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The Break Room: Conference Call Guess Who

Do you recognize this recurring cast of characters?

Conference Call Guess Who
This satirical column is part of our series The Break Room. Each column takes a humorous look at an aspect of the workplace. All the characters and scenes are fictional.

If you thought you were on a lot of conference calls before, chances are you’ve had much more than your fair share over the last few weeks. Whether by phone or video, these often awkward, occasionally catastrophic get-togethers have become a fact of life for even the most technologically averse among us.

You might’ve noticed a recurring cast of characters during these ill-fated attempts at collaboration. Can you guess these popular conference call attendees?

“Sorry-We-We’re-On-Mute”

Conference Call Bingo of Sorry I was on Mute

You’ve carefully put together a bang-up presentation. Days or even weeks of remote back-and-forth, along with various slides, files, and spreadsheets flying across email, Slack, and Dropbox have been painstakingly crafted into a coherent (mostly), engaging (hopefully) showcase of all your hard work.

You email around a PDF to your clients and make sure everyone has it pulled up on their screen before diving in. You carefully guide the presentation, leaving natural pauses for your clients to hop in with any questions or feedback. But there is none, so you press on amid the silence.

45 minutes later, the presentation is over and you are greeted again with … silence. You begin to sweat. Finally, you squeak out, “Any thoughts?”

At one point you stop and even say, “Any questions? Or should I move on to the next section?” After a too long pause, a client’s voice says, “Yup, go ahead” in a tone that betrays no feeling whatsoever — positive or negative — toward the work. 45 minutes later, the presentation is over and you are greeted again with … silence. You begin to sweat. Finally, you squeak out, “Any thoughts?”

Have you guessed who this conference call character is yet? That’s right! It’s the “Sorry-We-We’re-On-Mute” client.

“Sorry-We-Were-On-Mute-And-Having-Sidebar-Conversations-The-Whole-Time”

Conference Call Bingo of Having Sidebar Conversation

Everything in clue #1 happens. You ask, “Any thoughts?” After the lengthy pause and apologizing for being on mute, the client says they’ll “digest this offline” and get back to you.

Can you guess who this is? Yes! It’s the “Sorry-We-Were-On-Mute-And-Having-Sidebar-Conversations-The-Whole-Time” client. Even better.

No-Worries-I-Can-Take-A-Meeting-Even-Though-I’ll-Just-Be-Going-About-My-Day-While-It’s-Happening

Conference Call Bingo of Going About My Day

On the opposite end of the spectrum from our “on mute” client is someone who apparently can’t find that button on their phone. This character is letting it all be heard. It starts with a continuous, low rumble — perhaps they are in the car or live near an airport. Now a dog is barking. Make that 2 dogs. A clattering of dishes … a lawnmower … a siren … is that a jackhammer?

Who could this be? You got it! It’s Mr. No-Worries-I-Can-Take-A-Meeting-Even-Though-I’ll-Just-Be-Going-About-My-Day-While-It’s-Happening.

Now a dog is barking. Make that 2 dogs. A clattering of dishes … a lawnmower … a siren … is that a jackhammer?

“Sorry-Go-Ahead-No-You-Go-Ahead-ers.”

Conference Call Bingo of Sorry Go Ahead

Our next characters are a familiar duo. We all appreciate their polite, deferential demeanor. That is, until it’s time to get some actual conferencing done. These two can amp up already challenging interactions with their starts, stops, and stilted chatter.

Oh yes, right again. These are the “Sorry-Go-Ahead-No-You-Go-Ahead-ers.”

The “Over-Emailer”

Conference Call Bingo of of Over Emailer

We know this next person well. She sets up the meeting, confirms the meeting, sends a reminder that the meeting is today, sends a reminder that the meeting is in 15 minutes (even though your computer does that automatically). She then thanks everyone for attending the meeting — setting off a chain of pleasantries such as “No problem!” and “Thank you for organizing!” that will continue to pop into your inbox with distracting chimes and visual alerts for the remainder of the day.

The “Over-Emailer” has struck again.

“I’m-Both-Working-Harder-and-More-Important-Than-You.”

Conference Call Bingo of of I'm Harder Working

Moving over to the video conference realm, we find another familiar presence. This person has been so busy all day long that they haven’t even had time for lunch! Except for apparently now, on this call with you. This meeting is the one part of their day that does not qualify as being too important for lunch. And of course this is no turkey sandwich — there was no time for making sandwiches. This is the leftover curry from last night, which you can now have the pleasure of watching be slurped and dripped throughout your correspondence.

Say hello to Ms. “I’m-Both-Working-Harder-and-More-Important-Than-You.”

The “Non-Adapter”

Conference Call Bingo of Non Adapter

And finally, there’s this fellow. He (still) can’t seem to get the video conferencing software to work. So he’ll just call in (again) and bark into the speaker at an outrageous volume as if he is calling from a Zach Morris-style 1990s cell phone. He’s pretty sure we’ll be back to the office soon, so soon he can return to his usual routine of just coming over to your desk anytime he needs something.

You know this one: He’s the “Non-Adapter.”

Keep an eye out for these familiar faces (or voices) on your next conference call!

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