The other end of the line

[NOTE: more installments from my trip to Padrauna, India, coming soon.  If you missed it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 here]

I work at a global organization – my office is in New York and we have offices in India, Pakistan and Kenya.  Conference calls across time zones are an inevitability.  And with 9 hour time differences, someone (usually not someone in New York) is on the phone at an inconvenient time in an inconvenient place, trying to makes sense of and keep up with a bunch of voices half a world away.

The past 10 days I’ve been in India and have been on the other end of the line.  Not surprisingly, things feel pretty different.  For the best of these calls I was on a cellphone in a hotel lobby.  For the others I was on some combination of streetcorners, taxis, elevators and hotel rooms, sometime between 5:00 and 8:00pm.

Some thoughts on how to make things work better for people on the other end of the line:

  • The standard should be, for each topic, one person giving an update and a maximum of two comments/clarifying questions.  Not because people don’t have more to say or ask, but because this will enforce a level of discipline and make people set a higher bar on the things they say.
  • If you’re going around, asking everyone on the call to give an update, start with the people on the other end of the line, not the people in the room
  • Quick side conversations “in the room” are just impossible to follow for everyone else.  Not sure what to do here since jokes, laughs and stories are what make the world go ’round, but it’s tough when you can’t tell what’s going on.
  • Almost never ask a question just because you’re curious (versus you need to know).  When you’re sitting around a conference table with colleagues that you like, “curious” is fun and relaxing.  When you’re on the street, in a taxi, or just sitting there trying to get to the end of your day, a curious question often feels somewhere between unnecessary and disrespectful.
  • Experiment with having someone who’s not “in the room” lead the call.  It might not work, but at least you’ll see how the pacing and tone differ.
  • Be very active about “parking” questions and set a standard that this is par for the course…consider having someone be in charge of cutting off conversations

I wish the conference call services would add a feature allowing people on the line to vote “speed up” or “slow down.”  Imagine if the average sentiment were projected on the wall “in the room.”  Sure it would be distracting, but do that a couple of times and things will change forever.

This may all sound a little too grumpy, but things just feel different on the other end of the line.

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