I shiver every single time I hear that. Maybe I have just been unlucky but I have been involved in very weird situations.
One time a guy had an old crappy PC, slow like hell. He had the great idea to buy a bluetooth headset. We spent usually half an hour to have a meeting that could have lasted five minutes. We talked in chunks of 20 seconds. That was the longest chunk because the headset kept dropping the connection to the device. Unfortunately that guy was also one of those that “wants to understand why”. So after each call dropped he spent a minute or so to collect the logs. As far as I know he is still trying to solve the issue.
Another time, the same guy mentioned above bought a new shiny bluetooth headset. It really worked when connected to the crappy PC. He once connected it to an Android phone and we had a crazy intermittent conversation. After careful logging (and waste of time) it turned out that he installed a “save energy” plugin on the phone, which throttled the Wi-Fi bandwidth. No comment.
A few months ago I used to have a weekly call with a gal that collaborated part time on a project. She worked in a very noisy open space. Honestly I don’t even know how she managed to work in that noise. After the first calls, when I repeatedly asked “say it again” many times due to the noise, I convinced her to move to the terrace during our calls. I really enjoyed the sound of honks and sirens.
Once, only once, a guy took my call while he was driving a scooter. It was so nice for me to talk to the wind.
The last one I am gonna mention is pretty funny. We used to talk during his daytime and it was all fine. Once we had to schedule a call during his evening. The connection was horrible. That’s how he discovered that his son was enjoying some porn before going to bed.
These are just a few of the weird experiences I had. Sometimes the one with problematic connection/tools was me. A few years ago I had a DSL connection that relied on a badly installed cable in my area. Bottom line, I had an intermittent connection during rainy days. I started scheduling my calls after checking the weather forecast but it didn’t work out pretty well.
These were all one to one calls. It obviously can get more messy when the number of participants grows.
I am pretty sure you had similar experiences, maybe when the call was really important. Shit happens and it’s hard to plan for every single situation. It’s pretty easy though to spot if “it’s just technology’s fault” or if you could have done something more to prevent a faulty call.
Assuming the call is important, like talking to a client that pays you, here’s a list of suggestions.
- Good line/signal. Nobody asks you to have a 25Gb symmetrical connection, but make sure that most of the bandwidth is devoted to the call. Quit Dropbox and any other application that sucks bandwidth in an unpredictable way. If someone else is using your connection, e.g. family members, make clear that you need most of the bandwidth during that time slot. Some routers even allow you to configure bandwidth so that some applications have precedence over others.
- No Starbucks. This is related to the point above. Starbucks and any other place were the connection is shared simply raises the chances for the call to drop. Sure, you might be lucky and make a successful call from there, but why risking?
- Background noise. Kids screaming, people doing dishes, tyres screeching, I have heard them all. Try to find a silent spot. I thought my office was silent. It is, but a few friends have reported an excess of echo. They are right, the room is pretty big. I now usually go to my bedroom, which is smaller. The presence of blankets and clothes cushions even more the echo. A closet would be perfect.
- Make time. You schedule a 30 minute meeting. You should mark your calendar for 45 if not an hour. Your interlocutor can be late, have problems connecting or the meeting can run longer because an important issue deserves discussion. I know, it’s not nice but it can happen. Just plan for a longer meeting.
- Make clear you are busy. If you are a parent and work from home it is likely that your kids will chime in your office and interrupt you. It happened to me just once and luckily my interlocutor understood the situation. Try to teach your kids that “daddy/mommy is busy when the door is closed”. You definitely need your partner’s help on this.
- Batteries. If you use devices that have a battery, e.g. laptop or headsets, make sure they are charged enough to make it to the end of the call.
As you can see they are all pretty common sense suggestions, and yet some calls end up pretty messy. There’s no guarantee that you are gonna have a flawless call if you follow them all, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that you are gonna have issues if you don’t follow most of them.
Have you some other suggestions? I am happy to share them.