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When Group Conference Calls Go Astray

20 Apr 2020

Mairead McConnell

The Do's & Don'ts of Conference Calling

During these difficult times a large proportion of Northern Ireland’s workforce have now found themselves working from the comfort of their bedrooms, sitting rooms, kitchens, and sunrooms.  While this was a nice change for many at first, although everyone was anxious about job security and the state of the economy, there was also an element of “I can drink my favourite coffee”, “I can stick that wash on and it’ll be done as I’m working”.  The tasks that can now be completed during the working day are phenomenal! However, due to social distancing, the contact and interaction we have with others outside our home, in particular our work colleagues, has been dramatically reduced.  There are no more chats on the stairs, gossips as the kettle boils, bonding at the water fountain. The natural result is that when we do now speak to our colleagues on conference calls, there is so much to say that the call can often go slightly astray and off topic. I have listed a few funny issues that generally arise below and some helpful tips that hopefully you can all take something away from:

The person who never mutes their microphone

We’ve all been sitting in the middle of an important discussion about action plans and figures when a door has slammed in the background, a partner enters the room enquiring if someone wants tea, a child cries loudly or someone is eating or drinking the afore mentioned tea.  It’s really important to mute your microphone when you are not contributing to the conversation!  This helps the team stay focused. Maybe let your partner know you will be on a conference call in advance, so they know not to interrupt you.  Close the door. Prepare for a meeting as you would in the office.  These are all helpful tips to start your call right.

The person who shows up late to the call

There is nothing worse than waiting five minutes for a member of the team to join the call, proceeding without them when they haven’t joined and then 10 to 15 minutes into the call having to repeat the full conversation again because the person has joined late.  While working from home it is important for all employees to be as productive as possible in order to achieve results. A conference call that runs into 45 mins when it should have been 20 mins reduces time when the team could have been working and being productive. If it has run over because most of the conversation had to be repeated, this is irritating for the team members who joined on time.  Set a five minute reminder in your diary, when the reminder pops up in your calendar you can join the meeting as soon as you see it and still continue to reply to emails while you wait for your colleagues to join.

The inquisitive one

Many of us have minimal opportunity to interact with our colleagues while working from home.  This has the natural effect of making us all want to know how the others are getting on, what are they doing with their day, did they have a nice Easter, how are their family members are keeping and so forth. A business conference call is not the time to have these discussions.  Once one or two members of the team start to engage in this type of conversation it can be very hard to pull the meeting back to business.

Before your call, make a list of work-related topics you want to cover on the call.  If you are a manager or the host of the meeting, perhaps email an agenda of the topics that are to be discussed so that everyone is adequately prepared. That being said, it is important during this time to keep the relationships and trust you have built with your colleagues intact so why not check in with them individually at lunch time or before the end of your day?  Set up a WhatsApp group that you can text into and discuss the more personal topics on that forum. Keep in touch with your colleagues throughout the day to see how they are doing but remember to have a balance, both you and your colleagues must be productive with their time. Pick a time when you know they will be on a break and keep the chit chat to a minimum during a business call.

The agreeable one

Everyone likes to have their talk time on a conference call so their voice and opinions can be heard. After all, conference calls are often held so that ideas can be gathered and discussed.  However, if a member of the team constantly says, “Yeah I agree” or “Yes I found that too”, while their colleague is still talking, this can be really disruptive to the call.  Due to different internet strengths there can already be a time delay when someone is talking. If someone says “I agree” when a colleague is still making their point, half the point might not be heard clearly by the others on the call. In a well organised call, you will be given your own individual time to speak. At this point you can say “I agree with what my colleague just said and I’m finding the same” and continue from there.

Wait your turn so that everyone can hear clearly.  It could be a good idea for the host of the call to say at the beginning that everyone will be given an opportunity to speak so please hold your feedback until it is your turn so that the meeting runs smoothly. 

 Hopefully, many of you can relate to this and you can take away some helpful tips. During this pandemic we are all learning as we go and patience really is a virtue.  However, if we all apply some of the basics that we would apply in our office environment, we will all remain productive and positive.  Stay connected and keep in touch with those you normally would have seen every day. Just remember to keep your business calls about business!

 If you would like any further helpful tips on working from home or general market information relating to Supply Chain, Logistics, Food & Agri please do not hesitate to get in touch on 028 9032 5325 or email Mairead McConnell on  [email protected]