Hello, Is Everyone Here? The Cure For The Common Conference Call
Work + Life Balance

Hello, Is Everyone Here? The Cure For The Common Conference Call

by Kathryn Drury Wagner
Photos Joe Kathrina | September 03, 2014


Dropped calls, poor sound quality, botched access codes, people talking over each other and, hey, whose dog is barking in the background? Conference calls can be frustrating, but in a world where business is global and travel budgets keep shrinking, they are an unavoidable part of the modern workplace.

Adding to the chaos, employees are now likely to patch in via a mobile device, meaning they are roaming around, doing god-knows-what during conference calls. According to InterCall, a company that provides audio, video and web conferencing, the use of mobile for conference calls went up 23 percent from 2011 to 2012 and another 19 percent from 2012 to 2013. And that stat will likely increase: 76 percent of Millennials prefer to use a mobile device for a conference call, while only 46 percent of Gen X generation workers do.

InterCall polled 500 full-time, outside employees to find out what people are actually doing during conference calls. The results show a stunning use of, um, workplace mobility. 39 percent of the respondents had slinked off a call while pretending to still be attending a meeting; 27 percent had napped, 25 percent played video games and 47 percent wandered to the loo. Workers had taken conference calls in fitting rooms, McDonald’s, the beach, truck stops and Disney World. After studying the data, I’ve come up with a handy scale so you can see where you might fall on the conference call spectrum:

  • Utterly normal: Shopping Sephora.com, browsing Career Contessa, eating Cup-a-Soup.
  • Pushing it: Using Tinder, shaving legs, whipping up a margarita from scratch.
  • Red flag: Making out with a colleague, stand-up paddleboarding, invading Ukraine.

So is it hopeless? Are we destined to have crappy phone meetings the rest of our careers? No. There are ways to have more constructive and efficient conference calls, and while you can’t always control what others are doing, the following tips should help turn a dreaded experience into a productive way to communicate.


1. Schedule conference calls for a Tuesday or Wednesday. People are not awake on Monday, tend to mentally check out on Friday and on Thursday, won’t have much workweek left to accomplish anything discussed during the meeting.

2. And not at 8 a.m., please. I’m eating a muffin here! Women actually prefer morning calls, though, according to InterCall, while men are more likely to take calls in the afternoon or evening.

3. When sending out an invite, specify an end time as well as a start time. Then be sure to wrap up the conversation on time.

4. Send an agenda, and any materials the group will need to read through, at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

5. Good speakerphones pick up sound from a range of about 12 to 15 feet, so if you are gathered in a group and people aren’t able to be close enough to the phone to be heard, you probably have too many coworkers in the room (or a really ginormous table, wow).

6. When it’s time for the call, get on the line promptly. You don’t want to be the girl patching in late, with a “ding!” once things are underway.

7. Identify yourself when you are speaking, then speak more slowly than you would during a face-to-face meeting.8. When you are not speaking, mute your line so background noise around you won’t distract anyone else.

9. Practice “active listening” by jotting down notes while other people speak, rather than zoning out.

10. If you need to leave the call, let people know, rather than slipping away. Save the Irish exits for the bar.

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Click here to see the full infographic of the InterCall study. And if you haven’t already seen it, check out “A Conference Call in Real Life” for a wonderful spoof of conference habits.What’s your crazy phone meeting story?

Let us know in the comments!