Inclusion in the Virtual World

When it comes to meetings, we know how to be inclusive of people who are in the room (through the 12 Inclusive Behaviors and the Inclusive Meeting Norms). We know how to be inclusive of people who are not in the room (by assigning them a buddy to fill them in on what was discussed, who said what, the feeling of the room, and the to-dos that came out of the conversation).   

What about people in a new, third category: people in the meeting but not in the room—because they’re attending via the Internet, from a remote location? What does it mean to include them?


This came up for us during a training class in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because some participants were physically in Charlotte, and others (like us) were taking the class remotely, the experience led us to think about inclusion in virtual learning environments.  The instructor did practice some Inclusive Behaviors: for instance, he had the participants introduce themselves and state their name, the name of their employer, and a hope for the day’s learning.  This reminded us very much of hellos and connecting questions—things we do at the beginning of every KJCG meeting, and within our client systems, as a part of our Inclusive Meeting Norms.


However, while giving us a moment to connect and share about ourselves was great, it was only the first step on the journey of inclusion.  What else could have been done to encourage a more inclusive learning environment?


First, the instructor needed to create a sense of safety in the larger “room”—both the classroom in Charlotte and the virtual “room” full of people in remote locations. To do so, he could have reminded us that we were all going to be learning: we would make mistakes, and generate ideas, and be excited and frustrated all at once, and it was OK to ask questions since this was a learning environment.


Also, the virtual meeting software could have been better designed for inclusion. It allowed us to see the instructor, but he couldn’t see us. We also weren’t able to communicate face to face with the other students. As a result, we lost a lot of opportunity for learning and growth.


How much opportunity did we lose? We were the only two individuals who took the class out of the training center in Albany, New York; there were about 15 people taking the class in total. That means we couldn’t interact with more than 85 percent of the participants. We didn’t get the 360 degrees of vision that happens when you include all the Right People at the Right Time. We were lucky if we got 45.


The point we want to leave you with is this: It’s not only about who is in the room or who is not in the room. It’s about how you interact with those people. Whether they are in the chair next to you or across the world, it is important to practice Inclusive Behaviors, be fully present in your interactions, and carefully consider how the tools in the meeting might help or hinder inclusion.


By Victoria Gammerman and Tia Wager