To Mute or Not to Mute, That is the Question


Dogs barking in the background.

A noisy lawnmower outside an open window.

Doorbells, other phones ringing and text message alerts.

These and other distractions have been the impetus for many virtual teams to enforce a ground rule of muting during calls when others are talking.

Muting comes with its own set of pros and cons. Sure, the dogs, doorbells and children are not a distracting part of the meeting. At the same time, muting the line often gives way to doing other work and non-work activities.

A recent study by Intercall, supplier of teleconference lines to the vast majority of Fortune 100 companies found that many employees report doing other things while attending conference call meetings:

  • Two-thirds of those surveyed admitted to doing other work while on other calls,
  • 63% reported writing and sending email,
  • nearly half admitted to using the restroom while on a call,
  • and others reported being on another phone call or exercising while on conference calls.

Clearly mute is necessary to perform these unrelated activities without disrupting the call.

Is there an alternative?  One that will keep employees engaged in the call at hand – the one they are supposed to be on?

Indeed, there it and it is unmuting.  I advise virtual teams to UNMUTE during their meetings (think three to ten people on a call or video chat; the same rules to not apply when there are more than a dozen people on the call).  Having everyone “live” on the line fosters a more natural flow of conversation.

Social cohesion is also more likely to develop since team members’ laughter and other social cues are heard and more easily understood.

As for the issue of background noise such as a barking dog, the doorbell, or even the sounds of family members, these can be a good reminder that team members are people in real environments with real things happening in their environments, rather than work-producing robots. It’s also a good reminder that someone might be joining the call at an odd hour in their time zone or on a day when they might otherwise not be working.

So, if you’d like to create more social cohesion, more accountability and get people to pay more attention on conference calls, reach for the “unmute” button.

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