in team-work communication culture profile image for Brendan Caffrey by Brendan Caffrey
Go back to your desks!

Go back to your desks!

If you work for a company of any reasonable size the following scenario probably sounds familiar:  You're in a conference room.  There's 3, 4 maybe 5 or more of your colleagues gathered.  There's a polycom device in the middle of the table.  On the other end of that polycom is a remote teammate or 2 or maybe it's another team of people at a partner company or customers you're trying to demo to.  

There's an echo'd conversation that goes back and forth.  People are often asked to repeat themselves.  Every once in a while someone new connects to the call or disconnects causing a disruption.  There are side conversations going on.  Nobody knows how to mute that polycom and half the time it's a challenge to even dial a number or conference in a 3rd party.

Is there anyone who thinks this is the ideal experience?  In 2019 we can mine for fake currency in the cloud but somehow are incapable of executing the elusive three way phone call in some kind of reasonable manner?  I think often times when people don't think remote teams can work this is why.  This is their experience interacting with people outside of their office and it's awful.

At Litmus we're a remote first company.  These kinds of conferences calls just don't exist for us.  Here are some tips to fix your "conference" calls calls by using remote work best practices.

1. Go back to your desks!

If anyone on a call is not physically in the same location as you - go back to your desks.  Let every person dial into the call separability.  Speaker phones are terrible - they have echo and you can never tell who's talking.  Also the people in the conference room are having one experience - an in person conversation - and the person/people on the other side of the phone are having a different, degraded experience.  

Level the playing field.  Go back to your desks!  If you want/need to have a side bar conversation you can do that via chat (Slack, Hipchat, etc).  Litmus founder Paul Farnell recognized this difference early on -  "Unless every person is in the same room, all meetings are held over video conference. This is absolutely essential and was a game-changer for us."

2. Turn your video on.

If there is an option to turn on video - do it - every single time.  A face to face conversation is 100x more effective then a phone call.  You can always tell exactly who is talking.  Research indicates video calls can take half as long, improve understanding and increase alignment.  

3. Record it for the record.

If you're using Zoom, Bluejeans or any video conference tool that supports recording - mash that record button.  Maybe there's a team member who can't make this call.  Maybe right after you wrap you forgot the date your agreed upon.  Having a recording allows all parties to stay engaged in the conversation without worrying about taking notes.  It's even better if there is a demo or some other presentation involved.  Now you can share that with others across the org and not just pass along a slide deck that lacks the full context.

Now what if you want to do this but the people your conferencing with won't play along?  My advice is to model the behavior you want to see in the world.  Countless times I'll hop on a call with my video turned on and the person on the other end is surprised and also turns on their video.  And the call goes great!  You can't force people outside your organization into this behavior - or possible people inside your organization for that matter.  What you can do is show them a glimpse of how much better it can be and encourage them to adopt these patterns.  

When you work at a remote first, remote friendly or fully remote company you forget sometimes how the other half or rather 90% of folks work.  There are certain practices that we take for granted as remote friendly workers.  Even in office workers can gain from these practices around conferences calls to make them more productive and better all around experiences.  

About the author:

Hello! I'm Brendan Caffrey. A software engineer and leader currently working as Engineering Director @ Litmus where I lead teams making awesome tools for email professionals.