• Eve Arnold

Do Team Meetings via Conference Calls Work?

Conference calls, do they ever work? When will someone come up with a better way of communication?

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Covid-19 has meant that a large proportion of the work force has been working from home for the last while. From the comfort of our living rooms, offices, bedrooms, wherever.

The view is pretty split, some people think this is going to pave the way for everyone working from home for the rest of our lives, others think that this was an experiment, it didn’t work and we’ll all be better once we can get back to the comfort of our ergonomic office chairs.

Either way, there is one thing that does need to happen whilst we are working from home.

Team meetings.

Team meetings are one of those things that are guaranteed to be better in person. Part of the aim of any team meeting is to allow everyone to catch up. Having a chat with one and another about life, work, home is a good healthy use of time during a team meeting.

They usually involve some sort of team working, perhaps even some sort of team building. It’s quite common for team meetings to involve some group activity where everyone is asked to join in, which presents a bit of a challenge over conference call. So do team meeting via conference calls work?

Do conference call ever work?

Since starting work I’ve had a love, hate relationship with the conference call capability. Part of me thinks it’s brilliant. It allows people from all over the country, the world even, to communicate, all in one place. You simply have to dial one number and hey presto, you’re in.

No video has the added benefit of being able to have greasy hair or no makeup and feel totally professional, even if you are sat in your pjamas.

However, there are a number of problems with the conference call capability that makes me cringe every single time. It does make me think conference calls don’t work.

The intros

Every time someone joins it presents the opportunity for them to say hello. Of course you say hello when you join. So person A joins and says hello. The problem is, that most often, when someone says hello it is followed up by ‘how are you’. All well and fine at this point until person B joins. They start saying hello and then it becomes a little confusing. Are we saying hello to person B or are we answering person A’s ‘how are you?’ question. It won’t matter because in a matter of seconds, person C will join.

It’s like that singing choir thing you used to do in school, one group sings the first line and then the next group start on the first line whilst the first group continue on with their singing. It’s called a Round apparently (not the kind at the pub) or a perpetual cannon if you’re fancy. Either way, no one knows their arse from their elbow by the time the whole thing is over. It’s the exact same thing with a conference call.

The questions

In real life, I mean conference calls are real life but you know in person, you can see who you’re talking too. That has the added benefit of being able to see if they are directing their question at you or someone else. On a conference call, we don’t get that luxury. So asking an open ended question and not directing it at anyone in particular is a recipe for disaster.

No one knows who the question is being asked of. The result is cold silence for a minute then usually, and this happens every single time, two people chime in at the same time. Obviously talking over each other. They both apologise and laugh and then it’s a game of tennis of ‘no you go’ ‘no you go’ until one of them takes the plunge. Cringe.

The understanding

The other benefit of being in person is that you can tell if people understand things. Someone can say ‘yep, that makes sense’ but with their face say ‘I haven’t a clue what you are talking about’. That’s a good thing because you know to explain it further. On a conference call, unfortunately, that doesn’t exist. So you are left wondering whether the message has gone down or not.

The mute button

My personal favourite. Whether to put yourself on mute and risk not being able to find it quickly enough when you are asked a question; or leave yourself unmuted and hope the dog doesn’t bark, you don’t say something inappropriate or you other half doesn’t walk in and ask you what you want for dinner. Two things happen regarding the mute button:

  1. You put yourself on mute. Two minutes later you get asked a question to which you start answering. Inevitably you forget you are on mute. So after a minute you hear “Are you there?” You huff because you’ve forgot to unmute yourself. Slightly embarrassed, you start with, “sorry I was on mute.”

  2. You go rouge and leave yourself unmuted. That’s fine but you don’t realise how sensitive your microphone is and how loud the dog’s snoring is. A few paused sentences later your hear “can everyone go on mute, I can hear some background noise?” and you think… that was definitely directed at me.

How to make it work

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are a number of things that will make a conference call team meeting infinitely better.

Simple things but they have a huge difference.

#1 Structure is key

Make sure there is a clear agenda, clear instructions on what to do and something to refer back to. If you want people to give their ideas about a certain topic make sure you tell them where to put their ideas, how you’re going to collate the ideas and what the purpose of it is.

#2 Order

To avoid everyone feeling awkward and not knowing when to speak create an order of people.

By making sure it’s clear who is next gives people the direction they need. It means time isn’t wasted by people getting confused who’s turn it is to talk and it makes the meeting more efficient overall.

#3 Collaboration board

Have a space where you can all work collectively. Make sure it’s a platform that everyone can login to and that people have been made aware of before the meeting. There is nothing worse then having a plan and it turning out that no one can get onto the platform you’ve suggested. It derails the whole meeting.

The benefit of having a space that everyone can see means that everyone knows what’s going on.

So, do team meetings work better in person? Yes absolutely. However, there are a few things that can make them easier if you have to do them via conference call.

By having a good structure, making it clear who’s turn it is to talk and ensuring there is a collaborative space to work in leads to a better meeting overall. Maybe conference calls do work or at least we can make them work a little better with a few tweaks.

#Growth #Work #Life #LifeLessons #SelfImprovement

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