5 tips for running inclusive virtual meetings

5 tips for running inclusive virtual meetings

By Fiona Hitchiner

We have all been in virtual meetings where you wished you had stayed in your pyjamas as no one could see, let alone hear you, or when the meeting hasn’t been productive due to unclear or no agendas, bad technology or late attendees.

Running great virtual meetings and working flexibly go hand-in-hand.

Virtual meetings have many benefits if they are run properly, they enable people to work flexibly and for the team to benefit from the collective wisdom of a larger group.

With one in three of us now working remotely and this number increasing year-on-year, it is inevitable that at some point you will be part of a virtual or distributed team and therefore virtual meetings. To ensure team collaboration and productivity, inclusive virtual meetings are an essential part of team and organisational success.

Here are a few tips to help make your next virtual team feel more inclusive.

1.     Ensure everyone has access to the meeting technology

This might seem a basic first step but don’t assume everyone knows the technology required to access the meeting or even how to dial in to the meeting, there could be participants who are new to the organisation or the technology being used. If you are the meeting organiser, ensure you include all the information (access codes, URLs, and call in numbers) in the invite, at least a day in advance so participants can test the software. You may also ask participants to log in at least 5 minutes before to test connectivity and ensure the meeting can start on time.

If you are a people leader, ensure your team and any new starters are aware of the technology or systems used to set up and join virtual meetings.

If you are a virtual participant, ensure you give yourself enough time to download, test and dial in to the meeting.

2.     Ensure everyone is aware of the meeting purpose

A few days before the meeting, distribute the meeting purpose, objectives and any materials, this gives everyone space and time to review and reflect on their own thoughts in a way that suits them. It makes participants feel included as it caters for their individual situation, they could be a new team member who might otherwise feel unable to contribute, or someone who is more reserved and prefers time to think deeply about solutions before presenting ideas.

Think about how you can share project or team updates before and after the meeting to allow meetings to be focused on the agenda items.

Allocating ownership of different sections of the agenda can also encourage more active participation and preparation.

Keep agendas short and focused to one or two topics, this helps keep everyone engaged and reduces the desire for participants to start checking emails or working on other projects.

Not all meetings may be suitable for a virtual format, so make sure you align the purpose of the meeting to the format.

3.     Set clear expectations and protocols on how meetings should run

Be explicit about what is expected of each participant and ask everyone to operate within these shared rules and behaviours.

For example:

  • Being punctual – it is common courtesy and shows respect to the other participants

  • Remove distractions - the advantage of virtual meetings is the ability to hold them just about anywhere, however, it is also one of the disadvantage. Just because you may be enjoying a latte in the local café does not mean your fellow participants want to be listening to the coffee machine. Where possible find somewhere quiet or with limited distractions and keep yourself on mute until you are contributing to the discussion.

  • Keep to time - confirm the meeting length and have alternative solutions in place to continue the discussion in other ways (such as collaborative technology) or additional meetings, rather than going over time

  • Ensure only one person speaks at a time

  • Minimise the use of jargon and acronyms

  • Make sure all information is accessible and available, if not then make sure it is read aloud or explained to those who do not have access

  • Be mindful of those joining virtually, ensure everyone can keep up with the pace of discussion and keep focused on the agenda and topics at hand, remember white-boarding concepts is only going to work if everyone is in the same room

4.     Be mindful of the time of the meeting

Co-ordinate schedules that consider individual working patterns, time zones and locations. Ensure that the meeting time is at a reasonable time for the time zones of people attending, if you are not sure ask everyone for their preferred times, expecting people to be able to contribute at 2am is not good business sense.

Also take into consideration the following:

  • The team meeting is being held within the agreed core operating hours

  • Consider team members who work flexibly

  • Consider public holidays in the location of team members attending

5.     Engage participants and encourage active participation

Meetings can often be dominated by one or two people, to avoid this have strategies in place so everyone can participate in a meaningful way and everyone’s opinions is heard.

  • Proactively asking people by name for their opinion, being aware that some people are less assertive, have softer voices or don’t feel comfortable fighting for airtime but they will happily speak up if you offer them the opportunity to do so. If you have shared the agenda and documents in advance and asked participants to prepare their ideas, there is also less risk of them feeling they have been put on the spot.

  • Ask virtual participants to use the chat feature to let the group know they have something to share, when they do raise their virtual hand give them the opportunity to speak.

  • Regularly stop and ask the virtual participants if they can hear, can follow the dialogue and if they want to provide any contributions.

  • Listen and explore everyone’s ideas equally.

  • Allow time for explanations, for people to process information and to think about their response.

So to ensure your next virtual meeting doesn’t end up like this spoof video - remember it is everyone’s responsibility for ensuring virtual meetings are successful not just the host.

Think through how you can be more inclusive, how can you ensure everyone gets the opportunity to contribute and what you can do to make the most of the meeting to achieve better outcomes.

About the Agenda Agency

Fiona Hitchiner is a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at The Agenda Agency - a boutique consulting firm specialising in creating diverse, inclusive and flexible workplaces. Fiona has over 20 years’ experience of working within Diversity & Inclusion, work-life integration, talent acquisition, employee engagement and HR. Fiona is passionate about creating environments where everyone can thrive and feel safe to be themselves and is focused on building authentic, successful and long-lasting relationships between organisations, individuals and communities.