No one wants to sit on a boring conference call, especially when they have other work to do. But that’s the reality for a lot of people, at least according to recent InterCall research on the rise of mobile conference calls and employee conferencing behavior. With 82% of employees admitting to focusing on other work while on a call (along with other, less tasteful non-work distractions), disengagement — at least during virtual meetings — has started to become standard practice. While some may argue that these employees are still engaged in other work, it raises questions about the productivity and value of these meetings.
The good news is that companies can make their meetings more relevant and productive by making a few simple adjustments — even though many of them go against some familiar office habits.
Stop striving for inclusiveness. Time, not technology, accounts for the majority of associated meeting expenses. Unfortunately, online calendars, scheduling apps and email distribution lists have created a monstrous meeting invite reflex. It’s become too easy to send blanket, one-hour meeting invites to 10 people when only five are relevant to the agenda.
Businesses need to break free of the notion that all attendees should be on a conference call from start to finish. With a little upfront planning around which topics will be discussed at any given point in the meeting, managers can stagger invitations. If the marketing budget won’t be covered until the last half hour of an FY planning meeting, try inviting the marketing team to that 30-minute portion only.
Aside from facilitating more efficient meetings, it puts valuable time and flexibility back in your employees’ workdays. It also proves to your employees that you value their time just as much as your own. Oftentimes managers may worry that employees feel left out or that they are missing something if they are not invited to every meeting. But if you take the time to share relevant information, either through a quick chat in another meeting or via a recap email, you can build trust and save valuable work hours. Chances are, your employees will actually thank you for giving them some time back in their day.
For PR Professionals
Start using video. In 2014, for the first time ever, 50% of employees used live video and web cameras in more than a quarter of their conference calls, according to recent Wainhouse Research (WebMetrics: Meeting Characteristics and Feature Preferences, 2014). Despite this milestone, video conferencing remains a point of contention, and its adoption curve is a matter of psychological acceptance. The idea that everyone in a meeting can watch what you’re doing deters many workers, as does the dissonance between what we see in the mirror and what’s reflected on our laptop or tablet screens.
But as video becomes more pervasive in our personal lives, we will all have to get over this reluctance to adopt it in our business lives. Younger workers, with their penchant for selfies and inclination to social sharing, are also playing a large role in accelerating video’s acceptance among all members of the workforce. We can already see the impact of video conferencing among those who have adopted it. Wainhouse Research has found that of the employees who use video and web cams during meetings, 74% like the ability to see colleagues’ reactions to their ideas, and nearly 70% feel it increases connectedness between participants.
But don’t abandon the physical conference room just yet. Most organizations’ physical office conference spaces look nothing like they did 20, even 10 years ago. They’ve evolved beyond a long table and phone to include white boards, projectors, flat panel screens, web cameras, and surround sound. Participants may not use each accoutrement in every meeting, but the options for dynamic collaboration are there if they need them.
That said, it shouldn’t take 20 minutes for a presenter to figure out how to use a webcam; he or she shouldn’t have to restart an audio or web-based call in order to distribute multimedia content, either. Digital accessibility works when it’s inherent, intuitive and seamless. This only occurs when employees are trained and comfortable using all the features today’s conferencing solutions are capable of.
Understand technology use versus abuse. Technology is essential to innovating the conference call and boosting staff engagement. When applied incorrectly or misunderstood by end users, it can cripple both efforts. Managers have to use utmost discretion when implementing conferencing tools in a way that’s useful to employees, not abusive to their time or productivity.
In other words, just because you can video conference from your iPhone before boarding a flight doesn’t mean you should. Organizations should dictate a new form of meeting technology etiquette, one that respects staff flexibility, and their right to efficient, uninterrupted work time and collaboration. Part of this decorum includes redefining “full deployment.” Rather than give all employees the same basic conferencing tools, give them what they really need to fulfill their unique responsibilities. Mapping the technology to the user, not vice versa, increases the likelihood that staff will take advantage of these resources and deliver a higher return on investment.
Audio-only conference calls still permeate offices everywhere, but the status quo won’t hold for long. Changes in technology and workforce composition are happening too fast, forcing the rules of business communication to shift accordingly. Remember: Humans are multi-sensory creatures. Meetings aren’t one-dimensional either. In order to better engage your employees when you meet as a group, you might want to start by how you communicate with them.