Why I hate Conference Call
Conference calls can feel very disconnected. More and more people are using their cell phones to dial in and be “present” on a conference call, but it was not long ago that I was at happy hour, and someone dialed into their conference call, but the phone on mute, turned down the volume, and ignored it in its entirety! Surveys have even been done on employee sentiments on the topic, and it turns out most would prefer to do most anything than listen to a coworker, from a remote location, discuss company issues on a conference call.
Most people will take advantage of conference call time to send emails, eating or cooking dinner, to do other work, going to the restroom, texting, checking their social media accounts and playing video games, just to name a few distractions. Others will surreptitiously drop off the call, with no announcement they are gone, in the event there are no double-checks to make sure everyone stayed on the call. A number of people have taken calls from beaches, while cooking out, at a pool, at amusement parks and while walking their dog, amongst other distracted places to be, and the reason they can do this is because of the ease of using the “mute” button on just about every mobile phone.
Companies are currently struggling employees having “meeting inertia,” and unfortunately they are confusing any activity to be an element of productivity, which is really not the case. Technology has made us all much more aware of time, and in getting everything immediately, and remotely taking calls, while also responding to emails, is more a hallmark of multitasking as opposed to somehow shirking one’s responsibilities.
The answer is one simple word: video.
This leads employers to struggle with how to get employees to be more engaged on conference calls. The answer is one simple word: video. Using a video component with a conference call is going to establish accountability, and an employee will feel far more engaged in the process, than feeling as if they are in a hollow tunnel, blindly listening to echoes. If a company is not interested in using video technology, there are still some solutions to establish accountability on a traditional, speakerphone-based, conference call.
The first step is to make sure all the details are correct, and properly communicated, like the call-in number. Countless conference calls go completely awry because of incorrect call-in numbers. Another way to make sure there is participation is to allow people to feel more human on a call. One way to do this is to start the call with taking 5 minutes to give everyone a few minutes to talk about what is personally going on in their lives. Another step is to assign little jobs to a number of different people on the call. Another way of making sure people are there, and listening, is to ban use of the mute button. Finally pausing throughout the call to encourage feedback is a way to be sure people are listening, and they are hearing what is being said.
Once employees know to expect these little checks-and-balances, conference calls will become more productive, and employees will change their attitude about them. It really comes down to managing expectations, and fostering an atmosphere of accountability.