How to Make Virtual Meetings More Inclusive

How to Make Virtual Meetings More Inclusive

Virtual meetings are a vital part of our modern remote work culture. Meeting over Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet can help bring remote coworkers together in a face-to-face environment and create bonds that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. That said, virtual meetings come with their own unique issues – and can exacerbate existing difficulties for running a productive meeting.

They also present challenges for anyone with different needs or who normally deals with barriers to participation. It’s important for business leaders to mitigate the difficulties posed by these technologies to create an inclusive environment. Below are eight virtual meeting best practices to improve inclusivity.

Person on a virtual meeting with a diverse group of colleagues on a laptop screen.

1: Normalize the Use of Pronouns

Normalizing the use of pronouns in meeting introductions can help make transgender and gender non-conforming people feel more welcome in your virtual meetings. Set the standard by introducing yourself with your pronouns at the beginning of your virtual meetings, even if you’re cisgender. This should create a natural space where anyone can advocate for their correct pronouns within the normal flow of the meeting.

Pronouns can also be listed after an employee’s name on the virtual meeting platform itself, as well as in other work platforms like Slack or email signatures. 

2: Consider Accessibility

It is important to consider the accessibility needs of your employees. Ultimately, the right accommodations will depend on your audience, so be sure to ask your employees about their accessibility needs. The following are some accessibility options that most employers should consider:

  • Offer closed captioning if it is offered on your meeting program
  • Offer sign language interpretation
  • Ensure your platform is compatible with screen reading software
  • Make recordings and transcripts of your meeting available

3: Provide Multiple Ways to Participate

Create a safe and welcoming environment where all of your employees feel comfortable participating. You can start by setting ground rules and expectations at the beginning of your meeting. For instance, you could explicitly say that jumping in to ask a question is encouraged. 

Some employees may not feel comfortable speaking up during a meeting. Try encouraging people to drop their questions in the chat section of the meeting or blocking off time for a designated question and answer period.

Creating more ways to participate is likely to increase overall participation from your employees.

4: Use the Chat Function

Some people find it difficult to process auditory and text inputs at the same time. Therefore, it is important to create time for them to process information so that their voices can be heard in your virtual meetings. 

One way to do this is to ask everyone you would like to participate to submit their answer to a question in the chat. This gives everyone time to think through their response while allowing for multiple answers to come in simultaneously. You can then call out ideas you’re seeing in the chat to be discussed by the group.

5: Use Visual Aids

Visual aids are one of those virtual meeting best practices that also applies to in-person meetings. There are several reasons why it is helpful to have a slide, image, or video to reference during your meeting. For any meeting where metrics, costs, or statistics are being used, visual aids can communicate a lot of information very quickly and eliminate the need for a presenter to read every datapoint to get their message across.

Furthermore, visual aids can be helpful for people who do not share the first language of everyone else in the meeting. 

6: Build in Breaks

A recent survey found that 49% of U.S. employees are experiencing virtual meeting fatigue. It also found that 54% of respondents say they’re attending more meetings now (virtually) than they were before the pandemic (in person). Virtual meetings can be taxing, particularly for remote employees who are calling in to meetings that are taking place in person. 

In these hybrid meeting scenarios, it can be easy to read the energy of the room you’re in at the risk of ignoring how your colleagues over Zoom are feeling. Building breaks into your agenda can ensure that everyone stays fresh for a longer period of time, which is likely to result in more effective meetings.

7: Be Mindful of Time Zones

Stay mindful of the time zones that your employees work in, especially if you regularly schedule meetings with people from across multiple time zones. You want to avoid a situation in which some people are working too late or others are having to wake up outside of business hours for a call. 

Ultimately this comes down to making a compromise that works for everyone. For example, a morning meeting with attendees from both the east and west coasts could start at 11:00a.m. EST / 8:00a.m. PST. This is a little late for a morning meeting on the east coast, but a reasonable time to ask your west coast employees to wake up for a meeting.

8: Have a Facilitator

It can be easy to lose sight of making your virtual meeting more inclusive once you get into your presentation, so it’s a smart idea to have a facilitator who is dedicated to moderating the conversation. A good facilitator can be the voice for anyone in a meeting who might not otherwise be heard.

They can also keep track of the agenda and make sure that the meeting does not go over time. 

The Bottom Line

Advocating for more inclusive virtual meetings is not only best for your employees and meeting compliance requirements, but it should also make your meetings more efficient and productive. Beyond the tips shared above, it’s helpful to seek input from your employees on other ways to make your virtual meetings better for everyone.

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