August 28, 2011 11:00 PM   Subscribe

Is it rude to reply to emails and do other tasks when participating in a routine but important teleconference?

I have colleagues inter-state and we only get together by tele-conference once a week. These are meaningful meetings; although I acknowledge not every second of the meeting is meaningful for everyone. One (or perhaps two, one is a bit more discrete and polite) of my colleagues obviously 'tunes out' and attends to sundry email business while dialled in.

Her typing and clicking is clearly audible. It gets my goat. Am I being a dick? I have never said anything but have come close and it affects me... I get really annoyed!

I would never do that unless it was totally necessary, and I would put myself on mute to do so.
posted by evil_esto to Work & Money (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure that she is not typing notes? In any case, if that part of the meeting is not relevant to them, then who cares if they are listening? Isn't it better that they do something productive instead?

The only thing you can reasonably ask for is that they mute the phone if they are going to type.

Just ask her to do that because the sound of the typing makes it difficult for your to hear who is speaking. She probably doesn't even realise that her typing is audible.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:07 PM on August 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

It is utterly impossible for me to focus on conversation or anything else I'm supposed to be hearing without something else to occupy the non-auditory part of my brain. I doodle in meetings. I play solitaire or file email while on the phone. I scan twitter during conferences. I read MeFi watching TV. I more or less can't go to the movies, although I have not yet tried knitting during the film.

I probably have undiagnosed ADHD but this is how I pay attention to auditory data. My sister, by comparison, sits on phone conerences with her eyes closed in a nearly zen-like state of concentration. Different people's brains work differently, various reasons for that aside. Don't make assumptions about how active your colleague's listening is just because the "active" part is different for her than for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:20 PM on August 28, 2011 [11 favorites]

Like many other things of this nature, it's only rude if people can tell she's doing it. She should hit Mute.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 11:48 PM on August 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

This is what the mute button on her telephone is for. I have similar teleconferences. I actually think it's expected at this point that people not currently engaged in the immediate conversation are multitasking. Expected etiquette seems to be that you do so in a way that doesn't disturb others (mute button) and that if called on it (something comes up that concerns you and you've obviously tuned out) that you act sheepish and apologize. It's perfectly appropriate to say politely, "can whoever is typing put your phone on mute? thanks..."
posted by Cocodrillo at 11:48 PM on August 28, 2011 [14 favorites]

Yes, it's rude if it results in her distracting everyone else int he meeting. It's also rude if she has to be prompted repeatedly or asks for something to e repeated if she wasn't concentrating.
Make a general request at the start of the meeting that people their phones to prevent background noise in the call. We're making more moves toward asking people to leave laptops in their office so they can focus.
I too am a doodler, but it's less noisy than the tapping of a keyboard.
posted by arcticseal at 12:47 AM on August 29, 2011

I have very often taken notes for myself on conference calls like this. If you're only going to talk about some of these things or to some of these people once a week, you could forget a lot in between. (Also because my dad once told me this.)

If her clicking bothers you then say something! But don't explode in a rage, or say it in a passive-aggressively pointed way. Just be normal about it because it's something normal to be distracted by. Arcticseal has a great idea that at the beginning of the meeting just generally ask people to prevent background noise. I don't see why you couldn't even specifically request that people mute themselves if they have to type.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:25 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound old fashioned.

According to some people I am "playing on my phone" in meetings.

My "phone" is a computer with a multilingual dictionary, a note taking application for key points, a todo list application for actions and Google for verifying information.
posted by devnull at 1:44 AM on August 29, 2011 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: old, yes.
posted by evil_esto at 1:59 AM on August 29, 2011

Like DarlingBri, I listen better if doing something else (like doodling). But letting people hear you type during a teleconference strikes me as rude. I would say something about it, like "the last couple conferences there's been some difficulty with sound quality, I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but from time to time it sounds like maybe someone is typing? Perhaps it'd help if everyone muted their computers when they're not actually talking...?"
posted by hungrytiger at 3:20 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Instead of insinuating that you'd like her to stop typing, I'd just politely ask her to mute herself. In this situation, addressing the problem directly is fine. If you were framing the issue as something rude, she would feel embarrassed/offended and it would be awkward, but as long as you just keep it casual it should be alright.
posted by jykmf at 3:55 AM on August 29, 2011

Why are you all sitting there listening to her type? Whether she's taking notes, multitasking, or rudely zoning out completely, it would not be at all rude for you or one of your other colleagues to say, "Jane, there's some ambient noise coming from your line. Mind hitting your mute button?"
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:08 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

There is nothing old fashioned about not making noise into a hot microphone. If you are going to be tapping, clicking or typing, mute it up or use a headset.
posted by gjc at 6:22 AM on August 29, 2011

In my experience, if people didn't tune out during the endless teleconferences where every one is invited "just in case", no one would get any work done. My pieces of advice are to suggest that someone put their phone on mute if you can hear typing, and to always preface direct questions with someone's name, to be sure they are paying attention.
posted by smackfu at 6:57 AM on August 29, 2011

"Hey, your mic cutoff is too low, it's picking up your typing."

