What Does ‘Inclusion’ Mean in Remote Gatherings?

Studies show that inclusion boosts innovation and the bottom line. How can you make your virtual meetings more inclusive?

frog
frog Voices
Published in
5 min readOct 9, 2020

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By Yukari Yamahiro, Strategist, frogNY

Inclusion means that the thoughts, ideas and perspectives of all individuals are embraced and celebrated. More often than not, however, meetings are dominated by the loudest voices, putting major decisions and opportunities in the hands of the most vocal person or group. This lack of inclusion in meetings, whether in-person or virtual, can result in unengaged and unsatisfied participants and hurt an organization’s culture and bottom line.

That’s why, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to design new approaches to virtual collaboration. Working remotely provides an environment to experiment with more inclusive practices that can also translate back to traditional meetings. As we work with leading organizations to push digital boundaries during these unprecedented times, we are learning how to better foster inclusion and engagement in a virtual world. To encourage inclusive participation in any remote environment, consider the four recommendations below.

1. Asynchronous Participation

Zoom fatigue is real, and many of us are drained from hours of video calls. When planning virtual meetings, be intentional about time, especially if there are participants from multiple time zones. Instead of trying to cram too many things into a limited time slot, or plan a global meeting around a single time zone, identify what is critical to discuss live and what elements could be shared beforehand. Creating pre-recorded videos or using engaging in-meeting collaboration tools like Miro will allow all participants to access the conversation on their own time.

For large conferences or meetings, a “virtual reception” that is accessible for a limited time (24–48 hours prior to the event) can allow participants to explore and access necessary information. This gives participants flexibility as well as time for processing information. For the recent UNICEF and AstraZenca Global Planning Conference, frog designed a reception area that housed the conference agenda, welcome videos, and country-specific share outs so that the live portion of the conference could focus on active participation from attendees across the globe.

2. Breaking the Ice

A new and unfamiliar tool can ruin an entire meeting if it limits access or creates confusion. After selecting the right platform for optimal usability, provide clear directions to all participants (ideally before the start of the meeting), and make sure trained facilitators are on hand. Don’t skip the dry run!

It’s also helpful to start every meeting with an interactive ice breaker that allows users to feel comfortable speaking and navigating a new platform. For the Children’s Health Fund Virtual Company Retreat, we started with a conversation around belonging, asking participants to discuss where “home” is and what it means to them. Every meeting activity, including the ice breaker, should have clear verbal and visual directions to guide participants at every touchpoint, ensuring that no one is left out and everyone can engage.

3. Choice and Spontaneity

Video calls make it easier to lose focus. We’ve all been in remote meetings where, despite our best intentions, we get side-tracked checking email, texting a friend, or sending a gif on Slack. To elevate engagement, ditch the standard presentation/breakout meeting format and allow participants more choice and spontaneity. Facilitate and document group choices through virtual chat and polling features, and capture participants’ attention with elements of spontaneous discovery by creating virtual spaces for side conversations or including fun breaks and informal networking opportunities.

“Conferences tend to be long and it’s challenging to keep the energy level high, but then I was surprised and happy to see the level of engagement in this virtual conference. It was refreshing.”

Lilianna Carvajal, Statistics and Monitoring Specialist, Unicef HQ, Conference Participant

For example, the UNICEF-AstraZeneca Global Planning Conference included unassigned virtual “conference rooms” where people could enter to talk to each other. It also included non-agenda related spaces, such as a mediation room and dance room. These spaces and choices foster spontaneous moments and interactions that help break down hierarchy, encourage different types of communication and interaction, and allow participants to develop more meaningful connections.

“I think the most important thing accomplished by the virtual retreat was creating a new way for staff to communicate with one another.”

— Children’s Health Fund Virtual Company Retreat participant

4. Honesty and Feelings

To maximize the purpose of the gathering, it is important not to shy away from participants’ emotions. Oftentimes, remote meetings focus entirely on efficiency and discount the humans behind the screen. In every meeting, create structured moments that allow participants to express their state of mind and have an open dialogue about what they’re feeling. Ensure that the meeting is a safe, judgement-free space and that everyone agrees to respect one another unconditionally. A good facilitator will set the tone for the meeting by describing these expectations and showing that they are willing to be honest and vulnerable as well. Emotions cannot be ignored, and honestly leaning into discussions about what we’re feeling can in fact make meetings more meaningful and productive.

The key to inclusive remote gatherings is designing a flexible and engaging experience that provides all participants the opportunity to express their opinions and feelings in their own time and way. Energy is also a critical consideration. Recognize that people are joining from different locations with different states of mind, and be prepared to set and respond to varying energy levels depending on the group and the meeting’s needs. Whether it is a global conference or a small team workshop, a fun retreat or a difficult conversation, inclusive remote environments are designed in a way that ensures all voices have the chance to speak and be heard, that prioritizes participant engagement, and that captures the group’s best thinking in a way that is culturally appropriate across regions.

Yukari Yamahiro is a Strategist specializing in Org Activation at frog New York. Trained as an architect, she works with teams and organizations to adopt human-centered design-thinking with an inclusive approach. Her experience in design encompasses architectural and interior design, organizational design, team effectiveness, and culture change both internally and externally for mid to large size organizations. She is passionate about understanding the design implications on culture and engages with organizations throughout their transformation processes.

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frog
frog Voices

frog is a leading global creative consultancy, part of Capgemini Invent. We strive to shape a regenerative future that is both sustainable and inclusive.