In Cyberspace, Everyone Can Hear Your Cockatiel Scream

Last Updated Sep 2, 2010 11:46 AM EDT

One of the joys of working remotely -- often from home -- is that you aren't interrupted by co-workers with their phones ringing and shouted questions hurled like grenades over cubicle walls. There are interruptions, though, that rarely happen at the office. When was the last time you had to cover the phone's handset because your mastiff, Cuddles, hears the UPS lady?

Working remotely does have its advantages, but the work environment can create challenges for your coworkers who don't have the "luxury" of working from home when they try to get things done, especially on the phone or webmeetings. Here are some of the most common challenges I have experienced --and some common sense solutions. None of them are brain surgery, but they do require some active thought for those who are on the other end of the line. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

  • Mr. Cuddles wasn't on the email list. Many of us who work from home alone all day have animal companions. They make the isolation bearable and give you someone to complain about your boss to (with the added bonus that they don't have HR's phone number). You may love your cat, Mr. Cuddles ( or in my case Byron the Demented Cockatiel), but the rest of the team doesn't find it adorable when they suddenly attack the keyboard or cry for attention. Either find a way to distract them or get them out of the room before the call starts. Unless your pet pays your salary, your focus needs to be on the task at hand. And no one finds it adorable when you ask Mr. Cuddles' opinion of that idea, no we don't.
  • Speakerphones are overrated- get a headset. Whether you're in the car, the local Starbucks or at home with the kids safely in another room (for now) it's tempting to use a speaker phone as your default. It leaves your hands free to take notes, you can get up, stretch and avoid an annoying crick in your neck. What a speaker phone can't do is filter out all the background noise and forget it's even there like you can. We don't need to hear it. A headset, even a bluetooth, filters out more background noise than a speaker phone and saves a lot of stress and frustrated repetition.
  • It might be "old school" but use a land line. An endless source of frustration for teleconference and webmeeting participants is shaky audio. It makes paying attention physically difficult. Even if it's convenient to use your cell phone, the audio is inconsistent and much more prone to interruptions than a land line. Most teleconferences have toll-free dial in numbers, and you probably have an unlimited dialing plan on your phone anyway. Oh, and if you are going to use a cell phone, learn to use it, especially the "mute" feature.
  • Sip all the lattes you want, we just don't want to hear you order it. Particularly for webmeetings, you need an internet connection and you might be traveling. The wi-fi at your favorite coffee shop makes a convenient place to log on and you can get a bracing cup of joe. However, it's a public place and there's a lot going on there. Your compatriots don't care. Three rules:
  1. Order before you log on to the meeting, tell the waitress you'll be a while and promise to tip well
  2. Use your "mute" button as much as possible so you don't create background noise for everyone else and we don't really care when your plane is finally boarding.
  3. If you log on to the webmeeting and aren't asked to speak, just send a chat message saying you're there and will be quiet until needed.
A little consideration for your coworkers goes a long way to making webmeetings and conference calls more productive and less stressful. It also might make your peers a little less resentful that you and Mr Cuddles get to hang out all day while they fight traffic to come in to the office.

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photo by flickr user Martin Kingsley CC 2.0