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Everyone dials in (nat.org)
66 points by dwynings 2451 days ago | hide | past | web | 16 comments | favorite

I get pulled into a _lot_ of conference calls each week, some of them internal product calls, some of them customer calls. Even though the conference rooms are typically within a 90 second walk of my desk, I (and a good number of other people in the same building as me) dial in rather than going to the room.

Over time, people start to develop all sorts of etiquette for these type of meetings (it's roughly the same for people who go to the room and just work on a laptop) - if their attention is required, their name is called out, and the context for the request is spelled out - the assumption is that the person has been working on something else.

Microsoft Exchange (or iCal, or whatever mechanism that feeds the various calendar apps) helps a lot - everyone has the meeting in their calendar, and so various PDAs, Smart Phones, and Calendars of each individual light people up and most people come online within 60-90 seconds of each other.

This is actually a really good solution for the downside of multi-tasking - I can focus 100% on something else, and then, when I'm actually required for the 5-10 minutes of a 90 minute call, I can pay attention at that point.

In effect, you can get 20 people on a call, and instead of taking up 30 person hours (20 * 1.5 hours) - it may cost the organization a small fraction of that, with pretty much the same results.

Clearly for those meetings in which full participation is required, other tactics are required - and I really do try to close my laptop and pay 100% attention to what is going on.

I haven't noticed much difficulty, btw, in working by teleconference - I think people just learn to develop new techniques to optimize the medium - Learning to Mute, call from a good line, judge pauses appropriately to break in, etc..

We've got a lot of people who call in remotely for our weekly team meetings, and in general I think conference calls are torture - but not because of the sound quality (putting everyone on mute except the person speaking seems to help). The thing that drives me crazy is waiting for people to call in so that the call can start. I've been hoping someone will build a Twilio app (I work for Twilio, but haven't hard time to make this one) that will call out to all the participants of the conference call, and drop them into the call when they answer so that they have to be on time.

Another cool solution is the recent feature 37Signals added to Campfire for conference calling, which posts the call transcript back into the chat - nice for people who can't be on the call, or couldn't hear very well.

There's a conference call scene in this (relevant, interesting, funny) video which I think applies to this topic:


I think that it could become a liability to do this at some point, though. When everybody is calling in and people have flaky quality, you are wasting at least some time. If a meeting is more effective in person, then have that meeting in person! You shouldn't be afraid to exclude one or two people if they're traveling; they're already excluded anyway. Why provide an illusion of close involvement?

When everybody is calling in and people have flaky quality, you are wasting at least some time.

I've never noticed flaky microphones or audio quality from remote participants. Ever. But I've often found that local participants are completely inaudible. If every local participant just used a bluetooth microphone (or really anything dedicated but the shared conference call microphones), things would be so much better.

I work on a team that has members distributed across two locations. We use the policy described above, but there is a flip side to this problem. Most of our developers are one location with a 1/6 minority in another. The larger group of developers loses the advantages of face-to-face communication for meetings in favor of equal footing for everyone. Is that a net improvement on quality of communication? I don't know, but I'd rather meet with my colleagues in adjacent cubes face-to-face rather than over the phone the way we do now.

As a developer "on the other side" I can tell you that you would be surprised how hard it is to follow along at these meetings.

For example: Most of the meetings I attend are largely ad-hoc with printed material being handed out at the time of the meeting - usually not available on the company intranet (or emailed) until after the meeting. It makes it immensely difficult to follow along and contribute in a meaningful manner.

Honestly, there are many benefits to having everyone "remote" for a group meeting. It focuses the meeting. After the meeting you still have the luxury of walking over to your co-workers's desk and chatting in detail about the problem.

I've noticed that for my team, some of the bigger meetings seem to attract the problems described in the article, whereas our scrum meetings are more on-topic and brief. It would seem that for our case the 'everyone calls in' solution would work better in the bigger meetings, while we keep the face-to-face interaction in the scrums.

Requiring the communication medium to be the same for everyone during a meeting is a great idea. However, I don't this conference call method is scalable for phone conversations. I can't imagine 15 person conference call would be very effective.

I think for larger meetings this "level playing field" solution would probably work much better for video conferencing or combined text/audio conversations such as on Skype. This way simple cues such as "I've got something to say when you are finished" can be used without interrupting.

Yeah, I've found past 5 or so people, text works a lot better for the major portion of the discussion. We even use IRC as a main meeting medium for one project.

However, this does require that everyone be "text-fluent", i.e. able to effectively produce and understand communications in a text-chat medium, in a way that feels like conversation rather than people sending short memos to each other. True of most people <30; intermittently true of people above that age, depending on the person.

I'm on a 12 person call twice a week for about an hour. It works remarkably well, with the caveat that it only does so when the manager running the meeting is present. It helps to have someone run the meeting with an 'iron fist' - keeps everybody on the same page and organized, without letting it spiral off into details that are irrelevant to the other 10 people on the call.

I am in exactly that situation. It would probably help, but everyone "over there" is in an open plan office. It's great idea, though.

even when everyone dials in, the people using a cellphone or joining conference calls while travelling are at a distinct disadvantage. Any number of calls I join have at least one guy having to drop out and come back in because the signal keeps fading.

The other thing I've noticed with a large number of dial-in participants is that there can be a lot of silent attendees and very few people talking. YMMV

Large numbers of silent attendees is normal in meetings with lots of people in person too - most people just don't have anything to say!

Skype is adding five way group conferencing. Maybe this could help to alleviate such issues.


Strange to hear of people on this site, talking about dialing in. There are many better solutions available. Sococo.com for one.

that's a great idea.

i'd also like to it possible for only one person to speak at the same time.

and keep track of who's talking the most. in some contexts that can be helpful. it might be useful too if each partipant only had the floor for so long.

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