In the culture of many businesses, audio conferencing has become so ubiquitous that it’s like muscle memory – no one even thinks about it. Though conferencing has facilitated both creativity and efficiency in the work environment, in order to make the most of conference calls themselves, a certain – if minimal – structure should be employed in order to keep meetings flowing, and ensure that everyone who desires to contribute gets the opportunity to do so – allowing for managerial discretion, of course.
In the interest of the foregoing parameters, a few prudent, helpful guidelines toward successful conferencing are:
Schedules and timing – Everyone on the team, as well as outside attendees or consultants, are busy people. It is essential to ensure that conferencing is conducted at times that are feasible, and that will not detrimentally affect productivity. Communal or company calendars (Google Calendar, for example) facilitate colleagues and managers viewing team members’ calendars to make these determinations. Sending several options for meeting times to any outside attendees and consultants who are needed is advisable, so that their availability and schedules can be accommodated.
Agendas – Distributing a conference agenda is the best way to avoid stream-of-consciousness discussions, complaints, or “suggestion box” offerings that can put the conference off track. While having the flexibility to add pertinent agenda items for as long as possible is desirable, getting the agenda into attendees’ hands sooner will prevent headaches, so a balance must be struck in this area. Time limits for open discussion, proposals, and moderator responsibilities are far easier to work with when these are clearly indicated in the agenda.
Preparation – Any documents or reference materials that participants will need should be provided well ahead of the conference. Once again, Google has provided a useful utility in Google Drive, wherein items needed for sharing with colleagues may be placed. Such items may also be placed within the Google Calendar for fast and easy access. This feature is a great time saver, and it can reduce confusion amongst attendees as to what documents are required for a particular conference (which may be only one of several scheduled for that week).
Disruptions – Preparing a set of guidelines which address potential distractions, whether included in each agenda or as an inculcated team practice, is definitely a good idea. The telecommuter with the noisy dog at home, the sales rep who takes calls in bustling airport terminals – these could be admonished to take a few minutes to ensure that their environment will not be disruptive to the conference until doing so becomes habit. Although moderators often have control of audio levels within the audio conferencing environment, such instances are still distracting, if only to the moderator.
Action Items – A team member should always take the minutes of the meeting, whether or not this is assigned on a per-conference basis, or the team has a designated individual assigned to perform this task for all meetings. This way, there is no confusion around action items (or “to-do” items), who has been assigned to carry these out, and points raised during brainstorming sessions will not be forgotten. It also helps to keep everyone honest.
These are suggestions, of course; there don’t have to be hard-and-fast rules governing audio conferencing calls, but utilizing these guidelines, perhaps with modifications as they apply to the particular company culture, can go a long way to streamlining conferencing and maximizing overall effectiveness.