How to Make Virtual Meetings & Events More Inclusive

Insights -

Inclusive: not excluding any of the parties or groups involved in something.

Facilitation: helps a group of people to work together better, understand their common objectives, and plan how to achieve these objectives, during meetings or discussions.

As everyone continues to adjust to the technology and routines necessary to facilitate work meetings, retreats, and other events virtually, company cultures—and thus, company ideation and output—are suffering. In fact, research from Slack states that nearly half of remote workers, and particularly those workers who belong to BIPOC populations, have experienced a decrease in belonging, inclusion, and productivity. This has had a sizable impact on company resilience during COVID-19.

“The crisis accelerated the digital transformation of the workplace, and rapidly expanded the idea of what a workplace can be. Going digital can either help solve a company’s inclusion issues, or make them worse,” reports the business news site, TNW

After all, office-related tribalism and other toxic work culture elements can fester and influence the environment of the virtual workplace. So it’s incredibly important companies start incorporating better workplace practices that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion now. –TNW
inclusive virtual meeting

If your company is one that’s failing to facilitate virtual work experiences that feature and value diverse voices and ideas, this can have cataclysmic effects on employee morale, customer retention, and your company’s innovative potential into the future.

“Diversity and inclusion are at risk in the crisis—but are critical for business recovery, resilience, and reimagination,” reports McKinsey. “[C]ompanies pulling back on I&D now may be placing themselves at a disadvantage: they could not only face a backlash from customers and talent now but also, down the line, fail to better position themselves for growth and renewal. Some of the qualities that characterize diverse and inclusive companies—notably innovation and resilience—will be much in need as companies recover from the crisis.

Clearly, making diversity and inclusion a priority as you facilitate virtually is absolutely imperative for an organization’s success. Not sure where to start in encouraging it? Here are a few tips for making virtual facilitation more inclusive of diverse voices and ideas.

Achieve Greater Inclusion By Bridging Gaps In Access To Technology

inclusive virtual meeting

In “How To Create A Great Company Culture From A Distance,” I wrote how providing your employees with the tools they need to participate in virtual events is essential in creating a great work from home company culture. A big reason why this strategy bolsters diversity and inclusion in your company is that it can help close the technology accessibility gap that is often disproportionately felt by BIPOC.

In the pursuit of a successful virtual event that is inclusive, employers should try to be understanding and flexible around technology failures and, even more, ensure employees have equal access to the resources they need to participate. The surest way to do this is through employee benefits that include stipends or reimbursements for home office equipment.

“[By doing this,] companies are saying, ’We want to make sure you’re both comfortable and productive,” Danielle Lackey, chief legal officer at Motus, a workforce management company, told CNBC.

In fact, nearly a third of companies are already offering some sort of reimbursement to employees during this time, according to a recent survey by Mercer, to make working—and participating in workshops—from home more approachable. 

And, while this may seem like an expensive move for any company that isn’t Amazon or Google—it can actually be less expensive than previous ways of doing business. After all, remote work itself is less costly for companies, and when you invest in every employee’s health and happiness, there’s an ample return on investment. 

“We looked at the cost savings from office maintenance, snacks, and travel during this time and we repurposed it back towards a $500 stipend,” says Marco Osso, VP of employment success at mobile retail platform app Tulip. “We provide quite a few employee perks in the office. So there are significant savings.”

Overall, many companies who’ve adjusted their benefits programs to address inequities in access to technology—while also providing childcare and health and wellness programs—boast smoother sailing during the pandemic, including better employee retention and productivity.

Rather than simply pocketing the savings made from remote work, ethical companies understand that their most important assets are their people – and it’s in their interest to look after them. – Timely

Use Inclusive Virtual Facilitation Tools and Techniques

girl on laptop

Along with addressing employee access to technology outright, being thoughtful about the virtual tools and integrations used during your event can bolster inclusion.

For instance, BCG reports in their study of new remote workers, “Employees who are satisfied with their tools are about twice as likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks as those not satisfied with their tools.”

