I’ve worked for a remote company for a couple of years now, so the routine of group conference calls instead of the meeting room and individual phone calls with colleagues instead of watercooler chats is my norm.
Personally, it didn’t take long to get over the awkward silences and pauses while waiting for others to speak. Even the constant, “Sorry, go ahead” pleasantry when talking at the same time as someone else becomes a fleeting thought.
Conference calls can be just as productive, or even more productive than in-person meetings. But the one thing that makes or breaks productivity and cohesion in the conference call is that little button floating on your screen—mute.
Awareness of your mute button’s location – at all times and on devices – cannot be stressed enough. When working from home, all sorts of noises will arise when you least expect it, whether that’s from children, pets, or your overbearing extravert of a neighbor that thinks social distancing is a hoax. Don’t forget about the expected noises like that mailman arriving at the doorstep being met by your barking dog (surely, Fido is proud that his barking has, yet again, prevented that stranger from coming inside) or your roommate grinding coffee beans in the morning.
These sounds may have become white noise in your mind, but I promise the other person on the call doesn’t hear it the same way. Know where your mute button is and be quick to press that button at the onset of the sound. For the conference call attendee, hearing a quick “Hey,” turning to silence is much better than, “Hey mommy, do you think you can clean up the dog pee on the couch?” While nothing short of entertaining, hearing the whole thing isn’t going to help your conference call stay on track.
That being said, we’re not perfect and are bound to forget to mute or not know where the mute button went (because your screen never accidentally strays away from the call itself into the latest Coronapocalypse news article). If, or more accurately, when, that happens while you’re the one speaking on the call, address it, laugh about it, and transition back to the point of the meeting after that person has muted themselves. DO NOT pretend like you don’t hear anything and keep on pushing through with your conversation because NOBODY IS LISTENING TO YOU WHEN FUNNY NOISES ARE HAPPENING.
Sorry, I just wrote two more paragraphs explaining how important it is to unmute yourself when you have something to say, but forgot to unmute myself while I spoke. I won’t bother repeating myself.