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Virtually present: how to hear every voice in a hybrid setting

By Shaun Beedle

Shaun Beedle

How many Teams calls have you joined today?

I counted eight, including two in which I was unexpectedly joined by Percy-Manolo, my dog. Chances are if you are reading this at the end of the day you’ve had between six and ten. With half of British workers working at home at least some of the time and the Edelman 2022 UK Trust Barometer reporting that for 45% of people, the ability to work from home has increased in importance since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s safe to say hybrid working (and with it video calls and the phrases ‘you’re on mute’ and ‘let me just share my screen’) is here to stay.

2022 has marked a shift – as our colleagues transform from being a small box on a screen to appearing as full beings (with actual legs!), we’ve all let excitement get the better of us to the potential detriment of those joining a meeting virtually. This is a trend felt globally – a Harvard Business Review survey found remote workers were more likely to report feeling shunned and left out.

The challenge now is how we make a truly hybrid system work, in particular how we ensure all voices are heard in meetings when staff are spread across offices, homes and geographies.

I count myself incredibly lucky that my company, colleagues and clients all invest in making hybrid meetings easy. While we have comprehensive guidelines and incredibly informative trainings, it really is trial and error in a real-world setting. Here are some principles I try to live by and instil in my teams:

Everyone should have a voice
A good meeting involves everyone present, either on the line or screen. Make this known from the outset by building in time for a round-robin – it could be as simple as asking people what’s on their mind or a round of introductions. Try to start with those joining virtually first to create an inclusive environment from the start.

Think of the meeting as an ongoing dialogue
A good meeting isn’t restricted to the time slot in my calendar – the most productive meetings involve preparation and follow-ups.

Circulate an agenda prior to your meeting with clearly defined roles so attendees can prepare. This provides an opportunity for attendees to prioritise – with 62% of people struggling to manage their workload, this is a critical consideration.

The meeting doesn’t end once everyone hangs up or leaves the room. Follow up with actions and be clear on timelines.

Reach a consensus, but be flexible
Set the rules of engagement via consensus. It could be as simple as agreeing a mechanism for contributing (Teams’ hands- up function is a huge hit) so those present in the room don’t dominate, or ensuring that the way the room is set up means that everyone can be heard and seen.
It is estimated that between 70-93% of all communication is non-verbal – so while appearing on video is now a chore for most of us after two years of looking at ourselves on screen, it may be a ground rule you want to explore to ensure everyone, regardless of location, is ‘heard’.

Flexibility here is key, as each person and each team is different. It’s all about trial and error,
so be open to change and course-correcting.

Allow work to become more human
We’ve all navigated unprecedented upheaval in the way we work and live and, as part of this, work became more human. One in five of us have met our colleagues’ pets virtually – in my case it turned out my dog was more popular than me on some (most) calls.

This should stay, so factor in time for ‘socialising’ in meetings – it’s the ‘water- cooler’ smal talk that remote workers often feel they miss out on. Keeping it will encourage participation and allow everyone to feel part of a meeting.

Never ignore the ‘boring’ logistics
There is nothing worse than working from home and waiting for your colleagues in the office to join the call as they cannot connect to WiFi or the meeting room audio – cue the phrase I’ve heard far too much: ‘We can’t hear you’. Assign a meeting attendee to prepare the room before the meeting to make sure it starts on time and that all the technology is working.

In conclusion...
To borrow a phrase from Her Majesty, The Queen: ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’ So make sure you and your teams are ‘seen’, wherever you are working.

Shaun Beedle is Associate Director at Edelman UK Health

Shaun Beedle is Associate Director at Edelman UK Health

22nd April 2022

From: Marketing

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