How to run inclusive virtual meetings: Prework

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

No matter where or how a meeting might take place, here at SGO we’re always focusing on inclusive meetings. As we settle into virtual everything being our normal for the foreseeable future, it’s important to ensure we’re conducting inclusive virtual meetings as well. COVID was a major impetus for many formerly resistant businesses to get on board with virtual versus in-person meetings. However, one silver lining to companies shifting work to the virtual space is that by nature, virtual meetings can be more accessible in general, and allow for greater inclusivity. There are different challenges that may come up (for example, it’s harder to read body language, visual, vocal and other interpersonal cues virtually than it is in person), but if we truly want to support equity, these are challenges we have to address. 

Before the meeting

Before your meetings even begin, there are a number of questions you’ll want to ask yourself and other meeting facilitators:

  • Who’s invited? Is everyone invited who needs to be there? Is anyone invited who doesn’t need to be there? When your entire team is sitting in the same building within your line of sight, it’s easy to  make sure no one is left out. Remote teams may require more wrangling to get in one virtual place. Org charts and project management outlines can be a great resource to keep track of who should be included.
  • Are there any religious/holiday conflicts? Keep in mind that you can’t assume anyone’s cultural or religious identity. You don’t want to put your attendees in a position where they need to choose between missing out on work and observing an important ritual for their family. Take a second to research or look up any conflicts. If you have someone on your team who handles scheduling for you, make sure to have a conversation with them so they approach scheduling in this mindset. 
  • What time zones are your attendees located in? With physical location meaning less and less every day, attendees may be working from different time zones and different schedules. It’s easy to check in on time preferences, and also easy to set some guidelines in place so no one should ever need to take a 4 AM or 11 PM call. 
  • Have you provided clear communication on agendas, how to access everything, and what to do if problems arise? Everyone is more comfortable when they have clear expectations and know about the virtual spaces they’re entering. Send out agendas in advance, and include contact information if there are agenda requests. If an attendee requires additional support or accessibility modifications, it’s great to spell out the options ahead of time and to make sure they know who their point person is. 
  • How does the technology work? If you’re not very familiar with your virtual technology platform, test it out beforehand! Set up any polls or breakout rooms in advance, make sure that you have set up the appropriate features you want (e.g. does the meeting have a waiting room enabled? Are people able to unmute themselves? Are they able to chat with each other or not? Is it going to be recorded?)
  • What’s your ‘Plan B’? Have a backup plan, because as we all know,  technology isn’t perfect. Wi-Fi and/or power goes out, computer batteries die, etc. If your platform supports a shared host, make sure you’ve assigned one. Is there a dial-in number included as well? Have a plan in place so other facilitators and/or team members know what to do if anyone loses their connection or is having technical difficulties.
  • What are the expectations? There are countless options here. If you expect that attendees will have their video on or off, say so. If calling in from a phone is ok, let your attendees know. Will you have an assigned note taker who will follow up after the meeting? Tell your attendees so they don’t have to juggle taking notes. Make it clear which platform you are using ahead of time so everyone can test their access. Does everyone joining have internet access? Phone access? You may have to adjust your expectations based on who is going to be participating and what needs or capabilities they have. 
  • What’s the expected meeting structure? Decide and advise ahead of time if you’re planning on having everyone on mute, if they’ll have the ability to unmute, if there is a chat box or Q&A function, etc. Give thought to how your facilitators will lift up voices. You’re inviting your guests for a reason, make sure you are able to hear from them. 
  • How long is the meeting? If your meeting will go beyond an hour, build in time for breaks. People may need to get up and stretch, take a bio break, attend to children or pets in their home and workspace.
  • What’s the working language for participants? Do you need translators/interpreters? If you don’t know what your participants will need at this point, ask during the planning stage. It’s becoming easier to incorporate options like closed captioning into meetings and presentations, but you also don’t want to assume what language options people will need. 

As you can see, ensuring inclusive virtual meetings is a bit more involved than simply picking a time and sending out a calendar invite. If you take some prep time, the result will be more effective, widely inclusive meetings that produce better outcomes.

Stay tuned for our next blog post in this series, which will address what to keep in mind during the meeting itself! 

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