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Conference Call Confidential: Bad Behavior Exposed!

By Christopher Nagy There was a time when someone struggling through an overwhelming or overwhelmingly monotonous situation might have thrown his or her hands to the heavens and…

By Christopher Nagy

There was a time when someone struggling through an overwhelming or overwhelmingly monotonous situation might have thrown his or her hands to the heavens and desperately pleaded to be whisked to safety and blissful comfort by Calgon.

In the digital world of today, the slogan of the bath product has likely been usurped by “Pokemon Go, take me away!”

That may be especially true in the workplace, particularly when dealing with one of the working world’s most awkward endeavors: the conference call. Once, the options of self-distraction during a conference call were limited to feigning note-taking by mindlessly doodling on a pad of paper; however, the cellphone age has opened a wealth of alternatives to do anything discretely but – you know – actually pay attention.

A few years back, InterCall, the largest conference and collaborations service provider in the world, conducted a survey to find out what people do while on a conference call. The good news is that the results were highly amusing. The bad news? Your scofflaw behavior has been exposed. J’accuse!

Gathering information on conference call habits from more than 500 full-time employees, InterCall found more than half of respondents confirmed that they had used the opportunity to check email, do other work and make or eat food. In addition, 44% reported texting during a conference call, 43% checked social media, 25% played video games and 21% knocked out a little online shopping. It makes it seem like The Who were being astoundingly prophetic when they were singing “Going Mobile” way back in 1971.

Because of our constant connectivity, the InterCall report also found that those surveyed were taking conference calls in wide-ranging – and occasionally icky – locales from the beach and racetrack to a house party, wedding rehearsal and (you knew it was coming) a truck stop restroom. One respondent even reported having juggled workplace responsibilities while chasing a runaway dog down the street after the pooch made a jailbreak from the house.

Further details from the survey found that significant segments of those on a conference call had, literally and figuratively, checked out, with 39% saying they dropped out of the call without announcing they were leaving in order to pretend they were still an active participant and 27% saying they fell asleep. An additional 5% simply didn’t show up to the party, letting a friend take the conference call in their place.

However, before you start wagging the Finger of Shame at your employees, it should be noted that perhaps some of the faults can be placed at the feet of management for creating a chaotic conference call atmosphere.

A separate study by the global human resources consulting firm Robert Half International asked employees to name the most annoying and distracting thing about a conference call. A full 37% said that too many people talking at once was too much to take. That was followed by 24% reporting that excessive background noise was an issue, 9% said lack of attention from participants was an issue, 7% said people trying to talk while they are unknowingly on mute drives them batty and 7% said participants putting the call on pause and prompting hold music makes them long for Calgon.

To help make conference calls a more palatable experience for all parties involved, Robert Half offered these tips for managers on conference call etiquette:

  • Set up the conference call in advance instead of at the last minute.
  • Monitor the audio to ensure everyone can hear and be heard.
  • Avoid interruptions, including turning off cellphones.
  • Unclutter the room, especially with a video conference.
  • Be inclusive and don’t monopolize the conversation.


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