I’d add introverts to the headline, but that’s a quibble, the reality is, it can be very difficult to get a word in edge-wise in an online meeting without being very aggressive with other people in the meeting, and some people don’t communicate that way, and women in general, are also looked down upon for even trying to act that way.
So I agree with the headline, and I very, very much agree with this part of the article as well:
“More recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, as Tannen transitioned to teaching her classes on Zoom, she expected her more reticent students to be more comfortable with speaking out in class but found that for many the new digital classroom had the inverse effect.
“You’re looking at a screen with everybody’s face staring back at you. It can be even more intimidating,” she explained.”
I taught software training in-person and online for the better part of 5 years. The level of interaction in an online class is minuscule compared to an in-person class, simply because no one wants to be the person who interrupts the instructor, or appear to be the one person who doesn’t understand something. As much as I expected there to be more fear of asking the “stupid question” in person versus online, I found the opposite. The act of sitting and interacting with the rest of the class during breaks and what not gave students the “safety” of a group of people they knew, versus a group of people you knew nothing about. Which was exacerbated by the fact that students were not on camera for those classes so you couldn’t even tell how anyone might be reacting. (No one was, since I was sharing my screen to teach them the tools.)
A virtual meeting, or an in-person meeting, doesn’t have to be this way, but it takes a strong leader who is good at running meetings. I’ve seen a few in action, and man it’s totally different, but it is a skill that is sorely lacking in the business world.
For example, when was the last time your manager went ahead and had people mute themselves in an online meeting, or asked them to “raise a hand” in the meeting platform to let her know they wanted to speak? When was the last time you heard someone say, in a meeting, “I want to hear input from these three people, this one first, then I’ll come back to the others”. (Which, by the way, also requires knowing which of your directs to hit first, because that’s how they work, and which to give a few minutes warning to, because they need time to process something new before giving you feedback, also something that is lacking.)
How many of your recent Zoom, or Teams video calls are somewhat spur of the moment, because everyone is just working from home, as opposed to having a set agenda of topics that everyone can come prepared to talk about?
This is why the problem continues to get worse, no matter how the meeting takes place. It’s not the virtual versus in-person, it’s whether you have someone running the meeting who can facilitate a conversation that includes everyone.
These are things that can be learned, and while it is more difficult, and may even come off as kind of authoritarian at first, when your meetings run smoother, get finished faster, and everyone has their voice heard, they’ll appreciate it. If anything, having tech at our fingertips should make that easier to do, but we have to be willing to be the tough meeting facilitator in order to get that done.