Many businesses have successfully capitalized on the latest mobile technology and communication tools to reimagine how and where employees work. Today, we can conference with clients, colleagues and service partners from anywhere. It’s hard to build a case against flexibility—unless it means taking a hit on revenue.
Mobile devices are a growing force in the conferencing space. Our recent study found that smartphones and tablets accounted for more than 21% of total conference call minutes in 2013. There are undoubtedly benefits to unshackling meetings from the physical office, but these shouldn’t come at the cost of productivity. With the majority of meeting expenses stemming from human capital and time—not technology—managers must be aware of the costs of distracted, on-the-go employees.
Mobile Conferencing Sometimes Works Against Productivity
While workers might enjoy the ability to multitask during conference calls, as 82% have admitted to doing, this is hardly an efficient model. Nearly half of employees have taken a conference call while using the bathroom, a quarter while playing video games and 65% while doing other work. Even though they’ve dialed in, many employees are clearly not tuned in.
This isn’t just embarrassing for businesses; it directly impacts their bottom lines. Research has shown that multitasking reduces productivity by 40% and has the same effect on an employee’s IQ as losing a night of sleep. This not only increases the hard and soft costs of meetings, but also means employees are effectively “checked out,” even when focusing on other work. To add insult to injury, employees working on other assignments during meetings aren’t giving them their full attention, reducing the quality of that final product.
Technology is here to stay, but imperfect processes don’t have to. Firms can engage their employees and imbue focus into conference calls by making a few meeting adjustments:
- Employ multi-sensory conferencing tools: Much of the temptation to multitask during conference calls stems from the impersonal nature of these meetings. Video conferencing is one potential solution, as it offers a more interactive experience and encourages employees to stay focused. An employee might be able to mute a phone to take a conference call from the bathroom, but a video call demands more of their time and attention.
- Activity ≠ productivity: Just because employees are present on a conference call doesn’t mean they’re truly engaged. Employees should understand the purpose of their conference calls and their role to address the accountability gap enabling off-task work and other behaviors. On the other end, work performed while on a conference call suffers from the same lack of attention, and should be prioritized on its own time.
- Eliminate technological hiccups: No matter how dedicated your employees are to focusing on a mobile meeting and avoiding the temptation of TV or emails, having to troubleshoot tech problems automatically strains productivity. Poor reception, dropped voice and video calls, malfunctioning conference bridges and other nuisances cripple the most sincere attempts at effective meetings. The less time employees spend fighting their conferencing connections, the more they can spend actively participating.
- Make meetings matter: Unproductive meetings are a self-propagating problem. When conference call attendees are distracted, little is accomplished. This behavior gives other focused employees little incentive to dedicate their full attention to meetings too. In the same way you use an email to convey information differently than a text message, make sure you’re using the appropriate medium for your meeting. If you need to work with a small group, use the right tools or platforms to foster that collaboration.
The proliferation of mobile devices has enabled the “work from anywhere” standard, but many firms still struggle to reap its advantages. To avoid meeting-induced productivity drains and the subsequent blow to their profits, businesses must face the (hold) music. Now is the time to start making mobile conferencing more efficient, engaging and reliable.
What are your tricks for maintaining productive meetings, even when attendees are remote? Let us know in the comments below.