Do Your Remote Employees Feel Included in Meetings?

I’ll never forget a 30-minute pre-pandemic conference call I once had with some colleagues. Three of the participants, including the host, called from the office; two of us called in from home. The host waited until the 26th minute to ask the virtual team if we had any questions. Up until that point, he seemed to have forgotten that we were on the other end of the line, waiting to give our input about the project at hand. Not only did he come across as self-centered, but by not allowing his virtual team to contribute to the conversation until the very last minute, he short-changed himself. It was innocuous, but it perfectly epitomized a classic problem that remote workers often run into: being an afterthought to the “core” office team.

How can we use our recent hands-on education in remote work to better include and accommodate our colleagues who will continue working “out of the office” while we phase back into face-to-face meetings and office life? Here are some successful approaches I’ve seen in my work as a consultant.

Elicit Contributions from “out-of-office” Team Members First

Elicit Contributions from “out-of-office” Team Members First

As the conference call example illustrates, it’s easy for office workers to be biased against remote workers. But the loss of input from a team member can be detrimental to an organization and alienating for those who work from home. Resist the bias toward in-house feedback by giving remote team members airtime first, not last. Prompt your virtual team to engage over the phone and on virtual chat tools or email. When remote team members contribute to a brainstorm on chat or a virtual whiteboard, give them the opportunity to flesh out their good ideas with the rest of the team. And for team-wide decision making, use polling to ensure that everyone is participating and you’re considering the full scope of opinions.

As a keynote speaker, I begin a face-to-face Q&A discussion that is live streamed to other offices by asking virtual participants to share their questions first. The conversation is always ultimately more engaging. I also make a point to remind the people in the room that there are virtual participants by saying things like “Let’s hear comments from our remote attendees first,” or “I’d like to start with the questions coming in via the virtual chat tool.”

Understand and Value — Introverts and Extroverts.

Understand and Value — Introverts and Extroverts

One of my clients, Lisa, a technology executive, once shared the challenges she has in meeting the needs of both the introverts and extroverts on her team. “It’s hard enough to manage the differences between introverts and extroverts with regular face time with my team,” she told me. “Now I find my introverts won’t jump in on phone calls or in rapid email exchanges because the louder voices still monopolize the conversation.”

To address this problem, Lisa created a process for her monthly strategy calls. She asked team members to follow up the meeting by emailing responses to two questions: “What’s the bad news I don’t want to hear?” and “What might we have missed in our last discussion?”

First, asking for bad news on a regular basis creates a space to speak up about challenges in the business. Second, the introverts on her team generally require more time to process ideas overall, and are more likely to speak up in an email or one-on-one exchange. By giving them the space to think through her questions, Lisa gets excellent insights she wouldn’t have gotten in the meeting, while reducing overall cultural groupthink. Lisa is also aware of the different ways her team members engage in conversation, and goes out of her way to meet them where they are comfortable — during a one-on-one post-meeting call, or at a small group lunch. Bottom line: Everyone feels more respected.

Get Creative at Regular Team Meetings

Get Creative at Regular Team Meetings

One of the best things I learned from my work with my clients this past year was the value in rotating meeting hosts. Not only is it an easy way to make everyone feel included and valued, but it adds character to our often monotonous routines, like the standard weekly team meeting.

I also found that encouraging hosts to come up with their own personalized “check-in” exercises invigorated my suddenly distanced team. And it was always a surprise: Someone kicked off their meeting with a meditation and breathing exercise. Someone prompted the team to share a quarantine hobby. Someone made a point to highlight any upcoming birthdays or work anniversaries.

Is Your Company Struggling To Develop and Sustain Employee Engagement? VITE will be surely helpful for you.

As we resume office work, continuing to prioritize and encourage personalized virtual check-ins during meetings is a smart way to bridge the gap between your remote team and your in-house team. Making sure that you have a space for casual interaction and catching up — whether it’s an ongoing Slack chat, weekly “office hours,” or a bi-weekly video conference call — will sustain camaraderie and good teamwork.

Understanding the challenges of remote work is essential for those of us with colleagues who will continue to work from anywhere. After our collective pause, in which remote work will only become more commonplace, learning how to include your team members, regardless of their location is imperative to the wellbeing and survival of a company.