to better communicate and collaborate with one another in meetings.
Imagine being able to click on meeting participants and see real-time tips and recommendations for communicating, motivating, and influencing them. Imagine seeing this same information in aggregate for your meeting group. Imagine knowing who best to tap on for pre- or post-meeting action items, for helping lead the meeting, and who might benefit from a heads up on certain agenda items — all of which takes into account your meeting participants’ behaviors, motivators, and work styles in an easy-to-understand way.
Some have called it “a transformational tool for remote work that allows for informed collaboration and communication.” Some might even say it’s the best-kept future of work secret that will help you and your team members better prepare for and organize meetings, understand individual and collective communication insights, and figure out how to re-energize the collaborative juices for teams who have never met in person.
For more strategies to optimize collaboration among team members and accelerate team effectiveness this year, download our latest ebook.