Conference Calls

Conference Calls

Waiting. . .waiting. . .waiting

I spend a lot of time on conference calls. It is the way of the work world. “We need to talk about this with everyone on the line. Here is the conference call number and password.”  Now I applaud the efficiency of this method of accomplishing tasks—I’m always in favor of something that doesn’t involve a trip to the airport. But, conference calls are tricky.

Whose Time? I work with people all over the country, so it’s always a challenge when setting up a call. Is that 9:00 Central Time or Eastern Time? Often, they’ll send a calendar invitation and you don’t know if it adjusted for your time zone or not. More emails to clarify. Yes, this is so time-saving!

How Soon? There is an art to the entrance to the call. You don’t want to call in too soon and hear, “You are the first one to enter the call”. It’s like being thirty minutes early to a party. It’s awkward and you look like the eager kid who can’t wait. And then you get to listen to really bad hold music.

But, you don’t want to wait too late, and enter the call after everyone else has begun to talk. You can hear the “ding” as your call comes in and everyone must stop and acknowledge you, interrupting whatever was being discussed.

So, I spend a lot of time staring at the clock on my computer. Five minutes until the call. Two minutes until the call. One minute until the call. Now? No, wait. No, go ahead. It’s exhausting.

So, how are you? And then when you enter the call and you are waiting for others to join, because you went ahead and called in at one minute before time, it’s that uncomfortable small-talk time with people you may know only from this workgroup. “How’s it going?” “You been busy?” And then you get interrupted by “ding”, “ding” as people join. And you start all over again. “How’s it going?” “You been busy?” until finally someone in charge begins the meeting.

Are you on the phone? In my office we have headsets for the phones. We look like a bad version of Madonna. They are very handy and let us be mobile if we need to while talking to customers, vendors, etc. But, it’s impossible to tell if someone is on the phone. A handset at the ear—that’s a clear indication DO NOT DISTURB. But you walk by an office and see someone sitting at their desk with their headset on—that’s how they always look. So, someone is always coming in and starting a conversation and I have to do the “hold up the hand, stop in the name of love” sign to indicate that I’m otherwise engaged.

Yes, I could put up a sign or close my door. But that would just make too much sense, wouldn’t it?

SSHHH Sometimes I’m on conference calls that last an hour or more. Sitting still for an hour is not in my wheelhouse. I get antsy. Since I have the aforementioned headset, I can walk around or, often, I’m on my cell phone. But I can get myself in trouble, not realizing how much the ambient noise is being relayed to others on the call. Keurig coffee makers are incredibly loud when you don’t want them to be. If I go outside and smoke, the wind will whistle through the phone. Or. . .nature calls and I try to be very, very quiet but there’s just no getting around that flushing sound. I stood outside of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City last fall, in pouring rain, trying to stay away from the noisy crowd standing in line waiting to go into the building. I’m very grateful that most of my conference calls do not require Facetime or Skyping. That would be awkward.  

How Long? Today, as I wrote this, I was waiting on a conference call. The gentleman who set up the call and sent us the number and access code was a no-show. Thankfully the other caller was a dear colleague of mine and we spent some lovely time catching up and visiting. But, how long do we have to wait for him to join?

When I was in college, there was the traditional rule:

“The fifteen-minute rule is somewhere between myth and tradition, not written anywhere that I know of,” says Mary Lou Edmondson, CCNY’s vice president for communications. “It is a long-time tradition passed on from student to student, a loose kind of tradition that is not in some kind of handbook for students or CUNY policy.”

 "I've heard you had to wait five minutes for an instructor, 10 minutes for an adjunct [professor], and 15 minutes for a full professor. I don't know how students are supposed to keep track”

But what is the rule for waiting for someone on a conference call? 15 minutes is an eternity on the phone, especially when the other lines in the office are ringing, and you can’t get to them. Today my friend and I talked for about five minutes, decided he wasn’t calling in, called his cell phone and left a message and hung up. And so, it will be another day of scheduling and staring at the clock figuring out when to call in. So much protocol and anxiety!  

But, no matter, I still didn’t have to get on a plane to go to a meeting. So, I’ll listen to the hold music and patiently wait for the “ding” any day!  


Glenda Stansbury is Marketing Director of InSight Books and Co-Founder of InSight Institute Certified Celebrant Program. She is also a speaker, a trainer, and an observer of life, and one of Doug Manning’s adorable and talented daughters. You may email Glenda at