Conference calls: we’ve all endured them, and most of us lament every experience. Between bad cell signals and mute button malfunctions, from awkward silences to three people talking at once, it seems that more often than not, these long distance meetings end with lots of time wasted and little or nothing accomplished.
But as more and more companies find themselves working with remote teams, the telecom meeting is likely here to stay. So how can you make your conference calls a little less clunky, and let everyone hang up feeling it was worth the while?
Here are six things you can do today to improve your team’s next conference call experience:
1) Limit to necessary participants.
Nothing kills employee productivity faster than sitting in unnecessary meetings. This is especially true for conference calls, which waste time not only for the employees who don’t need to be there, but also for everyone who actually needs the call to be productive. Because the only way for each employee to prove their participation on a conference call is to add in their two cents at some point, every additional participant is likely to be another interruption or distraction from the task at hand.
2) Assign specific roles.
Since your call should now be limited only to those individuals who have a specific function, it’s important that everyone knows what those particular functions are. Assign individuals to lead the call, take notes, and keep everyone on schedule, and clarify well who will be addressing each specific topic. One person can fulfill multiple roles, but it’s important to know who is doing what in order to avoid confusion.
3) Prepare an agenda.
Have you ever tried to sort through your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all trying to call you at once from a family gathering? A conference call with no agenda isn’t likely to be much more efficient. With no plan of action and no one particularly in charge, you’ve set the stage for nothing but interruptions and chaos. Prior to every call, your team should receive an agenda that includes talking points, questions to be addressed and a detailed assignment of roles. It’s best if these agendas are sent at least 24 hours in advance, giving everyone time to compile necessary information and gather their thoughts on each topic.
4) Don’t skip the ice breakers.
As you look to improve your calls’ efficiency, allowing more opportunities for chit chat may seem counter-intuitive. But when you’re managing a team that has rarely or never interacted in person, this “getting to know you” time is a necessary part of establishing trust and communication among the group. So instead of getting frustrated when this “water cooler talk” naturally happens, build it into your agenda. Allow your meeting leader to start with an off topic question and give everyone a chance to quickly contribute. This extra 5 minutes at the outset will put your whole team at ease, making for more natural and effective communication throughout your call.
5) Take advantage of video conferencing.
Particularly if you’re working with freelancers who don’t have a company phone line, using a video conferencing tool like Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting.com can work wonders for improving call efficiency. On a most basic level, avoiding cell phone signals will more likely make for a clear connection and avoid sound issues. But even more significantly, seeing people’s faces simply improves communication. Conference calls between folks who don’t have a personal relationship leave a lot of room for interpretation of tone. The simple act of seeing a smile or laugh across one’s computer screen goes a long way toward avoiding miscommunication.
6) Set and enforce start and end times.
Among the most frequent of conference call complaints is the call that never seems to end. To keep your employees from dreading the weekly call, take steps to show that you’re conscious of everyone’s time. Enforce the start time, follow the agenda, and put someone in charge of moving the meeting along. This includes politely letting everyone know when it’s time to wrap things up. It’s often helpful for the time keeper to give a 5 minute warning, and then ask for a plan of action to finish up any side conversations when it’s time for the call to end.
7) Always send a follow up email.
Among your assignments on the call, someone should always be in charge of taking and distributing meeting notes. This should include who attended, what was said and the time and agenda for the next call. If some of your team members need information from the call but don’t necessarily need to participate, including these individuals on the follow up email is a great way to communicate information without wasting anyone’s time.