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Harnessing the power of diversity in practice through online meetings

With the rise of working from home, organizations and their employees should follow new etiquette in online meetings to encourage an equal share of voice among attendees and harness the power of diversity in practice, says Juliet Bourke of the ‘UNSW Business School.

Following this etiquette can lead everyone in the meeting to provide more feedback and generate more ideas while minimizing the inconvenience resulting from a loss of face-to-face contact and the ability to read subtle cues like breathing to signal that someone wants to talk. , said Juliet Bourke, professor of practice in the School of Management and Governance at the UNSW Business School.

“It’s important to take advantage of this opportunity and make sure there’s an equal share of voice, rather than leaving it to chance,” Professor Bourke said.

“We’ve all had times in online meetings where we might talk to someone or there’s a time lag and other people get cut off unintentionally, so we need to be more disciplined and use new strategies, to make sure everyone gets an equal share of voice in a virtual environment.

In such situations, Professor Bourke said using gestures and other non-verbal cues, such as nodding and smiling, can help signal agreement and other thoughts.

Online meeting programs also incorporate live feedback and chat features, which allow participants to interact with each other rather than talking over others, she added.

“What this means is that those who are introverted, for example, have a greater opportunity to express themselves, verbally or via chat, and those who would dominate the live conversation clip their wings a bit,” said Prof. Bourke.

“And this democratization of contributing to a meeting is really beneficial in terms of facilitating diversity of thought because it allows more voices to be heard.”

She happily said that it seems those returning to the hybrid office are adopting some of these positive new behaviors.

“This week, a CEO told me that he conducts meetings in the office with much more discipline after learning from his virtual experience because he wants to hear all voices more clearly,” Professor Bourke said.

The right background

Professor Bourke undertook research as part of her doctorate on interpersonal inclusion in teams and explained why it was important for participants to optimize their visual presence in online meetings.

Ideally, participants should have their microphones and cameras with visible backgrounds, and Prof Bourke said this is the optimal visual presence for online meetings.

“It creates a sense of connectedness and a sense of openness – it brings awareness of one’s bodily context,” she said.

“One of the people in my study said to me, ‘it gives you surround sound’ in that you can see the person and you have a lot of visual cues around them; so you can steer conversations in a different direction and really get a clearer sense of who the other is as a whole person.

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The least desirable option for meeting participants is to turn off their camera (while others have theirs) and not explain why this choice was made.

“That’s where you just have a black screen in front of you, and the worst version of that is you just see a phone number on the screen and you don’t even know who that other one is. nobody,” Professor Bourke said. .

“It leads to a situation where one person is very open and the other reveals a phone number, which creates a disparity in the sense of connection between people.

“In circumstances like this, there would have to be a conversation about it,” Professor Bourke said.

It’s not that one is right or wrong, but she said that the participant with the camera off might want to give an explanation such as their camera is not working or their internet bandwidth is low, for example.

“Otherwise, there’s the assumption that ‘I’m not very open with you. You can be open with me, but I’m not going to be open with you,” she said.

“So virtual meetings have the ability to deepen connectivity between people in some ways.”

One of the important considerations for leaders looking to harness the power of diversity is providing an environment in which individuals feel psychologically safe, says Juliet Bourke of the UNSW Business School.

Psychological safety and speaking out

Professor Bourke recently wrote a new book, Which two heads are better than one? 2nd Edition: The Extraordinary Power of Diversity of Thought and Inclusive Leadership (published by the Australian Institute of Company Directors).

In the book, she explained that one of the important considerations for leaders looking to harness the power of diversity is providing an environment in which individuals feel psychologically safe.

When expressing different ideas and opinions – whether online or in the real world – individuals need psychological safety to feel it is okay to speak up and be heard, especially if they feel like they are in the minority. within the group for any reason.

Professor Bourke gave the example of a project she worked on with a client based in Asia, where innovation was particularly important to bring new products to market in a competitive timeframe.

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“A lot of the work we were doing there was aimed at improving the ability to express oneself. Psychological safety is not one of the things Asian cultures are known for,” she said.

“These are very hierarchical cultures, so giving people a context-appropriate voice and allowing people to have a point of view that would be listened to by leaders and other people in the hierarchy meant that new ideas could emerge and the organization knew how to exploit them.”

As a result, the company was able to develop an innovative solution that was first to market, and challenges that would otherwise take a year to solve only took weeks or months.

For more information, read ‘Juliet Bourke on Harnessing the Power of Diversity for Innovation’ on BusinessThink.