Virtual Facilitation Tools for Inclusion

a. Embrace Video

Holding a video meeting through Zoom, Skype, Google Meets, or any other platform is automatically more inclusive than any audio-only event. Video allows people of all walks to be visible, allowing for the acknowledgment and appreciation of difference.

“With audio-only, non-native speakers of the call’s language are at an automatic disadvantage,” reports facilitator Martin Gilbraith. “When we encourage the use of video to build personal connections, we reveal differences in skin colour, clothing and calling location.”

b. Plan for Closed Captioning and ASL Interpretation

Using closed captioning in your event is also key to including folks who are deaf or mute. Captioning from a third-party company can be easily integrated on Zoom, applications like Google Slides now offer captioning, and you can bring a sign language interpreter into your video conference to help further include those with disabilities.

c. Don’t Forget to Record

Additionally, recording important workshops or retreats, so that those who cannot participate at the scheduled time can easily catch up later, allows more flexibility for participants. This flexibility honors different ways of life, like parents with childcare and homeschool obligations, those dealing with time-zone differences, and people who observe non-Christian holidays or traditions. The Verge shows you how to record meetings on virtually every video conferencing platform.

Virtual Facilitation Techniques for Inclusion

a. Start With A Land Acknowledgement

One big and often-overlooked way to honor and include folks of indigenous roots is to acknowledge the history of the land you, as the facilitator, convener, or emcee, are standing on through a verbal or written statement. While these statements shouldn’t sugarcoat the past, they don’t have to be grim:  “They should function as living celebrations of Indigenous communities. Ask yourself, ‘How am I leaving Indigenous people in a stronger, more empowered place because of this land acknowledgment?’  Focus on the positivity of who Indigenous people are today,” as The Native Governance Center notes.

b. Use Inclusive Language

One great and relatively simple way to show that your workshop is designed for everyone is to make sure all materials and all spoken segments use inclusive language. Inclusive language is that which avoids slang, turns of phrases, and other words that may promote biases or discrimination against a certain group. This includes the obvious, like avoiding racial or homophobic slurs, and defaulting to gender-neutral pronouns (they/them) in order to include a wider range of attendee experiences. Facilitators can model desirable behavior by being the first to act, for example by renaming yourself in a Zoom meeting and adding your preferred gender pronouns after your name. This HubSpot article provides additional tips for incorporating inclusive language into your hiring practices, your marketing materials, and more.

c. Offer Participants Multiple Ways to Engage

As you facilitate a meeting for a large group, offering different ways for attendees to speak up can encourage more people to share their ideas. For instance, by utilizing virtual break-out rooms, one of Zoom’s more clever functions, facilitators can break larger groups into multiple smaller groups and periodically check in on participants. Not only does this provide workshop attendees the chance to get to know their peers more personally, but it helps provide space for those who’d rather share in smaller, more private settings. As a general rule, the more ways you can offer participants to engage, the better.

As your company continues to try and forge a path forward during this uncertain and troubling time, facilitating virtual workshops is a great way to appreciate, teach, and have fun with your employees while also creating a path for the company’s future. Above all, as you design your virtual meetings, workshops, and events for inclusion, it’s paramount that employers have empathy and understanding for their employees—particularly for BIPOC and employees from other underrepresented groups who are disproportionately affected by coronavirus. From there, you reap the plethora of benefits diversity and inclusion create—including better employee morale, enhanced innovation, and better company resilience overall.

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Coonoor Behal
written by

Coonoor Behal

Coonoor Behal is Founder & CEO of Mindhatch, and an experienced and recognized business strategy and innovation consultant with focused expertise in design thinking, improvisation, and innovation facilitation.

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One response to “How to Make Virtual Meetings & Events More Inclusive”

  1. I think our office is really trying to work with employees during the work at home time during the pandemic. There was a strong push toward telecommuting before the pandemic with 2 work at home days. However, the pandemic pushed the envelope with FT work from home if available (i.e. not retail, etc.). I think many companies were really able to make it happen.

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