Survey Reveals Conference Call On-Hold Habits

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They say that details like taste in music or reaction to being stuck in traffic say a lot about a person. At InterCall, we believe that conference call dial-in and on-hold habits are just as telling.

In most businesses, you’ll find a diverse set of attendee characters, from the caller who chronically joins late to the amateur meteorologist, offering weather observations while the group waits to kick off the meeting. As the world’s largest conferencing and collaboration provider, InterCall wanted to dive deeper into the world of dial-in behavior.

We surveyed a representative sample of full-time U.S. employees who participate in at least one conference call per week to better understand how patient (and proactive) callers are when waiting for other participants, what they do on hold and how habits change depending on who’s joining the conference.

The results exposed some common truths that all participants share (e.g., calls with co-workers often take a backseat to client and supervisor meetings) and highlighted stark differences based on gender, age and company size.

Budgeting More Time for Clients and Other VIPs

On a positive note, most employees give themselves ample time to join conference calls. Fifty-five percent of employees dial into the average call between one and three minutes early. Only around one-third dial in more than four minutes in advance and 10 percent connect right as calls start.

Depending on who else is attending, this baseline shifts. Employees are more than twice as likely to dial in to calls with co-workers right as they’re beginning (20% vs. the 10% average). However, they’re more likely to budget five or more minutes extra when dialing into calls with clients (13%) and supervisors (14%) than they do on average (7%).

In any company, this can add up to a lot of time wasted, indicating a potential need for better meeting reminder systems or simpler dial-in procedures.

Attendee Tardiness, On-hold Multitasking and Other Observations

Whether it’s out of sincere patience or multitasking, most employees will wait a surprisingly long amount of time on hold before leaving a conference call waiting room. Fifty-four percent of attendees wait at least six minutes before hanging up. When it comes to calls with customers and company leadership, 31 percent of employees wait for more than 10 minutes.

When waiting for no-show participants to join, 90 percent of employees make some effort to contact the attendees before hanging up. Thirty percent of staff text other attendees after a certain period of time; a similar amount email (28%) or instant message (23%) the others instead. Only 10 percent of respondents take a passive aggressive approach, resending the calendar invite as a “gentle reminder.”

Attendees extend the same courtesy when they’re running late too. Ninety-three percent of employees notify other callers if they won’t be able to make a meeting on time. Plenty of workers text (29%) and email (28%), and almost one-quarter (24%) call one of the other participants directly.

Whether it’s due to another call running over or plain forgetfulness, everyone dials in late at some point. That said, certain conferencing channels promote punctuality. Sixty-three percent of employees feel that attendees are more likely to be on time or early for video calls than traditional audio meetings, hinting that visibility impacts accountability.

We also wanted to get a feel for what employees really do while waiting on hold. As we suspected, most participants do more than crank through their to-do lists:

76% do other work
65% email
35% text
33% check social media
26% read
21% stretch
16% eat
8% shop online/gossip
Listening to (sometimes painful) hold music has become a pre-conference call ritual, but it may have a larger impact on the meeting ahead than we thought. Half of respondents claim that hold music affects their attitude during conference calls and 21 percent of employees hold negative opinions about typical pre-meeting tunes. Forty-seven percent of employees would prefer to hear news rather than music on hold, if their conferencing provider offered it.

Next to hold music, ice-breaking small talk is probably the second common denominator across corporate conference calls.

Contrary to popular belief, weather is not always employees’ go-to conversation topic:

61% talk about company news
53% talk about current events or weather
33% talk about sports
29% talk about family

Bizarre Conference Call Encounters

Many of us have been burned by the mute button before. We asked respondents to share some of the wilder things they’ve experienced while waiting for a conference call to start; here’s what they shared:

