Have you seen this viral video making fun of what we’ve all grown accustomed to in online conference calls?
I have nearly half a dozen online conference calls each day. I work from home, and I have no colleagues in my state or even my timezone. Unless I’m traveling, all of my work interactions are remote. It’s a big challenge: the environment seems to make me lose focus, restrict me from jumping in to speak, multitask inappropriately, and my brain totally craps out after 20 minutes.
Many of us who work for international companies have a few additional challenges to overcome.
- Calls may be inconveniently scheduled outside normal working hours due to time zone issues. Participants might be half asleep, either working at the end of their day or at the beginning.
- You might not know the other people on the call – by voice, by function, or even by cultural style. This lack of familiarity could impact ease of conversation and even trust.
- Accents may be tough to understand. Phone calls almost always occur in English if there are multinationals involved. Hey, not all of us speak English as clearly and as neutrally as I do, being from Idaho and all.
- There are cultural differences. There are cultures in which nobody wants to speak up so you don’t know whether anybody understands the point you’re making.
How can you make the best of your conference calls?
- Invest in good audio. Don’t cheap out on your headset. There is nothing more disruptive to a conversation and more frustrating than a headset that cuts out or is unclear!
- Jump in. People can’t read your face or see your hand to know that you want to talk. There is no way to signal it’s your turn. You will have to assert yourself, and maybe even interrupt the windy guy. If you are not comfortable giving opinion in this setting, ask for the right to respond in email after you’ve processed the information.
- Doodle. I have to keep my hands busy so I don’t click on Facebook or start shopping for shoes. Research shows that doodling can help you focus. If doodling isn’t working for me or if there is not anything I need to look at, then I literally turn my back to the computer.
- Chat. You may have never met the person you are speaking with. When you join the call, don’t just wait silently for the meeting organizer – initiate conversation about something non-work-related to establish a relaxed, personal tone.
- Share screens. If the meeting is not just a casual chat, ask for a screenshare. Whether trying to lead or follow a discussion, visuals can help track what is being discussed. If the meeting doesn’t merit a .ppt, you could show the agenda that you sent out before. Or why not put a couple of question slides together to guide the conversation?
- Send meeting notes. This holds all attendees accountable, many will appreciate the record in their in-box, and having taken notes in the first place makes sure you engage with the material.
- Manage your avatar. Put up a non-dorky, unembarassing avatar so people don’t feel awkward staring at that for the duration of the call. Avoid swimsuit photos, political declarations, and religious images…obviously.
- Suggest video… but that’s only if you want people to see you drinking your coffee, blowing your nose, or messing with your hair. I personally hate video – can you tell?
- Lastly, practice gratitude. There are lots of benefits to having your meeting occur remotely, from the privacy of your own “office.” Pajamas at noon anyone? Throwing in laundry or chopping carrots while listening on Bluetooth?
What do you do that helps your focus? Good luck with your next global, online meeting.