Friday, April 4th, 2014 .

Here’s a piece of trivia you probably didn’t know, unless, of course, you are an entomologist (and even then you might know this): there are 17 varieties of locusts. Well, okay, there’s actually only 12 varieties, with three subspecies of tree locusts, and a couple more grasshoppers that are similar to locusts.

The actual number isn’t important (unless, again, you’re an entomologist, and even then probably not that big a deal).

What is important is that there are numerous ways that different kinds of locusts could come along and really ruin your crops in pretty terrible ways, although I’m guessing the Italian Locust would at least be stylish about it.

Similarly, as part of scholarly research I’m doing for my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Quito on “Violence-Centered Group Dynamics and Interpersonal Relationship Management in Drug Cartels: Why All the Anger?”, I have identified approximately 11 Irritating Conference Call Types. Today, we will examine two of these varieties.

1. The Repeating Everything Everyone Else Already Said Guy: Ever heard this kind of exchange in a conference call?

CALLER 1: Okay, so, what we’re planning on doing on the 19th is bringing the cement over the George Washington Bridge in a stream of approximately 125 mixers beginning at 4 am..

CALLER 2: Great. I’ll make arrangements with the city to have lights approved for the site prior to the arrival of the first truck.

REPEATING GUY: So, as far as the 19th goes, the plan is to bring in about 125 mixers across the George Washington Bridge starting at 4 a.m. That means we’re going to have to have lights. I guess arrangements will be made with the city than for lighting the site, right?

(LONG SILENCE)

CALLER 1: Yes, that’s what we just said.

REPEATING GUY: I know. I just wanted to clarify that the trucking of the cement over the George Washington Bridge will start at 4 a.m. on the 19th so that will have to be lit with approval from the city.

(EVEN LONGER SILENCE)

CALLER 2: Can we kill you?

CALLER 1: In a slow and painful way?

REPEATING GUY: So you’re suggesting that as far as my death goes, you two want to arrange it, and to make it slow and painful?

The Repeating Everything Everyone Else Already Said Guy suffers from a basic lack of self esteem.  He believes that people think he has nothing to contribute to the conversation, but if he repeats what other people are saying it will make it seem as if he has something to contribute.  In this regard, the Repeating Everything Everyone Else Already Has Said Guy is justified in his low self esteem.  He, in fact, has nothing to contribute.  He should do two things:

  • Not contribute
  • Have low self-esteem

2. The Irrelevant Topics Gal

There you all are, deep in a discussion about pricing levels on volume purchasing by major customers when this happens:

CALLER 1: I have to be honest, Carol, I think 18% is too deep a discount even on a million unit buyer.  Our margin on this is only 4% already.

CALLER 2: But Bilox Industries is offering a 16% discount at that level.  We have to do something competitive to hold market share.

IRRELEVANT TOPICS GAL: Excuse me, but does anyone know anything about upper respiratory infections in cats?  I think my cat, Bobby, has one because he’s sneezing and his breathing is labored.

CALLER 1: We weren’t really talking about cat diseases.

CALLER 2: Bobby sounds really sick.

IRRELEVANT TOPICS GAL: I’m so worried about him.

CALLER 2: Have you spoken to your vet?

CALLER 1: Can we get back to the business discussion we were having?

CALLER 2: Her cat is really sick, Bob.  Don’t you have a heart?

CALLER 1: I do, but…

IRRELEVANT TOPICS GAL: Jerk.

CALLER 1: Sorry.

The Irrelevant Topics Gal also suffers from a basic lack of self esteem.  She believes that people think she has nothing to contribute to the conversation, but if she changes the subject, she can hide this fact.  There’s no hiding it, however, but she can do three things:

  • Not contribute
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Let the cat go

In future essays, I will examine additional character types who ruin conference calls. It’s important to be able to identify these types quickly during the call so you can mute them or lock them out in order to keep your conference call moving forward.

Friday, June 6th, 2014 .

There you are, sitting in your office, crunching through some dreary piece of work you absolutely have to get done today or else the company will fail and you’ll all lose your jobs and your children will starve, and as you wander the streets in desperation, (you and your family) you’ll be attacked by hordes of locusts and your bones picked clean and then the civilization in which you are an integral cog will vanish into the dust of history, so better finish that report. Or whatever it is you’re working on.

You look out the window and it’s a lovely summer day.  There’s people out there having fun!  What the…?!  There’s women out there in sundresses and sandals, walking around eating ice cream and laughing.  And there’s guys out there in tank tops and shorts, lolling around on lawn chairs, drinking beers and grilling sausages. Mmm… grilled bratwurst… That would taste so good right now.  A nice cold beer.  Yeah, that’s it.  That’s the ticket.  You just sit there and stare longingly out the window, thinking happy thoughts about women in sundresses and guys on lawn chairs and–

“Hey, how’s that project we’re working coming along?”

You snap out of your reverie.

“Oh, yeah, that,” you say to your co-worker.  “Just working on it now. Should be done with it pretty soon.”

