Meetings are a part of our work life, much to the consternation of many. Employees complain about how many meetings they have to attend, which are often poorly run and seem to lack purpose. Meetings are even more challenging when you are a remote employee calling in via conference call. Often those outliers dialing in are forgotten and struggle with hearing what is being said. But, in order for a company to thrive, the individuals in remote offices need to feel included, informed, and part of the team.
Here are seven ways you can make conference calls more productive and useful for everyone, but especially those participating from other offices.
Have a facilitator
A meeting facilitator is essential to manage the meeting and ensure everyone is included. Usually the facilitator is the person who called the meeting, but it could be someone else in the group who is skilled at keeping people on track and engaged.
The facilitator should welcome everyone and make or facilitate introductions. The best way to do this is to have those in the meeting room take turns stating their name and title or reason for being in the meeting. The facilitator should then call on the remote offices or staff one by one. Example: “Let’s have those folks calling in from the Denver office introduce themselves. Great, thank you Denver. I know we have Barb on the line from San Francisco. Barb, please introduce yourself.”
Call on the remote employees
Once everyone has introduced themselves and the meeting is underway it’s paramount that the facilitator regularly ask those calling in for their opinion or feedback. When people are calling in it can be hard to interrupt a bigger group so they may be less likely to do so. Think of the remote folks as introverts. They may have information to add to the discussion but they’re not likely to offer their opinion without being prompted.
Rather than asking, “Does anyone on the phone have something to add?” call on individuals or invite people by city to share their thoughts. Give extra time for these folks to unmute themselves and to decide who in the room is going to speak when you open it up by office.
Avoid side conversations
When several people are talking, even as a side conversation, it can be very hard for those who have dialed in to hear what’s being shared. They usually won’t know if what they hear is a side conversation or the topic being discussed. The facilitator must stop side conversations and ensure one person speaks at a time so that everyone can hear the speaker.
Be mindful of noise
When you’re on a conference call and someone shuffles paper or drags a coffee cup across the table next to the speaker phone it sounds like a thunder storm. Be aware of how simple things like passing paper, pulling a chair in or clicking a pen are amplified by the speaker phone and sound a lot louder to those listening in.
The facilitator should remind those attending the meeting at the beginning to be mindful of noise they are making so those calling in are not blasted with noise.
Heed the mute button
When you’re calling into a meeting, always put your phone on mute when you’re not talking. Often headsets or even the handset held close to your mouth will lead to you having Darth Vader breathing, which is annoying to those listening in. Always mute your phone when you’re eating or drinking, typing or have a noisy background. If your phone doesn’t have a mute button press *6 to mute yourself and then hit it again to unmute yourself.
It’s also best for the facilitator to mute the phone in the meeting room while people assemble or if there is a noisy activity such as distributing a handout. Let those calling in know that you are going to mute the phone during this time.
Imagine those calling in are in the room
As a participant in the main meeting room it’s easy to forget your brethren on the phone. Here are some actions you can take that will help you remember they are on the call. Put name placards with their names on the table or write their names on a white board. Or, have laminated photos of remote employees created that you hang up or tape to empty chairs before the meeting starts. If you have video capability, use it so that you can see those calling in and they can see you.
It takes extra effort to help remote employees feel included and valued in conference calls, but the payoff is worth the additional time.
What would you add to this list? Have you been a remote caller who is frustrated with not being able to hear or not being included in the discussion? How can your coworkers make it easier for you?