Hello, hello, is anybody out there?

I spend most of my day on the phone. I am not having conversations that are, like, awesome discussions about whether Justin Bieber is still hot or not. I am not texting my current whereabouts or dinner plans. I am not taking selfies and uploading them to Instagram. No, I am doing work or trying to at least. That’s because I am almost always on conference calls with people in other time zones. In fact, I think I have probably become the world’s best expert at determining the best confluence of the universe to hold a meeting between people in Seattle, South Africa and Sweden. But that is not the topic today.

You would think that this far into the 21st century we would have perfected conference call and virtual meeting technology. I am sorry to say this is as elusive as Oprah’s quest for thinner thighs (or maybe at this point she has given up and who could blame her because clearly she is proof that money cannot buy thin – but I digress). That is why I thought it was important to appeal to telecommunication mavens, wherever they may be, to get on the case and immediately solve this (literally) world problem. To help out, I am happy to share the seven highly dysfunctional habits of the teleconference.

1. Who just joined? Those of us who live in cyberphoneland know that it is a folly to record your name after the tone. That’s because when you drop off accidentally (and you know you will), there will be a constant barrage of ‘Susan just left the meeting’ ‘Susan just joined the meeting’. Also, when the unlucky person who is chairing the meeting asks who just joined, several people will talk at the same time or for that matter, not talk, so it is always impossible to know at any given time who is actually in the meeting.

2. How is the weather there? Not that I am against some pleasantries before everyone has gathered for the meeting, but really, do we have anything else to talk about except the weather? No I guess we don’t since I haven’t actually met any of you in person and have no idea what you do from day to day (except attend conference call meetings), so really the only thing we have in common is the weather (or in fact, we don’t because you are somewhere in a different climate than me).

3. Sit, Basil. One advantage of working at home is that you can spend more quality time with your pets. With respect to conference calls, pets in general aren’t an issue, just the ones that bark. I would just like to say this about that: the dog barking in the background while you are trying to make some semblance of an intelligent comment makes the dog look smarter than you do.

4. Press *6 to mute your line. For all of the people that don’t know how to use the mute button (see above) there are equal numbers that ‘forget’ they are on mute. Or more likely, they pretend to forget they are on mute to avoid participating. As in “I’m sorry, did you not hear me? I must have been on mute. But I think that Fred made a really important point and I agree entirely.”

5. Can you hear me now? The good news is it is now possible to dial a phone number without a phone. The bad news is you should never do this. Ever. Because if you do, you will sound like you are calling from the bottom of a well. Or we will hear every second or third word. Or you will cause epic reverb. Just pick up your landline. You don’t have a landline? Then you are not equipped for 21st century conference calls. Just sayin’.

6. Can you see me now? Of course now we have added another complication to the conference call: the virtual presentation. In theory this means you can see someone’s Powerpoint slides. In practice it means you can see a blue screen, a black screen, a screen with wavy lines or their email in-basket (which in many cases is much more interesting than their presentation deck).

7. Who just joined? Part 2. The late joiner is typically the important decision maker who joins the call five minutes before the end and proceeds to ask for a recap of the past 55 minutes so he (and it is mostly always a ‘he’) can weigh in on stuff that has already been agreed upon, prompting the scheduling of yet another conference call.

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