“Good, because I’m gonna need your part of it by tomorrow morning,” your co-worker says.  “Because if you don’t turn your part of it in by tomorrow morning the company will fail and we’ll all lose our jobs and our children will starve, and as we wander the streets in desperation (you, me and all of our families) we’ll be attacked by hordes of locusts and our bones picked clean and then the civilization we are an integral cog in will vanish into the dust of history. So I guess what I’m saying is if you need to work late…”

“No problem,” you say.  “I’ll make sure you get it by the morning.”

Your co-worker moves on and you go back to day-dreaming and staring out the window and feeling, well, just sad and unproductive.

It’s summer now.  It’s hard to concentrate and sometimes hard to get work done.  If you were to Google ‘how to stay productive during the summer’ you’ll find any number of articles with helpful tips on how you can stay as productive in the summer as you were last winter when you came into work despite the blizzard and still managed to get a full eight hours of concentrated work in.

I don’t have eight tips. Or ten. Or even five.

I have one tip: take your vacation.

Americans work too many hours. Studies published on the economics website FRED showed that Americans work an average of 1,700 hours per year.  Compare that with the French (who, for some reason, are epitomized by us as the height of a leisurely approach to life), who work less than 1,500 hours per year. Which works out to way more than a month less per year than us.

Well, that’s the French, you say. Now how about the Germans? There’s a hard-working, rich and successful nation. They must be working way more than us, right?  Nope.  Germans work even less than the French!  The hard-working Germans work 1,400 hours per year, which means they are working nearly two months less per year than us.

Yet the last time I checked, the Germans still somehow managed to be driving around in BMWs, drinking excellent beer and walking on the beach in exceptionally sensible shoes and high quality black socks.

So, this summer, take your vacation. You don’t even have to go anywhere. Turn off the smartphone, set up an automated response to your email saying you are going to be out of the office for the next two weeks, and relax. Stay up too late. Sleep in. Take a nap. Eat the wrong foods. Go dancing in a smoky, crowded blues bar and not worry that you’re gonna be a wreck tomorrow. And don’t wear anything that was dry cleaned.

It will do your body and soul good. You’ll come back to work feeling refreshed and ready to take on another year.

Look, God created the entire universe and then took a day off.

So you too can take a couple of weeks off to sit in a lawn chair with your bare feet in your kids’ wading pool, a beer in your hand and bask in the aroma of bratwurst.

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 .

UberConference is proud to deliver a brand new way to connect. Everything you love about UberConference 2.0 is now available on your iPhone®. The app for iPhone features all of the great new tools available on desktop and Android in a complete toolkit.

Enjoy no PINs if you’re hosting the call and, in Pro, eliminate them altogether for every caller. The Apple interface has a brand new design that makes it easier than ever to organize your calls on the go. New security features allow you to also lock calls from your phone (once all your participants are in) by pressing ## on your phone. Our trial-mode has no sign-up and basic service is always free. Simplify your mobile experience.

Apple fans REJOICE!

device_iphone

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 .

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” — Aristotle, “The Politics”

When you sit down and think about it, many of the greatest accomplishments of the human race are collaborative efforts.  The cathedrals of medieval France.  MGM musicals like “Singing in the Rain” or “Royal Wedding”.  Democracy.  The Renaissance.  A Double Double Cheeseburger with Fries from In ‘N Out Burger.

These are things that could only have been created by a group effort, human beings working together.

Why?  Because we are, as Aristotle observed more than 2,300 years ago, social animals.  We live a common life together.

So if we live a common life together and are, at heart, social animals, why do so many teleconferences not work?  What, exactly, causes them to be disappointing failures?  I think I can confidently state that it is not because we are either beasts nor gods.

What causes many teleconferences to fail is a combination of insufficient technology and basic human politeness.  There are what I call “the pain points of teleconferencing.”   And they are solvable problems.

1. Set an agenda.  Stick to it.

Unless the teleconference is between NFL owners, nobody gets to talk about the Super Bowl.

Before your next teleconference, send out an agenda to everyone.  These are items we will be discussing, and this is the order in which we’ll be discussing them.  People are busy, and while your teleconference may in fact be the most important part of their work day, it is not the only part of their work day.  Nothing kills a teleconference quicker than desultory talk about the weather, the latest flu outbreak or last night’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”  We all have other things to do today besides chit chat right now.  Stay on point, stick to the agenda, finish the call.

2. People are going to arrive late.  Deal with it.

It’s just going to happen: people are going to show up late.  They’ll have a million good reasons.  We don’t need to hear them.  We also don’t need to recap what’s been discussed already.

Think of it this way: somebody shows up late to Mass.  The priest doesn’t stop the proceedings, introduce everyone, and then recap what’s happened so far.  No.  If you show up late, you check where in the liturgy (agenda) we are, listen in and catch up on your own.

There’s no reason a teleconference can’t operate that way either.

3. Use technology that works.

Teleconferencing technology should do the following:

— allow automatic sharing of documents during the call

— visual identification of who is speaking and participating

— late entrants can join without interrupting — or stopping — the call

If your teleconferencing system can’t do these things, your calls are going to be less effective, more painful for the callers, and, ultimately, less collaborative.

We’re human beings.  We’re social animals.  We’re working on a problem together.  Any technology you are using that disrupts collaborative work is anti-social and goes counter to who we are in our essence.