Where I work we live on conference calls. When a company is spread across all possible time zones then the phone is the central nervous system of the corporation, the place you just spend a lot of time on, the original Second Life.
Certain forms of etiquette are practiced on these calls — one person more astute than I noticed the grateful practice of saying someone’s name clearly a few seconds before asking a question of them, eg. “I was speaking to Glen last week. We were going over the TPS reports. And Glen said the TPS reports were better than the TSP reports. Glen, what you think?”
If Glen was listening then the first mention of his name would snap him out of email, and give him time to go off mute. Everyone goes on mute when they aren’t talking. Mainly so they can furiously Instant Message the other people on the call like gossiping teen-agers. The fun part is when the question gets asked and the respondent talks to the mute button, popping on after a really pregnant pause, usually with the apology: “I was talking on mute.”
I live in terror of not being on mute and saying some career threatening statement in one of my quasi-Tourette moments. Sometimes people forget to hit mute and a call with thirty people in Asia, Europe and America will be treated to the sounds of someone pecking away on their keyboard. This leads to the call cops calling for everyone to go on mute. This makes everyone who has been writing email, instant messaging, or staring out the window, start accusing other people in Instant Messaging to cut it out. And then there is the echo call — the one where someone phones in on a tin can with string and everyone sounds like a reenactment of a bad Acid trip. The moderator has to either page the conference operator — who magically “isolates the bad line” — or, if they are like me, just ignore it and spend the next hour yodeling into the cavern.
My colleague who pointed out the etiquette of saying someone’s name before bushwhacking them with a question — who is annoyed with me because I named him once in a post and now finds that my blog is the first result returned on his name — is also fascinated by dog barks during conference calls. He tries to match the bark to the owner. After a while you get to know who has the basso profundo dogs and who has the yappers.
I think my brain has been altered by the on-hold music. McKinsey’s was pretty bad — this really annoying flute solo that made think of men in tutu’s doing ballet in a flower field. Seven, eight calls a day, and seven or eight flute solos. Always the same flute solo. Now, I don’t expect amusing on-hold music like ScissorFight’s Kancamangus Mangler, nor do I expect Schubert’s Trout Quintet as performed by Yo Yo Ma, but the worst, absolute worst is the new Lenovo on-hold music which sort of sounds like the guitar solo from Steely Dan’s Reelin’ in the Years, the Elliott Randall solo which Jimmy Page once called the best guitar solo of all time, only it’s not. It’s sort of the Muzak version and it’s fifteen seconds long and then recycles. Sort of the eternal bridge.
Someone needs to write a touch-tone song book — oops, they did — so I can while away the on-hold time playing my own tunes, on my ’07 Avaya-caster.