Sunday, January 16

How Online Meetings Are Leveling the Office Playing Field | Work and careers

Before the pandemic, Francesca used to miss many meetings because she had to drop her children off at school before moving to the office. If he did, he rarely spoke.

While many workers suffer from Zoom fatigue, for workers like Francesca online meetings have presented an opportunity, and she fears it will soon be taken away.

“I’ve been able to get involved, have a few extra opportunities, and I’ve still managed to pick my son out of school, so for me working from home has been really cool,” she says. “I know a lot of people don’t like them, but I find that I am more confident on the Internet. It really worries me that things will change. “

As a member of the civil service, that fear is not unfounded. Boris Johnson has not missed an opportunity to urge workers to return to the office; Rishi Sunak has warned that young people will lose opportunities if they work from home, while former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has pointed the finger at those snowflakes working from home runs, noting that even during the second world war people went to the office.

But his exhortations can fall on closed ears. While many companies are using a hybrid working model, many organizations are considering holding large meetings online, arguing that it helps productivity, saves time and money, and increases gender equality.

Permanent Secretary of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Sarah Healey, recently told staff that she would keep the meetings online, because they were more effective and also helped women participate.

You’re right, says Ann Francke, CEO of the Chartered Management Institute, who has also decided to bring all large meetings online, even when people are in the office. “They have been excellent levelers because they are all in the same box size,” she says. Features like the chat box and raise hand button mean that the person chairing the meeting can invite people to speak.

“In face-to-face meetings there can be a very dominating presence waving its arms all the time, and that kills itself,” she says.

Women, historically and today, suffer from a historic and intractable “authority gap,” says Mary Ann Sieghart. Her book, The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men and What We Can Do About It, suggests that even the most authoritative women do not escape contempt: A 2017 American study found that while women made up one-third of the US Supreme Court justices, they experienced two-thirds of all interruptions, 96 % of the time by men.

“Being interrupted and talking about them deters women from speaking in meetings, it silences them,” he says. “In Zoom, the interruptions are very complicated, if people try to yell at each other, everything stops.”

Amy Butterworth, director of consulting service for the social company Timewise, agrees that “if they work well, digital meetings can level the playing field.” But chairs have to insist on digital hand lifting, ensure that those outside the office contribute equally, and eliminate any “noise of silence”, in which a participant stops silencing and blurts out their point, firmly rooted.

Dr. Heejung Chung, a flex work expert and sociology reader at the University of Kent, argues that, quite simply, the fact that meetings are now physically accessible to many who could not have attended the office before, potentially miles away , It’s a good start.

It also points to new research showing that ethnically diverse people and LGBT + workers may find that not having to be present in physical work settings other than “other” makes work more accessible.

Slack’s Thinktank Future Forum research based on American workers found that only 3% of black workers wanted to go back to work in person full time they work compared to 21% of white workers.

“In physical offices we have what sociologists call a hegemonic male organizational culture, where white male characteristics are seen as virtues, ”he says. “To think that online spaces can completely eliminate that culture is a bit too naive, but maybe some of those ingrained habits can change, if people are thoughtful.”

Some research suggests that online meetings are not necessarily more democratic. Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, argues that the imbalances found in “normal” meetings are amplified online, while a June survey found that nearly half (45%) of American business leaders said it was It is difficult for women to speak in virtual meetings. on platforms like Zoom and one in five women felt they had actually been ignored on calls.

That’s not surprising, says Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly, co-director of the Center for Research on Digital Futures at Work. If the leadership feels that younger workers or people of different ethnic backgrounds, or women, need to be heard, then they will. If the leaders are oblivious to these issues, they will not do it, ”he says. “Technology itself is not what makes it inclusive or exclusive and discriminatory. This is how people use it. “

Sieghart cautions that while Zoom meetings may allow women, like Francesca, to participate more fully in work, they will likely find that other barriers remain. “Workers with emotional responsibilities, who are delighted to be able to work flexibly, may find that it is the guys who are back in the office, chatting with their bosses, who are most likely to get promoted,” she says.

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