As collaborative communication technologies improve, plan sponsors and Milliman colleagues continue adjusting business etiquette to best use these new instruments. Tools such as Microsoft LYNC, GoToMeeting.com, and Webex.com allow consultants to communicate remotely with plan sponsors to improve service, reduce cycle times, and ultimately reduce costs. However, these productivity gains were far from automatic when these technologies were first implemented.
The humorous YouTube video “A conference call in real life” struck a nerve with many early adopters who have shared similar experiences. The comedy demonstrates the challenges that collaborative communication technologies may present—system audio interruptions, technology incompatibilities, and ambient noise distractions (i.e., the barking dog). It doesn’t help that some of us have attention spans shorter than a child on cotton candy at a three-ring circus. Past the comedic relief, we realized achieving effective use of collaborative communication technologies requires further research.
A process improvement group studied Milliman’s use of collaborative communication technologies. We monitored meetings, collected observable data, and analyzed the results of more than 30 meetings. We were surprised to find the technologies worked fine; the business etiquette established for in-person meetings did not.
From our research, we edited our suggestions into 15 best practices for organizers and 15 best practices for attendees. Here they are:
15 organizer dos and don’ts
1. Don’t plan future sessions outside local business hours of any attendee.
2. Do become highly proficient in the technology before using it in a meeting.
3. Do join at least five minutes in advance to help people checking into the call.
4. Don’t troubleshoot tool issues in session; have a “phone only” option as a backup.
5. Do start on time by utilizing http://www.time.gov with whoever is there.
6. Do state session objective of the meeting within one minute and ask for concurrence.
7. Do take on-screen notes; open documents and annotate as needed.
8. Don’t take dictation; ask participants to instant message (IM) or email long content or updates.
9. Don’t assume silence as agreement; affirm key points by voice.
10. Do advise at five minutes remaining to “hard stop” session at time limit.
11. Do ask “any other items for today?” as a trial call close if session objective is achieved.
12. Do close by thanking everyone for their time.
13. Do summarize session outcomes in emailed notes.
14. Do show the date, time, and attendees on all notes.
15. Do email or post notes online within five minutes of session close.
15 attendees dos and don’ts (all apply to organizers as well)
1. Do read session objective four hours in advance; your mind will prepare itself.
2. Do have your computer and phone charged and in a quiet area.
3. Don’t use a speaker phone next to the keyboard you are typing on.
4. Do mention any nonobjective items at beginning—ask organizer to note.
5. Don’t be within earshot of a (possibly) barking dog or other audio intrusions.
6. Do actively use the mute button if no quiet place is available.
7. Do know when mute is on or off at all times.
8. Don’t listen for name to be called and then pay attention; it’s too late at that point.
9. Don’t put call on hold; everyone has on-hold music and we hear it.
10. Do say your first name and company in one-time sessions of multiple companies.
11. Don’t say your name each time you speak; we probably know your voice.
12. Don’t leave session before close; count on important items at end.
13. Do offer to take items off-line if a discussion is between two attendees only.
14. Do message or mention if you have to leave a call early.
15. Do continually assess session effectiveness and send feedback to organizer.
Milliman employee benefits consultants will continue to use collaborative communication technologies within their organizations and with plan sponsors. But as with the telephone, the fax machine, and email in their times, we will continue to update our “dos and don’ts” to make these interactions as seamless as if they were held in person. Adhering to these dos and don’ts will ensure time well spent for both organizers and attendees.