At least, this is how my WoW playing friends say they handle it (and they do a pretty good job of typing and talking at the same time).
posted by anaelith at 7:02 AM on August 29, 2011

I agree with what most people have said:
1. It's normal and often expected for people to be typing or working during conference calls.
2. Etiquette dictates that if you're not talking (and don't expect to be) your microphone should be muted.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:37 AM on August 29, 2011

I usually take notes on my computer when on phone conferences. I don't think my typing is audible, but if it is, I wouldn't be offended if someone asked me to mute my phone when typing.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:43 AM on August 29, 2011

Of course it's rude. You are supposed to be giving full attention to whoever is speaking. Even those parts that do not directly apply to you can quickly turn to something that does. ("Waint, what?") Otherwise, what's the point of being there?

Every large meeting of this type I have ever been part of, when someone inevitably does the typing thing, others will call on "whoever is typing" to put on the mute. Usually whoever is calling the meeting. Theoretically it's anonymous so no outright embarrassment to the offenders. You might suggest this course of action to whoever calls the meeting.

Every study I've heard of claims that multi-tasking is repeated shown to create a decline in the quality of the individual tasks. If there are studies that suggest the opposite is true for some people, I would be interested in hearing about it. Just curious.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think etiquette here follows a don't-ask-don't-tell rule. It's rude to do it if but only if others can tell. I've frequently heard the organizer of such a call say "whoever's typing should hit the mute key, no need to tell us who you are."
posted by willbaude at 12:26 PM on August 29, 2011

This is one of those things that's incredibly rude, but a LOT of people do it. Because let's face it, meetings are boring, and frequently a waste of time. If people can recoup that loss by taking care of some low-level emails, they will.

It might be useful to take this up to a higher level of analysis. Is it really necessary to have this teleconference once a week? Could you back it off to once every two weeks? Is it necessary for every single person to be on the call for the entire time? Could you arrange the topics so that some people can drop out before the call is over?

If you trust the competence of your employees/coworkers, then their checking email during this weekly meeting is an indicator that the meeting may not be as important and/or gripping as some people think it is.
posted by ErikaB at 12:39 PM on August 29, 2011

My boss has to deal with this on occasion; he always says the same thing: "Will whoever is typing please mute their phone?" Once the phone has been muted (or the person stops typing) he gets back to business. Nobody specific needs to be embarrassed.

The reason he takes this approach -- rather than say "stop typing and pay attention" -- is because he realizes (as do we all) that it is possible to get useful work done when the meeting isn't relevant to you. At the same time, the typist takes the risk of having to admit they weren't paying attention ("Um, could you repeat the question, please?") if the meeting is relevant to them.
posted by davejay at 1:13 PM on August 29, 2011

I cannot stand when someone at work attends a two hour meeting of which only 10 minutes here and there is relevant, does no other work during the two hours and then tells me they didn't have time to finish a project by a deadline.

On the flip side, I hate being in a meeting because someone tunes out too much and misses something important to them that has to be repeated while everyone else gets annoyed.

There's no reason that a person cannot attend a meeting, in person, on the phone or web conf, and get things done when there's a lull in the conversation for them. The majority of the people I work with do this. There are some days with projects going on between different sites to the phone is on speaker all day long and all sites are dialed in. When something needs to be said, it's said. If it's relevant to you, you pay attention, if not, you keep working.

Anything else, to me, is a complete waste of time. If your employer likes paying you to do nothing, then I guess there's nothing wrong with this.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:00 PM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: Efficiency and rudeness aren't the same. Not paying attention, or giving the impression of not paying attention, when someone is speaking is rude.

If someone is expected to work during meetings, someone doesn't understand what a meeting is.
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on August 29, 2011

As others have said, it's pretty normal, but so is going on mute.

One of the best practices we employed back in my days at IBM was to always preface a question directed at a specific person with their name, to attract their attention. It avoided those 'sorry, wasn't paying attention' waste of time moments, while still allowing people to get work done during the parts of meetings that didn't necessarily require their entire brains.

We sometimes spent entire days or entire weeks on conference calls, so if we didn't do other work during the calls, it didn't get done. Everyone realized everyone else was working through the calls.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:05 PM on August 29, 2011

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