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The Key to Creating Inclusive Business Meetings

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The Key to Creating Inclusive Business Meetings

Back in the spring of 2020, as we all learned how to socially distance and shelter in place, video conferencing became a way of life. It also became a similar experience for all: appearing in a small, Brady Bunch tile on screen, hovering over the mute button, and navigating numerous home distractions, including barking dogs, crying babies, and ringing doorbells.

Now, as organizations reopen offices, with some employees working from home and some from the office, the workday has become challenging. Instead of every single employee connecting from home, the workers who are physically in the office are able to communicate naturally and in person. This means that remote workers who attend meetings from home are unequal participants, sometimes feeling like second-class citizens. They do not have the same access or the same decision-making power that in-person participants experience.

Recent research from Barco, a global technology leader, found that hybrid workers are extremely concerned about meeting inequality and having unproductive work meetings while at home, which is prompting them to consider new opportunities.  

The survey found that 35 percent of employees have trouble engaging in hybrid meetings, and 28 percent believe it is difficult to be heard when joining from an offsite location. Additionally, more than 50 percent think that meeting leaders consistently favor in-person participants when overseeing meetings.

Survey results also show that more than 70 percent of respondents find hybrid meetings to be stressful, based on several factors:

–Difficulty in speaking up, staying focused, and feeling connected

–Adequately hearing all speakers

–Interacting with others

–Getting noticed

–Following side discussions

–Picking up on body language and social cues

–Accessing meeting technology

–Seeing all meeting participants   

Building Effective Meeting Equity

Creating more inclusive meetings requires organizations to refocus their priorities on technology, company culture, and team members. Some suggestions include the following:

Establish meeting ground rules: Always hold one meeting—and not more—

so that every participant has the same experience. For example, ground rules should ensure there are no in-person side conversations or mini groups forming within the larger meeting group. In addition, everyone should raise a hand to guarantee turn taking, and the chat function must be consistently used to support all points and to ask questions.

Use an agenda and rotate leadership: Send a detailed agenda ahead of the meeting, so all participants can review it prior to logging on. Take the initiative before the meeting officially begins, to check in with everyone and review the agenda items, so everyone is on the same page. Rotating the role of meeting moderator gives everyone a chance to be the meeting leader. Consider providing meeting facilitation training to help leaders learn how to effectively lead meetings and engage with all participants.

Have fun and connect with one another: It is important to create an meeting culture where all participants are comfortable and relaxed. And just because it’s a work meeting, it does not mean you can’t laugh, tell jokes, and share personal stories.  

Actively include all participants: Because meetings are typically made up of extroverts and introverts, it is vital to guarantee that every voice is heard. Quiet employees tend to have more trouble speaking up in remote environments with fewer physical cues, so facilitators should consistently ask for everyone’s opinions and insights—and never let one individual dominate the conversation in team meetings.

Follow-up when needed: Inevitably, there will be scenarios where meeting participants do not feel comfortable speaking up or they may need some time to reflect. There also will be situations where one person dominates the conversation or the meeting outcomes are undecided or unclear. To manage these issues, consider conducting meeting follow-ups with individuals or the entire group in order to guarantee that every participant is heard and included.

Create a balanced, open forum: Successful meetings create an environment where all participants feel comfortable asking questions, suggesting changes, disagreeing with others, and pondering decisions. Provide the space to be open and honest, and regularly pause the conversation to ensure all participants feel heard and understood.

Consider technology improvements: All meeting rooms should be equipped with high-quality video and audio tools to help remote participants engage with in-person employees. Think about room configurations and how participants can sit closer to cameras for better engagement. Consider polling capabilities, as well as virtual white boarding, note taking, and meeting transcription tools.

In addition to employees feeling like unequal participants, meeting inequality can also lead to a loss of productivity because equality in group settings equates to positive business outcomes. As a result, organizations must navigate this inequality in order to stay competitive in the market. Hybrid work has clearly become the norm in today’s business world, so organizations must figure out how to eradicate barriers for remote workers and help every employee—remote and onsite—learn how to perform their best, no matter where they are located.

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