We think conference calls are a great way to get things done—it’s the name of our website, after all! But a recurring conference call can be a consistent time suck. Unproductive meetings cost the average professional 31 hours of their work month.
Here’s how to get out of a call you feel is wasting your time.
What To Tell Your Boss
Present Concrete Examples
Lay out, in detail, how the conference call is redundant to another meeting or unrelated to your responsibilities. Take notes on the dynamics that cause the call to go on for too long.
Emphasize The Work You Could Be Doing
Good managers recognize that every task they assign to their subordinates has an opportunity cost. Bring your supervisor concrete examples of that cost.
If you’ve ever had to work late, hand off a task, or turn in a less-than-ideal product because of a conference call, this is the place to mention it.
Pitch A Solution
“If you come with an issue, leaders want to see the proposed solution,” says Lisa Frame-Jacobsen, a Minnesota-based HR consultant and the founder of Feature Talent Builders.
You could offer to participate on part of the call, or every other call. You can even recommend a colleague take over your responsibility for the call. (Ask your would-be surrogate if they’re willing to take this step before you suggest it.) Frame-Jacobsen recommends that you offer to train your replacement, and explain how that person will benefit from your mentorship.
Set The Right Tone
“If you’re asking not to do something, think of the impression that it makes,” says Roy Cohen, a career coach and the author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. According to Cohen, you should be certain that you need to get out of the meeting. If you ask out, you might not be able to make a similar request down the road. Making a detailed case will help.
When you present your case, be positive. Don’t grouse or complain, and be complimentary of your colleagues. Even if a call isn’t a good use of your time, it could be worth it for them.
What To Do If You Can’t Get Out Of A Conference Call
If you can’t convince your boss to let you drop the call, don’t press the issue. Come back to it after a month or two. In the meantime, there are a few workarounds that you can use to mitigate the problem.
Frame-Jacobsen recommends working with the person running the phone call to develop an agenda—and using it. Distribute the agenda to everyone on the call before it starts. Have the call leader keep everyone accountable to the topics on the agenda. If someone wanders into a blind alley, gently guide them back to the subject at hand.
Frame-Jacobsen also recommends establishing a hard stop time. If the clock strikes 2:15 and that’s when the call is supposed to end, the call should end in the next five minutes.
If those approaches don’t work, or the team leader won’t react well to the suggestions, Cohen suggests using the mute button. You can interject occasionally, and keep working on what you’d rather be doing.
Another option is to listen to the call during what would otherwise be down time. Some of our clients record large conference calls, then allow employees to listen to the recording during their commute the next day. Recording and playback is free for ConferenceCalling.com customers, and it’s easy to do—all you need is a phone.
Conference calls are a useful productivity tool. (We should know.) But, if overused, they can actually stifle productivity. If you do talk to your boss about your conference call problem, pitch them with a meaningful solution that will solve it.