I've recently done a project for a company that is highly dependent on conference calls. You know the type - people spread out across many hundreds and thousands of miles, rarely get together, have to work together...let me see, I think they've got that virus called, uh, VIRTUAL TEAMS!
As is my wont, I asked to interview some of the patients suffering from the virus to better understand their symptoms. Nearly all mentioned a similar complaint: super-long conference calls, as in two hours or more. Oh, my aching everything!
My follow-up to this question is always the same (this is what they teach you in Virtual Team Medical School): are you also looking at the same screen during these calls?
When patients say that they're not, i.e. they only have the conference call to hold their attention, my textbook instructs me to ask the following question: how many on the call would you estimate are multi-tasking?
100% said 100%.
And we know that multi-tasking means partial attention, which I fully admit I am guilty of most of the time myself.
So, what to do?
1. Make the calls shorter. And shorter. And shorter. One senior exec whom I love for his discipline in this got his calls down to 15 minutes. And he's very senior. Stars on his shoulder and all that.
2. Please, please, please listen to the "medical" experts, those who've treated thousands like yourselves: Always use some form of screen sharing during your calls so that everyone can focus on what you're talking about. Imagine that you're in a conference room together and everyone has their backs to one another and is looking out the window in different directions. How much attention are you paying to what's being discussed? Looking at the same object is a powerful way to focus attention.
3. Close your email while you're on your calls. Close it. Click it shut. And for those of you reading this post during your call, your browser too.