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How to Wake Up Your Remote Employees During Conference Calls

A new study finds that many employees fall asleep, do other work, or even use the restroom during conference calls. Follow these steps to make sure they stay engaged next time.
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You probably will never know what your remote employees are really doing while you host your weekly conference call. Based on recent research, you probably don't want to know either.

InterCall, a conference call company used by 85 percent of Fortune 100 firms, recently completed a study of 530 American workers to see what they are actually doing on the other end of the line. The company found that almost 40 percent of respondents admit they left a conference call without saying so and lied about staying on, 27 percent admitted to falling asleep at least once, and 13 percent have been caught lying about their location. 

The most interesting findings of the survey are the 10 activities employees partake in regularly during conference calls:

  • 65 percent of respondents do other work
  • 63 percent send e-mails
  • 55 percent eat or make food
  • 47 percent go to the restroom
  • 44 percent text other people
  • 43 percent see what's happening on their social media accounts
  • 25 percent play video games
  • 21 percent shop online
  • 9 percent exercise
  • 6 percent take other phone calls

You may want to blame the fact that these employees are not in the office, but location is not the issue. As a leader, the reponsibility for of setting up a conference call that engages employees is on your shoulders. 

"You can be completely engaged on the beach, in your car, on an airplane. That's not the variable that matters. If people are distracted, that's a problem either with the channel choice to begin with, why this person is on the call, or the facilitation skills," Paul Argenti, a professor at Tuck Business School tells Harvard Business Review.

Technological factors hurt engagement: 64 percent of respondents said they prefer to use their mobile phone rather than a landline, and 80 percent said they are more likely to press mute while on a mobile phone. 

But you can't pin the blame on technology. For starters, you could outlaw the mute button or use video conferencing. "Using multi-sensory conferencing tools like web and audio or video creates more engagement and interaction," Rob Bellmar, InterCall's executive vice president of conferencing and collaboration, tells HBR. "Video forces people to be more attentive since it is more visible."

Below, check out three ways to engage your employees during a your all-hands calls. 

Remember the details

HBR editor Gretchen Gavett writes that successful conference calls start without any hitches: "It's all about the little things." Argenti says too many calls start off poorly due to lack of planning. "Make sure all the details are confirmed," he says. Set up a bridge, send the invite, and make sure everyone who needs to be on the call knows whom to call.

The first five minutes

Too many conference calls just get down to business without building a personal connection. If you don't know who is on the line with you, why would you care about what they have to say? An anonymous voice is easy to ignore. Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, says leaders should start the call with what he calls "take 5"--the first five minutes of the meeting should allow everyone to "take turns and talk a little about what's going on in their lives, either personally or professionally." Those five minutes will help break the ice and enhance engagement. 

Dole out tasks

The best way to engage participants is to assign them tasks, Ferrazzi says. Ask one person to record the minutes and send them out after the call, for example, and have another run the Q&A after the information is communicated. Additionally, you should implement a ban on pressing the mute button. "A surefire way to kill the mood of any virtual meeting is with the dead silence that follows a joke because people have their audio on mute," he says. "Perhaps more important, mute discourages spontaneous discussion."

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Aug 21, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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