Videoconferencing platforms are now integral to how we work. Even offices that aren’t remote use these platforms for company interactions, including for training sessions. We’ve had over three years to adjust to this new communication method, since its boom amid the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s time to assess the good, the bad and the ugly about these virtual platforms.

For learning and development (L&D) and human resources (HR) professionals, that assessment should include discussing how they measure up for training sessions. Are they driving engagement? Do they offer a positive experience for employees, especially those new to the company?

One concern is how virtual meetings impact women, communities of color and employees with disabilities. Organizations may not realize how difficult it is for members of these groups to be “seen” in a room in a corporate setting. And it’s even more complicated when interaction occurs in a virtual room not designed to facilitate better communication.

With their lack of human-centric design, virtual meeting platforms can hinder effective communication and inadvertently create barriers for minority groups. In training sessions, it’s crucial that all participants feel seen and heard, which is challenging in the face of communication tools that lack empathy in their design.

Research shows that traditional virtual meeting platforms can cause harm to these different cohorts. For instance, in a recent survey from Catalyst, nearly one-half of women said they faced difficulty speaking up in virtual meetings. And one in five women reported feeling overlooked or ignored during video meetings.

Communities of color and women are also disproportionately more affected by microaggressions that emerge in the new virtual work environment. Without co-workers physically nearby to potentially overhear harassment, there are reports of increased aggression, hostility, and harassment in the form of repeated questions and comments about appearance, dismissive attitudes and teasing and chastising of workers, particularly women of color.

Some microaggressions might not be as obvious but can have equally harmful impacts.

Micromanaging and unintentionally insensitive icebreakers are evident in many virtual settings, including in training settings. Even mandating camera presence, which removes individuals’ ability to keep their socioeconomic status and home environment private, can feel threatening.

In addition, traditional virtual platforms tend not to consider individuals with disabilities. Employees with disabilities and non-native English speakers face distinct challenges with virtual platforms, such as misunderstandings due to language nuances and a lack of belonging.

These situations can be even more acute in training sessions, where active participation and engagement are required.

Best Practices for Inclusive Virtual Training Sessions

  • Embrace human-centric design. To make virtual training sessions more inclusive for everyone, we’ve got to start by putting humans first. We need to use human-centric virtual platforms designed with people in mind and focused on facilitating how people naturally communicate and interact — as if we were all in the same room. This includes preserving the all-important non-verbal cues traditional platforms often miss, such as eye contact when on camera, which are essential for effective communication. Research indicates that around 55% of our communication relies on non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions. These subtle signals are critical for understanding and effective communication but often get lost in conventional virtual meeting platforms, leading to misunderstandings and feelings of exclusion, particularly in training sessions. Prioritizing human-centric design will create a more inclusive and engaging learning environment, enabling everyone to participate fully.
  • Recognize and address inclusive design. Signs of exclusive practices during training include lack of participation, neutral or negative feedback, poor performance metrics, high turnover rates and observed inequity during meetings or training sessions. Virtual platforms need to incorporate accessibility features to improve training virtual training. Technology such as spatial audio boosts audio, so you can still have clear audio if you are hard of hearing. Platforms with multi-host capability will soon enable sign-language translators to virtually look like they are physically next to a participant for signing in real time. Language support, such as real-time transcription and facilitating the display of non-verbal cues, can also improve accessibility and break down barriers for individuals with disabilities.
  • Implement better tools and technology.  A few ways to combat exclusion include implementing mixed reality for onboarding and training, creating 3D environments for virtual meetings, and utilizing data analytics to understand participation and engagement patterns. Language support and accessibility features are just the basics, covering a broad range of needs and abilities. But it doesn’t stop there. Our HR teams must step up and spot the signs of exclusive practices in these sessions before they become an issue. That means using data analytics to stay proactive and monitor participation and engagement. It also means avoiding tools that don’t generate the intended positive impact. For example, mixed-reality or virtual reality (VR) headsets might be a challenge for learners who are more prone to migraines. Offer training in a variety of formats to ensure its inclusive of all preferences and needs.

Improving virtual training sessions requires making them more engaging and immersive. It’s all about creating a shared experience and journey, critical for virtual onboarding and training.

With so many geographically dispersed teams, many L&D and HR leaders struggle with making people feel “like a team” again, especially for groups that traditionally may feel excluded. That’s where the magic of mixed reality and 3D environments come into play. L&D teams can leverage technology to create an equitable, inclusive virtual environment that enhances the effectiveness of training, benefiting the organization and its employees.