How to encourage staff to speak up during video calls

Here’s how to make all those virtual meetings count

How to encourage staff to speak up during video calls

Whether you’re still working from home or on some sort of hybrid arrangement, video calls are here to stay. So, has everyone on your team adapted to their use, or are there still individuals who are perpetually on ‘mute’?

HRD investigates the issue and finds out how to encourage team members to contribute during regular meetings.

Read more: How to run successful virtual meetings

Video: A saviour of our times
Video conferencing platforms have proven to be the unsung hero in our professional and personal lives during the pandemic, as they kept us connected and enabled businesses to run.

Since remote work became a part of all our lives, employees of all levels are forced to embrace technology to keep the business operational.

Granted, these collaboration tools and remote working arrangements pre-dated COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated their use across the globe. They even allowed industry conferences to operate.

Of course, there’s the unwelcome side effect of its overuse: Zoom fatigue. Whatever tool the company chooses to tap on, be it Microsoft Teams, Skype or Webex, there’s a tendency to be over-reliant on the apps as managers worked hard to keep employees engaged and develop a sense of community.

Hopefully after a year of being on the varying platforms have allowed us time to adopt a healthy ‘middle’, since they’ll continue to play a big part of our work lives.

Besides screen exhaustion, however, leaders may have missed out another issue: enabling the ‘quiet ones’ in the team to contribute during meetings. Since we had to ‘jump’ on so many calls in the past year, it was likely that some sessions were more interactive than others.

This could especially be an issue with larger, more diverse groups of personalities where some employees naturally took more airtime.

Read more: Tired of video calls? Google is testing outdoor meetings

Could that meeting have been an email?
And a recent study found just how frequently these online meetings took place.

According to GetApp, employees in Singapore spent this much time on video calls over the past year:

  • 35% had them ‘several times a week’
  • 26% had them ‘one to two times a day’
  • 17%, unfortunately, had calls throughout the day

Luckily, one in three employees said that online meeting apps such as Zoom have been critical to their productivity. They then ranked collaboration tools like Slack a close second (28%) in enabling their work, and document sharing tools like Google Docs not far behind (23%).

Read more: Can I make a remote employee turn on their camera?

Overlooked in virtual meetings
Due to the pervasive use of video calls in today’s world of work, it’s thus crucial that attendees come out of meetings feeling productive and possibly closer to the team. However, that may not always be the case, according to a study by Catalyst.

Almost one in five employees said they’ve felt overlooked during a virtual session. A similar number of workers said they’ve been outright ignored by a co-worker. In both instances, women were more likely to have felt neglected than men.

A study by ADP could give us a clue on what’s been missing. Comparing figures from 2020 and 2018, they found that employees were more likely to say they were ‘fully engaged’ if:

  • They are a member of a team – 2.6 times more likely to be engaged in 2020, versus 2.3 times in 2018
  • They trusted their team leader – 14 times to say they were engaged in 2020, which is a large two-pointer jump from 2018

Read more: Why empowering your staff to speak up will boost their performance

All about trust
What ADP’s study suggested is that encouraging team members to contribute and participate in a work-related activity is more than just about forcing a limelight on the quieter employees. It could well be about the level of psychological safety within the work environment.

The term psychological safety was coined over two decades ago by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. It refers to the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

HRD listened to a recent Harvard Business Review podcast where Edmondson said that it’s not just about ‘being nice’ to each other. It’s about feeling comfortable enough to give candid feedback, openly admit to mistakes, and to learn from each other.

“What it’s about is candour,” she said. “It’s about…being direct, taking risks, being willing to say, ‘I screwed that up’. Being willing to ask for help when you’re in over your head.”

From her observations, she said that psychological safety was not a norm in today’s workplaces. She pinned this ‘unusual’ phenomenon to human nature.

“For example, it is an instinct to want to look good in front of others,” she said. “It’s an instinct to divert blame.

“It’s an instinct to agree with the boss. And hierarchies are places where these instincts are even more exaggerated.

“We really want to look good and we especially want to look good in a hierarchy. And the spontaneous way to try to achieve that goal is to kind of be quiet unless I’m sure that what I have to say will be very well received, especially by the higher-ups.”

In short, some employees may feel it’s better not to rock the boat because “no one ever got fired for silence”.

Read more: How can employers build trust digitally?

So what can leaders do to encourage staff to speak up?
It seems that the issue with ‘quiet employees’ can run deeper than it looks, going by Edmondson’s explanation. Leaders can try and tackle it by considering these steps:

  • First, acknowledge that a problem exists. If you haven’t been the one shooting down or shaming team members’ contributions during virtual meetings, it could be another attendee. Either way, reflect on how the calls have being going lately and adjust your tactic from there.
  • Next, set some ground rules. Establish simple video etiquette for all employees and enforce them when you’re hosting any meetings. This could be simple things like muting the microphone when someone is talking, letting team members take turns to speak, as well as encouraging everyone to stay focused and avoid multitasking across apps on their computer. This can help build a culture of respect.
  • Finally, get organised. Schedule a meeting in advance if possible and send the agenda at least a day ahead of the call. This gives everyone involved some time to prepare relevant talking points. Taking this step could also ensure that meetings remain efficient and productive.

Building psychological safety at work requires long-term effort and the tough job of overturning bad habits within the team. In the meantime, you can take note of the quieter employees and encourage them to speak up by asking questions about their current projects or how they’re getting along.

As a leader, you could always take the reins during virtual meetings and ensure that everything runs smoothly. If it doesn’t, remind employees that they can always connect with each other after the group call to sort things out instead of making it a public display.

Hopefully by taking these steps, it won’t be necessary to hold so many video calls as team members learn to connect on their own and collaborated without much prompt.

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