Hybrid meetings, inclusive communications, groupthink

The workplace has a whole new meaning these days. Following the turmoil of a global pandemic and unprecedented social injustice movements, companies are making made bold commitments to create more inclusive and diverse workplace cultures and adopt more flexible approaches to how employees collaborate and work. I am very excited that my colleague Anna Nemeth-Szabo and I will have the opportunity to share more on this topic in our session "Inclusive Communications and Meetings" at The Experts Conference (TEC) 2021.

As members of Quest's Equality & Inclusion Council, we work to improve internal communication and collaborative practices and establish a welcoming and inclusive culture in our workplace. At TEC, we'll be sharing some tips we've found useful for important aspects of effective communications today: inclusive language and better hybrid meetings. Here's a sneak preview.

Inclusive language

Anna has worked extensively on our inclusive language project and continues to champion this practice in our documentation and products at Quest. There are two crucial goals behind inclusive communications. The first goal is the classic, but vital, aim of being a great company to work for, full of helpful and empathetic colleagues. Inclusive communications can also ensure that an organization is meeting its legal obligations for non-discrimination.

Inclusive communications can have broad financial benefits as well. After all, we communicate with our colleagues to educate them, and we often ask them to comply with a request or take action. Using inclusive language helps ensure that everyone can understand our messages correctly, and without too much effort, improving efficiency and productivity.

In fact, the impact thoughtful word choices have on comprehension can be massive. In the early 2000s, "plain language" initiatives recommended the use of simple language. For example, one project I worked on aimed to ensure all communications were at a fifth-grade reading level to support ease of understanding across a diverse customer base. Today, we also need to keep in mind the full Equality & Inclusion spectrum, which includes avoiding outdated and offensive terms, complicated language and jargon and cultural references that do not translate readily to other languages. That way, our colleagues will feel included and comprehend the message quickly, regardless of their language, ethnicity, age, gender or culture.

Inclusive language can also improve working relationships and individual success. For example, as IT professionals, we often need effective user engagement in order to get our work done. Avoiding complex terminology, jargon and terms that are not inclusive helps ensure successful communications and outcomes, which, in turn, can build momentum in our projects and make us more valuable technologists, allowing us more opportunities over time.

Better hybrid meetings

A second important component to effective communications is improving hybrid meetings. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations were not too concerned about hybrid meetings, since nearly all employees were on site. And when the pandemic caused organizations to rapidly shift to remote work, hybrid meetings remained a fairly minor concern.

Now, however, we are facing a shift to a hybrid workforce, with some people continuing to work remotely while others are in the office. Indeed, with office capacity limited and many people actively preferring to work from home at least some of the time, we expect most meetings to be hybrid for some time, if not permanently.

To deliver the best value, our hybrid meetings will need to adapt. In our TEC session, we will cover best practices for making hybrid meetings as inclusive and effective as possible. Topics will include agendas, minutes, recorded meeting etiquette, captions, audio and video tips and so much more. As a preview, let us dive into what I feel may be the largest issue with hybrid meetings: groupthink.

Combatting groupthink

In simple terms, groupthink is when group cohesion (togetherness) becomes a bigger goal than solving the problem at hand. When groupthink occurs, someone doesn't want to raise a counter idea because the group appears to agree on the existing ideas. There are several infamous examples of disastrous events where someone on the team thought something was wrong, but didn't feel they should, or could, speak up.

In hybrid meetings, remote attendees may feel less comfortable raising ideas against the group. This is unfortunate, because being slightly removed from the group may give them an advantage of processing information differently.

There are a few simple things you can do to combat groupthink. One is to poll the group, as shown in the example below, which is particularly important in hybrid meetings.

"In about a minute, I am going to ask for input from our remote attendees and will be calling on everyone individually. Please share your ideas openly." 

In this situation, you can review the question you would like to ask and then call on the remote attendees who have not been able to express their views yet. This pause allows them proper time to compose their thoughts and be more effective. This pause is particularly helpful for attendees who are not communicating in their primary language. You can do this for attendees in the room as well. If no one has anything to add, you can encourage discussions, by saying something along the lines of: 

 "We seem to all be in agreement here. I want to ensure we anticipate any issues with this process. Can I ask everyone to share one thing that could go wrong with this idea and a way to prevent it?"

It can sometimes help to remind attendees about groupthink, so they understand what you are trying to prevent. This activity may uncover issues and support an environment where people feel welcome to express dissent on the prevailing idea.

The more you combat groupthink, the easier it will become, and your attendees will be more comfortable sharing their ideas. When facilitating meetings, it is important to be supportive of members ideas and not allow unprofessional discourse.

Hope to see you at TEC!

We look forward to covering much more on this topic at TEC 2021. You can join us on September 2, 2021 at 9:30 AM EST for our session and live Q&A.

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