7 Ways to Have More Inclusive Virtual Meetings

more inclusive virtual meetings

By Yvonne Milosevic

Like it or no, the COVID-19 pandemic dragged us all into the Zoom Era. But chances are, businesses will still rely on virtual meetings even after the crisis. That’s why we need to reimagine diversity and inclusion efforts initially tailored for the in-person office environment. A big part of that effort is finding ways to have more inclusive virtual meetings with our teams.

Today, we’re sharing ideas for improving virtual meeting hygiene inspired by social psychologist and NYU Stern professor Dolly Chugh. Her spot-on TED article shares several easy ways we can make the most of virtual platforms. If you want to create an environment where everyone thrives in challenging times, then follow these seven simple steps.

1. Clarify names.

Sometimes, you may not know everyone participating in the meeting. To remedy that, ask each person to share their preferred name and phonetic spelling in the chatbox.

“Each participant should do this, not just those with ‘hard’ names,” Chugh says. “I am less likely to avoid interacting with someone—which is the opposite of inclusive—when I have confidence that I am saying their name correctly.”

more inclusive virtual meetings

2. Share pronouns.

Respecting gender pronouns at work is also vital to fostering an inclusive environment. Education organization GLSEN emphasizes the shift away from the term “preferred gender pronoun.” The better term is simply “pronoun.”

This change occurred because a person’s pronouns are not just preferred; they’re the pronouns that must be used.

Edit your name to include pronouns or clarify in the chat function. Ideally, everyone should do this, not only a subset of participants, Chugh notes.

3. Create an icebreaker.

With virtual meetings, we tend to get down to business right away. But the simple addition of a social element at the start helps recreate the rapport of face-to-face encounters. We especially like this suggestion shared by Laura Butler in Workfront.

“I often start virtual meetings by asking everyone to give me one word that describes how they’re feeling right now,” Butler explains. “It offers everyone the chance to speak up, right at the beginning of the meeting, putting each participant on an exactly equal footing.”

“Most importantly, this exercise gives me valuable clues into everyone’s current status,” she adds. “A person who’d normally be reluctant to volunteer that they’re struggling might be willing to say a simple ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘tired,’ which signals me to follow up with them individually.”

4. Assess accessibility needs.

Many platforms already have some accessibility features, such as closed captioning, to ensure virtual meetings are more inclusive. But closed captioning can help all participants, not only the hearing impaired. Most people are visual learners and can understand and better remember information they read in captions. Likewise, some platforms allow you to enlarge the captioning font, which helps those with visual impairment.

Having more inclusive virtual meetings also means checking in to assess all participants’ tech accessibility—not only those who have identified themselves as needing an accommodation, says Chugh.

5. Make meeting recordings or transcripts available.

Many professionals working from home are also taking care of children or aging parents. All this multitasking affects both our concentration and availability as a result. Recordings or transcripts help people catch up later if they must miss a meeting.

6. Review who’s doing all the talking.

“The higher-power, more extroverted, majority-demographic people are more likely to take up disproportionate airtime, receive credit, be given the benefit of the doubt, and interrupt others,” Chugh says. Make notes during the meeting, or review a recording to see who does—and doesn’t—speak up.

A successful and inclusive virtual meeting ensures that everyone’s voice matters. Even those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in front of a crowd, Sarah Greesonbach writes in this GlassDoor article.

Consider building in different forms of communication—via chat, being invited to speak, emailing before or after the meeting—so everyone can contribute in the way they feel most comfortable, Greesonbach suggests.

7. Ask for feedback.

Despite best intentions, bias and microaggressions can still happen during virtual meetings. That’s why leaders must ask for feedback from participants on a regular basis. They can learn whether employees have run into any issues that prevent them from contributing during meetings.

“This gives employees who experience bias or discrimination a chance to flag it for you, even if you’ve missed it,” Greesonbach explains. Be mindful of how you ask for feedback, though. For example, allow for private or anonymous ways to share feedback to avoid putting employees on the spot.

We hope these seven tips help you run more inclusive virtual meetings in the future. For other morale-boosting recommendations, check out this post with 4 Tips for Virtual Meetings Success.