A supervisor once started spewing profanities not realizing he wasn’t muted
Calling from home, I had to yell at my dog for getting into a fight with my cat
There was a fire at the other place
Hearing a boss talk about he was going to layoff several people who were attending the call
Someone drew an obscene picture on the online whiteboard
My co-worker started talking about her son who got arrested
Hearing someone go into great detail about a date he went on with a lady who was not his wife
A co-worker was fighting with his wife; she said some really nasty, personal stuff about his sexual proclivities
Asking another person on the call how they’re doing, then having to hear about his hemorrhoids
I dozed off just a bit
Having my cell phone go off—it’s one of those stupid ring tones when my wife calls that has “Baby Got Back”
Women Prove to Be More Prompt, Patient Callers than Men

As we’ve seen in our past research on small businesses and mobile conferencing, gender plays a major role in meeting behavior. Women are twice as likely than men to dial in to calls five or more minutes early (11% vs. 5%). Regardless of who’s on the other end of the line, women consistently join earlier.

51% of women dial in at least four minutes early for client calls vs. 40% of men
49% of women dial in at least four minutes early for supervisor calls vs. 39% of men
30% of women dial in at least four minutes early for co-worker calls vs. 20% of men
Women are also inclined to wait longer on hold before hanging up. On average, 21 percent of women wait a full 10 minutes or more before leaving a conferencing call, compared to 14 percent of men. This trend carries over to meetings with clients and higher ups as well.

6% of women wait 10 minutes or more before hanging up on leadership calls vs. 27% of men
28% of men hang up on calls with colleagues in three minutes or less vs. 18% of women
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to take action when waiting around for late attendees. More than one-third of men text other attendees when waiting for a call to begin, compared to 21 percent of women. When no one dials in on time, women are twice as likely to hang up without notifying other callers (14% vs. 7%).

How Age Affects on Hold Habits

Millennials get a bad rap for being distracted by their tech-heavy, multitasking ways, but they’re not the age group most likely to dial in at the last minute. That honor goes to 46-60 year olds, 16 percent of whom dial in as meetings are starting, compared to 13 percent of 18-25 year olds.

At the same time, Millennials are least likely to dial in early. Four percent of 18-25 year olds join calls five or more minutes before the start time compared to:

8% of 26-35 year olds
7% of 26-45 year olds
11% of 46-60 year olds
We found that age positively correlates with willingness to wait on hold. Forty-five percent of 18-25 year olds wait six or more minutes before hanging up on calls versus:

53% of 26-35 year olds
62% of 36-45 year olds
63% of 46-60 year olds
Older employees are also more likely to hang up after waiting for a period of time without contacting other call attendees. Seventeen percent of 36-45 year olds and 11 percent of 46-60 year olds hang up without warning, compared to just five percent of 18-25 year olds. Similarly, 36-45 year olds are three times more likely than their younger co-workers not to notify anyone when they’re running late.

If there’s one preconceived notion Gen Yers did live up to, however, it’s their social media dependency. More than half of 18-25 year olds check social media while waiting on hold versus:

29% of 26-35 year olds
33% of 36-45 year olds
17% of 46-60 year olds
Sizing up Wall Street vs. Main Street Businesses

Company size also factors into employee conferencing habits. We found that the larger the business, the more conference calls staff attend each week:

19% of respondents at large companies (1,000+ employees) attend six or more calls/week
13% of respondents at mid-sized companies (101-1000 employees) attend six or more calls/week
9% of respondents at small businesses (<100 employees) attend six or more calls/week
Employees at bigger companies typically set aside more time to dial in early than their counterparts at smaller and mid-sized companies, a trend that may speak to the hectic, pressed-for-time nature of small businesses more than anything.

13% of small business employees dial in as calls are beginning
9% of mid-sized company employees dial in as calls are beginning
8% of large company employees dial in as calls are beginning
No two conference call participants are created equal. Demographic traits including age, gender and company size factor in to employees’ dial-in tendencies, as well as external factors like who’s on the other end of the line.

With a better understanding of current conferencing behaviors, companies can start taking strategic steps to change them. Whether it’s integrating video conferencing tools to improve caller punctuality or swapping out on hold music to ensure happier participants, there are plenty of ways employers can be proactive about meeting productivity.

Conference calls have and will continue to be an essential part of doing business, but this shouldn’t preclude companies from refining their tools or processes to match evolving employee habits.

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