One recent study found that the average office employee spends 4 to 12 hours a week in meetings, and a majority of those meetings may involve video conferencing platforms. Virtual meetings can involve the same biases as face-to-face meetings, but technology offers an important avenue for ensuring meeting equity and that everyone's needs are met.
Help remove barriers to participation by setting meeting expectations in advance. Meeting leaders can easily do this by sending out an agenda that highlights the goals for the meetings, topics covered, and how time will be used. By setting expectations, individual meeting participants have the opportunity to prepare, think about contributions or questions in advance, and manage any issues that might arise.
Let people know what platform you'll be using, any features available (such as accessibility settings or the hand raise feature), and whether recordings or notes will be distributed after the meeting.
Company culture plays an important role in further supporting meeting equity. The reality of a remote or hybrid workforce is that many individuals may be participating in video calls that offer an inside look at their personal lives that they'd rather not give. In other instances, employees may be juggling meetings with responsibilities such as childcare, elder care, or dealing with sick family members.
Set the tone by scheduling meetings at times that take these issues into account. Create best practices for dealing with distractions, such as blanket permission to mute or turn off cameras, or the option to drop in a false backround or blur it. It can also be helpful to highlight that a pet or child wandering into a room during a meeting happens and should be taken in stride with patience and good humor.
It's also useful to educate teams on the importance of meeting equity and highlight tools and language that can assist with that, from encouraging colleagues to speak up when they witness interruptions to creating space in each meeting to invite anyone to contribute.
Digital meetings offer the ability to lean on technology to improve accessibility. When choosing the technology for a conference space or a company meeting, consider compatibility with different conferencing platforms and explore how they support expanded accessibility. Features such as text-to-speech, captioning, and compatibility with screen readers can increase participation for employees with hearing issues.
Here's a helpful overview of different platforms and their accessibility features for quick reference.
Today's online videoconferencing solutions include a wide range of features that can make it easier for users to contribute. Often, power dynamics can influence who has time to speak. Someone with a dominant personality may get more airtime than an introvert or someone who takes time to process information, for example. Several features can help with that.
The hand raise feature, for example, can alert event facilitators that specific employees want to speak. Enabling a chat function also allows people to ask questions who might not be comfortable speaking up or whose immediate environment may not be conducive to turning on a camera and volume in the moment. Leveraging the "display names" function enables employees to share their pronouns on screen as desired, too.
Early in the pandemic, many managers hoping to foster greater connection and inclusivity encouraged employees to keep cameras on. New research suggests that requiring employees to keep their cameras on increases Zoom fatigue and may disproportionately affect women and new employees. The researchers report that issues ranged from concerns over backgrounds that might reveal details of socioeconomic status or childcare responsibilities to the "grooming gap" that often holds female employees to stricter appearance standards.
Digital meeting equity is a critical consideration to maximizing productivity and delivering the best possible employee experience in today's hybrid work landscape. Technology is making it easier than ever to support meetings that are productive, create space for everyone to speak, and accommodate accessibility concerns.