According to Global Workplace Analytics, 40 percent more companies offer remote work options today versus five years ago, with 3.75 million employees working from home 50 percent of the time. Most companies are finding the transition to be worthwhile because employees are more engaged. The rise in remote employees changes how many businesses conduct meetings daily making conference calls more popular than ever. But conference calls can be difficult to manage without the right process and techniques.
Here are seven key steps for better conference calls.
1. Prepare in advance
Participating in a conference call that has no clear direction is detrimental to morale. Employees want to feel as if you value their time and the best way to do that is through preparation. Create an agenda with key points and the estimated amount of time needed to discuss the topic. Distribute the agenda to all participants in advance with a list of items they need to bring to the call, so they are not caught off guard. Encourage them to ask questions before the meeting so they are fully prepared the day of.
2. Test any technology
Test any conference call or screen sharing services in advance to avoid technical issues that can delay the meeting or frustrate participants. If there are specific key combinations to mute and unmute, share these with participants in advance to limit distractions.
3. Encourage participation and engagement
Silence isn’t always negative, but if it lasts too long, it can impact the meeting outcome. Set expectations in advance for participation by assigning an agenda topic to each participant. If you find the conversation is lacking, ask questions to provoke thought and conversations and keep everybody engaged.
If conference calls are too confusing to follow who is speaking and when, consider upgrading to video conference technology. This helps participants see who is speaking, build rapport, and see how others are reacting the conversation.
4. Use participant names
If the call includes multiple individuals, the conversation can get confusing if too many chime in at one time. Use names when you ask questions, so they know who you expect an answer from. When one individual is finished responding, directly acknowledge the next participant.
5. Save non-agenda items for the end
Even with an agenda, conference calls can get off topic because another key point is brought up, or an urgent matter has come to light after the agenda was created. Save non-agenda items for the end of the call during open discussion time. This gives everybody a chance to finalize thoughts, ask questions or present ideas about other items.
6. Use a timer
If you are the meeting organizer, keeping the meeting to its scheduled time usually falls on your shoulders. Being aware of the time invested helps keep you on point. Set a timer on your desk or computer for half of the allotted time. When it goes off, make sure where you are in the meeting topics keeps you on track to finish on time.
7. Send a meeting recap
To avoid any oversights, send a follow-up email to all participants that outlines the discussion, identifies any responsibilities assigned, a project timeline, and the date and time of any future meetings.