We’re all doing business all over the place. Clients are all over the globe. Remote and home offices create a dispersed workforce. For that reason, conference calls are a daily occurrence for most of us. You’d think we’d have figured them out by now. That it would be easy. But too often, too much of the call is wasted with “We lost you there.” and “Can you repeat that?” or “What slide are we on?” Here’s how you can keep calls focussed by setting up for conference call success.
A study by Cambridge University found that audio calling is still the most popular form of conferencing technology. The foundation of solid conference calling is audible audio. But in the Cambridge study, 77% of respondents reported quality was an issue on conference calls. Poor quality has been shown to affect concentration, and make calls more tiring for participants. There are a number of factors that affect call audio quality.
One key factor in audio quality is the conference calling service you use. ITPRO says an issue is the business model that many free (and some paid) providers employ. They “squeeze as many calls as possible into a fixed amount of bandwidth.” In that case, spikes in traffic create bottlenecks and interrupt audio transmission.
Another factor is the equipment end users are using. Remote workers connecting with only laptop mic and speakers will have a hard time hearing and being heard. Laptop mics are also the usual culprit when there’s an echo on the line, because the mic picks up the output from the speakers which are probably broadcasting a bit of a delay. For the sake of productivity, it’s worth investing in quality headsets for users who attend regular conference calls.
The physical location of attendees is also a factor to consider. Some rooms just aren’t built for conferencing. They absorb background sounds poorly and create muffled audio. Decent headsets can go a long way to solving this problem, but if you’ve got a number of people joining from one location, consider the acoustics of rooms typically used for conference calling.
Technology has added a pile of available features and functionalities to the world of conference calling. Many boost productivity to calls by enabling collaboration and simplifying call setup.
Here are some key attributes to look for:
- File sharing – Make sure you can share a wide range of file types and formats. Some providers limit you to sharing only PowerPoint presentations. You’ll probably want to share doc, pdf, jpg, excel files and more, including apps, and participant screens.
- Touchtone interaction – Answer polls, surveys, and get weigh in from participants through simple keypad inputs. But this is where Mozilla warns users on their internal conference calls to beware of free conference providers that often overload bandwidth beyond the capacity to carry the DTMF data required for this feature.
- Attendee management – It’s really handy if you can see who’s in attendance and who’s talking. And for more interactive sessions, the ability to pass presenter privileges is key. Before you select a provider, know how many callers you can have on the line, and if there are time limits to calls.
- Ease of use – If you have to reserve time in advance, ad-hoc calls will be difficult. Look for a reservationless system that makes scheduling easy, and that includes automated invites. As simple as conference calling should be, operator support can be a big help that you’ll miss if not offered.
How your team is calling in makes a big difference. It’s partly a quality issue, but also reliability. Dropped callers interrupt everything by inspiring conversations about when the caller was lost, and requiring repetition.
For example, Google Hangouts doesn’t allow calls to some free conference call providers (more on that in another post). Other systems, like Skype, are subject to dropped connections pending interruptions.
There are those that will tell you that the PSTN is the only reliable way to connect to conference calls with quality. Those people are probably also still expecting new episodes of ‘Friends’ every Thursday night. A PSTN connection will work, but there are better alternatives that take advantage of digital efficiencies. A strong SIP trunking provider connected through a softphone, or using WebRTC click-to-call technology, will centralize participant focus on one device while cutting costs.
Plan for productivity:
All of this means one thing. If your organization uses conference calls regularly, you need a conference calling policy to preserve the productivity of your calls. A good policy will define the provider you use, how to connect, and where to connect from. The guidelines published by Mozilla for their community calls is a good reference.
Many people view conference calls as evil and destructive to their day. But in the new word of employees, partners, and customers everywhere, they are necessary. Keep conference calls from wasting productivity by taking the time to plan ahead.