How to Facilitate Inclusive Video Calls

As of late, video calls take up a large portion of our day, and they are the closest we can get to in-person team meetings. Seeing as this is unlikely to change any time soon, it’s important to acknowledge some issues that can come with video conferencing, and equip ourselves with the tools to mitigate those challenges. Video calls are likely to exacerbate biases that already existed in meetings, and present new areas where bias can come up.

Unconscious Bias in Video Conferencing

One of the most common biases in team meetings is that smart people think quickly on their feet. This is a common misconception and can prevent a large portion of meeting participants from having their voices and ideas heard. There are two types of people, those who think out loud, and those who think quietly and thoroughly before voicing their thoughts. When we are in large video calls, it can be particularly difficult for the latter to cut in, as there might be a number of different extroverted thinkers owning the mic. It is also challenging to “read the room” during video calls, so facilitators may not be able to spot when someone is trying to take the podium.

Additionally, it’s no secret that work from home culture has significantly thrown off our work life balance. Some employees may not provide themselves with that necessary, pre-work, morning prep time to prepare themselves for a full work day. It’s not uncommon for people to turn on their webcams with that first cup of coffee in hand, garbed in their favorite hoodie, with some slightly unkempt hair. This, met with co-workers newfound peek into our bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, or any space we have converted into our home office can elicit bias from coworkers and further prevent certain voices from being heard in meetings. Not to mention the regular interruptions from children, pets, or roommates.

So, how can we combat some of these challenges that are specific to video conferencing from home? Here are a few tips that managers and meeting facilitators can implement to keep meetings fair, and ensure that all voices are heard.

10 Inclusive Video Call Tips

1. Send an agenda ahead of time

Sending out an itinerary in advance, and informing attendees on some of the things that will be discussed will allow more people to share their thoughts.

2. Get people talking with an ice-breaker

Sometimes all it takes is for the team leader to break the tension with a quick check in at the beginning of the meeting. Ask everyone how their morning went, make some small talk while you wait for everyone to drop into the call, or even send out a fun prompt! “If you could travel anywhere in the world right now…”

3. Call out specific people

This may be difficult in larger meetings, but if the call allows for it, invite people to share their opinions on a specific issue. Try to be cognizant of when someone wants to speak up, but is being drowned out by some of the more talkative attendees.

4. Encourage people to engage in the chat room

Alternatively, invite the group to queue up their thoughts, questions, and feedback in the chat section. Then when time allows, go through the list and invite people to expand on their comments. This will encourage people to participate without forcing them to interrupt the speaker.

5. Snuff out any unfair interruptions

If someone who might not normally speak up is sharing their thoughts, and one of the more talkative participants interrupts them, kindly use your position as a meeting facilitator to allow that person to speak. A simple “We’ll get to that but let’s allow Maria to finish her thought first.” goes a long way in terms of inclusion. See it in action here:

6. Welcome interruptions!

Many employees may have children running around in the background of their video calls, dogs barking, or in a shared workspace with someone in a meeting. Express understanding at these factors, so meeting attendees don’t feel obligated to mute their mics and turn off their video, thus shutting themselves out from the meeting.

7. Carve out time for open discussion

Include an “Open Discussion” item on your agenda. This may limit interruptions and also allow for a more candid conversation near the end of the meeting.

8. Mute non-presenters

Encourage all attendees to mute their microphones if they are not actively speaking. This will limit background noise and create space and opportunities for those who are speaking to fully take the stage.

9. Use virtual backgrounds

If a presenter uses a virtual background, this might encourage other participants to follow suit. This will limit some of the inherent bias insecurity that allows coworkers to enter our homes virtually.

10. Allow participants to turn off video

While this may not always be the best practice for engagement, it is one for inclusion. Video call fatigue is real, and it can take a serious toll on employee energy levels. If someone wants to turn their video off for a meeting, they should be allowed to do so, while still being invited to participate in the discussion.

If you found these tips and tricks helpful, we encourage you to explore some of our other resources and send them to your team. You may be interested in our TipSheet, How to Effectively Manage Your Remote Team and this guide to Building Working Relationships from Home.

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John Wiese

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