Teleconferences — the mute button is on, and people are off doing yoga or the laundry

“Much of what we call work is noise” – Nassim Taleb

Here’s the latest example of that, from the New York Times:  The Modern Meeting: Call In, Turn Off, Tune Out.  Backed by personal observation, data from consulting firms, and tons of anecdotal evidence, it’s clear that a large fraction of attendance at the all-too-ubiquitous teleconference is a complete and total waste of time.

Wainhouse Research, a consulting firm in Duxbury, Mass., estimates that a knowledge worker — one whose job focuses on handling information — in the United States spends an average of 104 minutes each month in conference calls. Such calls have become an orgy of multitasking, serving as a backdrop for a free-for-all of household chores, personal hygiene, online shopping and last-minute income tax filing. As a result, conference calls give rise to what could well be society’s most widespread, implicitly sanctioned collection of antisocial behaviors.

As one of the interviewees points out, there are two basic types of conference call.  First, the meeting in which you are a leader or a significant contributor.  Second, the type of meeting in which you are there for political reasons, to make sure nothing goes wrong, or just to stay in the loop.  In the latter type of meeting, more and more people are just not paying attention.  They are off doing yoga or laundry or — very commonly — reading emails.  In general, not listening.  So why attend?  Indeed, why invite such spectators?  It would be much more efficient to post meeting minutes on an internal wiki page and invite comments for a set period.  Perhaps a lot of non-value added conference call attendance is a sign that your company’s internal communication mechanisms are weak.

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