It’s no secret that the use of web and desktop client-based video conferencing and Unified Communications technology has increased rapidly during lockdown. The pandemic has forced businesses to switch from face-to-face meetings in the office to remote meetings using technology like Microsoft Teams. Although this is now common practice in the UK, and to some extent the world, Justina Lloyd, Head of People, at Resonate. believes that businesses must take action to avoid overlooking the need to also be inclusive while implementing this new way of working.
Why do I need to be inclusive?
One of the more interesting insights to have come out of this change in working behaviour is reports of how tiresome many people find their day communicating via video. While there are a number of reasons for this, it may also be highlighting deficiencies in our cognitive processing or revealing neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD or autism.
Aside from the obvious differences between face-to-face and online meetings, the former also allows a rich cognitive experience with a large number of non-verbal cues being processed. With the latter, these cues can either be difficult to process or lost altogether, often depending on the quality of the video link.
Another difference is body language, which can be more difficult to interpret behind a screen. Poor audio quality too may affect our ability to interpret the tone of voice being used. This foreign and new social stimulus means that our brains are working harder, consuming more energy and consequently, tiring us out.
Of course, there’s always two sides to every story so for some people who find face-to-face conversation difficult, VC can offer a better experience – but high-quality audio and video is still crucial to process the conversation as neurodiverse people have to work extra hard to process someone’s facial expressions or tone of voice, for example. The absence of these cues can compound their difficulties.
How can I implement inclusivity?
The good news is that there are lots of ways in which businesses can facilitate more effective communication over video for all of their employees, including those that are neurodiverse, starting with the 8 simple steps below.
- Find a quiet and comfortable meeting place
Finding a good space in the home for video conferencing may prove challenging, especially if the whole family needs to join their own online meetings or lessons at the same time. But, if you can, try to find a comfortable spot that provides as much quiet and privacy as possible.
- Respect ‘presence’ when requesting an unscheduled meeting
Always try to respect presence if you want to have an unscheduled meeting with someone. Most UC solutions should offer presence capability, so you can avoid disturbing people who are ‘Busy’.
To protect yourself when you’re busy with work, remember to set your own presence based on whether you are happy to join meetings at short notice or not.
Best practice UC etiquette is to firstly message asking if someone is free to discuss something before calling. This avoids people being forced into a video call when they may not be ready for one. It also gives people who aren’t comfortable with unexpected calls the chance to prepare for the conversation.
- Use the right technology
Make sure you are using technology which has the correct specification to support the UC client. Poorly performing hardware will only raise stress levels.
Using a good quality headset will also help, reducing background noise distractions.
The background blur or image is another great feature, removing background visual distractions. Please note, this feature also needs a suitable spec PC to work.
- Try to avoid using mobile
The stability and reliability of a good quality desktop and webcam will usually work best for your video meeting. Microsoft found that interviewees in a recent study reported that “they did not like the video streaming experience on mobile devices because their conversation partner would move around” and this can be very distracting.
- Use video, when possible
UC solutions allow audio only communication, but we recommend using video where you can, especially if other people dial in with their video switched on as this is a strong cue that they want to see you too.
- Maintain strong meeting etiquette
Meeting etiquette is very important for smooth online meetings. Hosts need to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and contribute via a Q&A. Attendees need to note down input they would like to make, when it is appropriate to do so, rather than just interrupting.
Teams has the raise hand feature now which is a great way to make sure you don’t interrupt and for giving introverted attendees a chance to speak. Normal physical meeting etiquette around a “best practise” routine will help neurotypical and neurodiverse alike – such as pre-communicated and clearly written agendas, good time keeping, turn-taking, and action assignment.
Well-managed meetings should also provide structure and the host should clearly communicate when people can or cannot speak.
While strong meeting etiquette gives people the clarity, they need to feel comfortable in a video meeting, we recommend giving people the flexibility to multi-task and also to switch off video if this makes them feel more comfortable.
- Record the meeting
Recording your video meeting is always good practice. Microsoft Stream provides transcription which allows you to go back and listen again to anything you may have missed.
Microsoft Research suggests “Conversational Assistance” services could help here and Resonate can offer you add-on solutions, including AI bots which attend the meeting with you and can assist with taking notes, actions, and transcription.
- Don’t be afraid to take comfort breaks
Comfort breaks are a natural part of long physical meetings, but the calendar fixed invite for online meetings often makes us feel we must be present, staring at the screen all the way through.
For long meetings, organisers should build in a break and allow people to drop video if they need to pop away. To avoid disrupting the meeting if it is in full flow, you can always just message: “have to drop – back soon” into the chat.
While video conferencing technology enabled us to continue working efficiently during lockdown and will continue to do so as we move to long-term hybrid working models, we should also recognise the challenges this raises for many people, particularly those who are neurodiverse.
Understanding this is just step one to creating a more inclusive, less stressful and better communicative environment and by using the technology we have to the best of our ability, will enable those who struggle to feel more productive, empowered and confident.
Meeting etiquette is very important for smooth online meetings. Hosts need to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and contribute via a Q&A.