Virtual Teams

Are online meetings more inclusive?

As online meetings become a bigger part of how we collaborate, what impact will that have on inclusivity?

There is some evidence that people who are more introverted, or from cultures where speaking out or interrupting are less common, find it easier to get their message across through chat, polls and other forms of online interaction.

It is also often easier for people less confident in speaking in a second language to participate through text. Text gives us a little longer to select the right words and many people have a higher capability in understanding a written language than speaking it fluently.

Whether online meetings are more inclusive will depend on how we facilitate them. If we just replace them with video calls then attention will tend to remain with those who speak the most. On many online meeting platforms, the main video display defaults to whoever is speaking, which tends to remove focus on those who stay silent.

If, however, we use a wide range of interactivity such as chat, Q&A, polls, annotation etc. then we give people opportunities to participate in a wide range of different styles.

A good example is brainstorming. It is well known that in a collective context people will tend to inhibit their ideas depending on the status of the other people in the room, their language skills and confidence. That’s why collective brainstorming in a face to face meeting is not the best way to get a large volume of ideas. You generate more ideas by asking individuals to come up with ideas separately. We can then use the group to evaluate, improve and build on those ideas.

Virtual meetings give you many more opportunities to harness large numbers of individual contributions from people with a wide range of participation and thinking styles in parallel. It would be very hard to achieve this in a traditional face to face meeting or just using video.

For people less comfortable with written communication we can access drawing tools, pointers and highlighters to collect opinions and input.

One technique we often use is to keep a tally of how often people speak on an online meeting and make a point to bring people who haven’t contributed into the conversation by asking a question or sending them a personal message through chat.

You can also replicate some of the functions of a well-managed face to face conversation by using the hand raise function on many online meeting platforms to indicate when someone has a question or wants to speak.

Online meetings will not automatically make our meetings more inclusive, but they do give us an opportunity to make more voices heard and to overcome some of the barriers to communication that we find in face to face meetings.

How else do you make your online meetings more inclusive?

If you would like to develop the skills to run more inclusive and engaging online meetings please get in touch

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