Conferencing implies a social activity, but over the years it has become anything but. All-too-often callers dial into an audio bridge, announce themselves, put themselves on mute and resume their desktop tasks, particularly email or Web surfing. When their name is called, the inevitable silence is followed by the standard apology: “I’m sorry. I was on mute. What was the question?"
The dismal level of participant engagement in conference calls has become the butt of jokes in many a corporate lunchroom and on YouTube. Conferencing service provider Intercall has posted a YouTube video (see below) that pokes fun at “multitasking" during phone-based meetings, but there are many others that highlight some of the common problems, e.g., latecomers interrupting meetings, teleworker’s dogs barking, interference from mobile phone callers, inability to distinguish among speakers, etc.
Comedian Greg Schwem has taken it to a more “scientific" level, outlining the “Top 5 Things Said on Every Conference Call":
- Who just joined?
- I hate to interrupt, but I have to jump off.
- Who just jumped off?
- I’m sorry, I had you on mute.
- Call me after we hang up.
If you are laughing or at least nodding your head, that’s because these are pervasive problems with conference calls we all have experienced (or caused). While it is funny to watch a video spoof, it is frustrating – and ultimately costly – that phone meetings have become overlong at best and ineffective at worst.
But with the growing numbers of teleworkers (62 percent of business report full- or part-time remote workers, according to March 2011 report, “The Future of Workplaces," by TechAisle and published by GigaOm Pro) and the continuing corporate mandates to reduce business travel, conference calls are now a “necessary evil."