Conference Calls Among Big Office Hang-Ups

By Kathy Gurchiek Jul 6, 2015

What’s your most hated office task?

For Bill Fish, founder and president of, which handles online reputation management, it’s conference calls involving more than four people.

“Technology has improved over the years, but when you have more than four people on a conference call, inevitably something goes wrong and it wastes everyone’s time,” he told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

“At my previous job, I was part of a companywide sales meeting that had over 25 people calling in to a conference bridge, and between dogs barking, calls dropping, people muting or not muting, there wasn’t a single time that I didn’t want to pull my hair out.”

He’s not the only one. Chris “Mr. Cable Cutter” Brantner, of—an online source on how to quit cable TV use—concurs.

“Not only do you end up wasting time as you do in traditional meetings, but there are a few other aspects unique to the [conference call] situation,” he said, noting the following:

*There's almost always someone you cannot hear properly—someone doesn't have a great connection, or they're using a speakerphone and not positioned close enough to the speaker.

*The awkwardness of people talking over one another. It can take at least a minute before they realize it.

"The temptation to multitask since no one can see you. However, the work suffers because you're distracted and you miss important pieces of information during the call.

Moving his car at work is a teeth-grinding chore for Alexander Ruggie, public relations director at 911 Restoration, a home restoration company in Los Angeles.

“My most hated office task—and one loathed by many of my co-workers, too—is having to move my car due to tandem parking and the people who need to get out,” he told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

“It does detract significantly from the mental and physical workflow on many occasions,” even when valets are available. “[It] truly takes you out of the mental place you were in while getting work done, and this jarring of the senses can cause a 15-minute delay” in getting back to work.


Managing e-mail made the top 10 list of most-hated tasks in a national survey of 1,000 people conducted for online mailing service It also was a source of robust discussion in the Society for Human Resource Management’s LinkedIn group.

“Sometimes I think, we really sent an e-mail on this?” said Cindy Wehrman-Szablewski, associate recruiter at Manpower Group, in the discussion.

It also can be difficult to separate important e-mails from the unimportant, Mike Sturm told SHRM Online in an e-mail. He writes about productivity and is affiliated with the philosophy department of Kishwukee College in Malta, Ill.

“[They] come through in exactly the same manner, and get lumped in with one another. It is then up to you to differentiate between the two. All the while more communication is coming in. I am sure that chat apps, like Slack, are beginning to help with this, but by and large, e-mail still holds the bulk of the communication payload, and it is a heavy one.”

Lorianne Lee, HR project manager and recruiter, hates waiting—waiting for people to answer questions, send requested information, and submit times they are available for meetings, she noted in the LinkedIn discussion.

There can be much worse tasks, though, as Bob Ficken, SHRM-SCP, pointed out.

“Having to conduct unexpected layoffs and knowing what impact it will have on those let go and their families,” he said in the LinkedIn discussion.

Other findings from both the survey and the SHRM LinkedIn discussion include office mailings, filing, meetings, dealing with people, answering the phone and handling payroll.

Crystal Stranger, an author and president of small-business tax provider 1st Tax, dreads photocopying and faxing documents.

“Some of the offices I worked at early in my career had those huge copy machines, where you hit the wrong button and end up with a thousand copies of nothing. Usually I had assistants or secretaries to do the work, but when it was left to me I felt so intimidated,” likely contributing to her desire to create a paperless office in her own company.

Cali Estes, CEO of The Addictions Coach and founder of The Addictions Academy, doesn’t use the Google calendar or Notepad. Her most hated task: “Trying to find all the info that I wrote down on sticky pads throughout the day at the end of the day.”


James Armstrong of digital marketing consultants Haystack Search Ltd. finds meetings to be a burdensome task.

“We have an extremely busy team at, which means certain key people are unable to attend meetings and require catch-up meetings to have an input on the actions agreed at a previous meeting.”

This often means, he noted in an e-mail, “that the decisions made in meetings are subject to change, necessitating another meeting.” 

In a calendar filled with meetings, it can be a challenge keeping them all straight.

“I was preparing for a meeting later that night, walked into the morning meeting and promptly began to deliver the presentation I’d been preparing for later that night,” Armstrong said. It was only after glancing at the agenda halfway through the meeting that he realized he was talking about something completely unrelated to the current meeting.

“It was,” he recalled, “a real face-palm moment.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.


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