Virtual meetings are a big part of the week for many. Many of us work from home all or some of the time in 2022. The pandemic has revolutionised the world of work and remote work now has the centre stage for many jobs across the world. For lots of people, this is a great thing. It offers flexibility and a better work-life balance. Many of us revel in the opportunity to start work in our pyjamas without our managers knowing.
However, for others, remote working can present quite a few accessibility and inclusivity problems. Everyone experiences things differently, especially when someone has a disability or health condition that impacts their everyday life, or when they are part of a particular demographic. This means that different aspects of remote working can be experienced in vastly different ways by members of one team.
An important aspect of remote working is that of the virtual meeting. Depending on your job type and role, you will have a certain number of meetings per day or week with other members of your team. When you are working remotely, these meetings need to take place via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and so on. Seeing each other on those tiny little screen boxes has become a norm for lots of us.
The issue is that these meetings aren’t always inclusive and we might not even realise this. In this blog, we are going to talk more about this and give you our suggestions and tips for making sure your virtual meetings are inclusive. Everyone should be included in every aspect of their work life, always.
The Potential Problems with Virtual Meetings
Even though working from home allows the flexibility to create your own workspace and manage it how you like, it isn’t always an equal experience. Disabled people and people with certain health conditions are often left out when companies and managers are considering work practices and protocols. They are often forgotten about or overlooked.
There is also the issue of diversity-based inclusion in virtual meetings. There have reportedly been issues throughout the pandemic and after of women, people in the BAME community, and trans people feeling excluded or prejudiced against in the virtual form. Male and white privilege can present big problems even in the virtual format. Many people in protected characteristic categories find themselves spoken over and spoken for.
There are lots of people who struggle with virtual meetings. The virtual medium itself can present new and unique challenges, as opposed to real-life meetings. Specific conditions or disabilities that are particularly affected include:
- Blindness/Partial Sight
- Auditory Processing Disorder
Specific demographics that can be affected included:
- Older people
- Trans and non-binary people
- Ethnic minorities and the BAME community
- People whose first language isn’t English
All of these conditions/disabilities and demographics can cause members of staff to struggle to partake in virtual meetings and/or get the same value from them as others. For people with disabilities, they may struggle to hear the information, use the platform, interact, communicate, and keep track of what is happening. For the protected characteristics, they feel more uncomfortable in the virtual platform as their voice isn’t heard or listened to in an equal way to their counterparts. Over time, this situation can impact these employees’ job performance. A lack of inclusivity in virtual meetings can leave members of staff feeling isolated and left behind. Which isn’t fair, equal, or conducive to good work being done.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are proactive strategies you can use to help make your virtual meetings more inclusive. When inclusivity is achieved, your employees should feel much more engaged and relaxed with virtual meetings. This means they can keep up with their work and continue to have good connections with their colleagues.
Inclusivity makes everything better for your entire team, so let’s look at how to achieve it.
Steps to Improving Inclusivity in Virtual Meetings
The following are the steps we believe every employer or manager should follow in order to actively ensure inclusivity in virtual meetings. Of course, there may be some other reasonable adjustments and modifications that may be suited to your team that aren’t mentioned here. The best thing to do is always to listen to your own employees and their needs. That will help you set the best pace.
Set an Agenda Ahead of Time
It can help people to have an agenda ahead of a meeting. This will allow time to prepare which helps with both processing and a sense of readiness. Not bombarding your members of staff with meetings on the fly will help avoid unnecessary stress.
Record the Meeting (With Consent) and Provide Notes
If your team consents to it, recording meetings is a good idea. It means that members of staff who might struggle with audio information and processing can watch or listen to the meeting again and see what they missed the first time. This makes sure that all colleagues get the same information from the meeting regardless of their disability. It also means that you can catch any instances where someone has been spoken over or excluded. Sometimes discrimination can happen under our radar. We need to spot it and tackle it head-on.
Appoint a Meeting Manager
A common problem in virtual meetings is that only some people do the talking and the rest get left behind. Some people will feel much more uncomfortable than others with interrupting and interjecting in meetings. Especially if they are in any of the categories listed above. To make sure everyone is getting a fair say, appoint someone to manage and direct the virtual meeting. This keeps everyone involved.
Allow a Flexible Camera Policy
While everyone having their cameras on in a meeting does help with connection, it isn’t comfortable for everyone. Some people may not feel comfortable showing their working surroundings and others may simply not like to see their own faces on the screen for a long period of time. When possible and appropriate, try and offer a flexible approach to having cameras on or off in a meeting. Giving people will the choice will help make things less overwhelming.
Use Software That Allows Closed Captions
When you are running a virtual meeting, it is important to look at the software you are using and what it offers disabled members of staff. Applications that allow closed captions are great for disabled staff members. If you can, always opt for these options.
Make the Most of the Group Chat Function
For people who struggle with audio information, the group chat function in video conferences can help. Having a mix of both written and audio information will help them to stay engaged with the meeting and get more out of it. Make sure someone is always keeping the group chat updated with how the meeting is progressing.
Allow Extra Time for Disabled and Older Members of Staff to Join the Meeting and Check in Before Starting
Disabled people and older people might need more time to join meetings, depending on what extra equipment or software they need. It can make people feel uncomfortable if there isn’t enough time for them to join and get ready. To help disabled and/or old members of the team feel on the same level as everyone else, allocate some extra time at the start of the meeting for everyone to get ready.
Request Meeting Deedback
Becoming more inclusive is all about being receptive to what your team members want and need. To make sure your virtual meetings are really making a difference, request meeting feedback from your employees to see what is going on for them. If you think they might not be comfortable sharing their opinions, including the option to keep things anonymous can help.
Where to Find Support with Becoming an Inclusive Employer
Being an inclusive employer involves more than just inclusive meetings. It takes a company-wide approach that starts in recruitment and spreads to every area of business life.
Such a process requires a helping hand. At both Aspiring to Include and our sister-site Careers with Disabilities, we can offer you that helping hand. Our expert services for employers can help you dramatically increase the levels of equality, diversity, and inclusivity in your company. We cover everything from job advert screening to posting ads on our designated job board.
To get started, take a look at our employer packages and get in touch if you have any questions.