Conference calls: cost saving or addiction?


I looked at my calendar some time ago. Did some maths and was slightly shocked. More than 75% of my week was various conference calls. Then I picked up my head, had a good look around the office and realised, that I am not the only one. Welcome to the conference-call-mad-world.

How did it happen?

I wish I could say procurement had nothing to do with it. Maybe it did; maybe it did not. Time and technology progress brought innovations for the business and the way how people communicate. And, surely, there must have been a smart indirect procurement manager who picked it up as a savings opportunity. A lot of travel policies these days have instructions to think before travelling if the face to face meeting could be replaced by a virtual one. Everyone understands how to estimate the cost of face to face meetings – or, at least, the part of the costs which show up later on invoices. Therefore, being able to swap it for a solution which, at the first look, costs only a fraction of all previous costs, seemed like an amazing idea.

The side effects

Everything in life is relative. On one hand – high costs of the meetings are not desirable for businesses. On the other hand – it had a very big advantage: realising the price of the meetings, people were preparing for them much better, they used the meeting time much more productively and they used to appoint them much more responsibly. Removing this “cost barrier” brought a whole bunch of side effects:

  • People started having virtual calls right, left and centre, without any good reason or purpose – “it does not cost anything” …
  • People started inviting whoever they can remember into the calls – “it does not cost anything” …
  • People “forgot” or ran out of time to prepare for the calls: “we will work it out during the call – it does not cost anything” …
  • People do not follow up on action plans after calls – “we can always arrange next call to discuss what were the outcomes supposed to be from the previous call… it does not cost anything” …
  • Not to mention “pre-call calls”. You know, when you need to agree what you will be talking during the actual call…
  • People stopped doing actual work, because they are… busy with calls…

People got addicted. And when it comes to conference calling, there is no such a thing as “light drug”.

The outcomes

Meetings with no decisions or action points. No decisions or deliverables or actions outside of the calls, because there is no more “outside of the calls” time left… Next level multitasking work, while being on mute. The whole generation of office staff, addicted to conference calls. It sometimes really feels like there are many people, who crave for conference calls just like for a dose of drugs… Oh, and most importantly – costs. That not-so-smart indirect procurement manager, who claimed savings some time ago, did not think about everything. Now the costs of inefficiently used (or, as you might say, efficiently wasted) time are tens, if not hundreds, of times bigger than travel costs were in the first place.


  • Put down the phone. Seriously. You are reading an article while “listening” to the conference call. It means the call is not that important. Put down the phone.
  • Cancel a call, if it does not have any agenda attached to it. Or if the objective is not clear.
  • Cancel a call, if you were not given the contents or material in advance of the call. Everyone should know the subject before the call. The call is to discuss the subject – not to read the slides.
  • Reduce the frequency of all regular calls twice.
  • Review the list of invitees. Remove people, who only need to be informed of the outcomes – they can read 5 sentences summary on an email.
  • If people are not participating – they should not be on the call.
  • Consider all other work efficiency tools: task management systems, document management systems, team cooperation tools. Meetings and calls have to be there to discuss issues, alternative options (which are analysed in advance) and make decisions.
  • Consider meeting efficiency KPIs. I am not joking – a company I used to work for, had a tool to monitor how many action points were agreed during the meeting and what kind of decicions were made. Big deviations from “norm” were questioned.

Has your calendar turned manic with conference calls? Are you in a closed circuit and do not have any ideas how to get out of it? Share your questions in the comments below and I think our colleagues on social networks will be able to help! Thanks for reading. Even if you did it while listening to someone boring speaking on the other end of another conference call…

Conference calls: cost saving or addiction?

Toilet Paper Test. With results

toilet paper

Albert Einstein once said: “if you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. And I so much believe it! Life is simple, procurement is simple – unless people ruin it by bringing in all that unnecessary complexity… I will keep this post short and simple too for few reasons:

  1. It is simple.
  2. I did not like the results of my experiment (yup, it is always easier to write about “revelations”, “scandals”, “NEWS!!!” – especially in a bad context. And this time it is not the case. Well, not entirely.).

I have to admit I have a professional disease. I like to know, how efficiently organizations are managing their spend. Especially public ones. And it is definitely not something they are willing to share openly with anyone that opens reception door. However, there are signs to look out for, which give insights very quickly and easy. I call it toilet paper test.

So here it goes: every time I go to any public toilet (GP, airport, schools), I check few things: paper dispensers and the paper itself (or, of course, different technologies – air blades). It is very easy to distinguish between cheap simple paper and a very expensive, printed fancy paper. That simple thing can show you, whether or not a school or GP are potentially overspending up to 30% for this category. And, if they are not working on cost reductions (or over-specification elimination) in this category – what makes you think they work better in other areas?

A week ago (OK, a month ago) I was reading a description of difference between good and bad scientist. And one of the points was saying, that good scientists are ready to accept any results of their experiments: despite the anticipations they had. So here it goes…

I have checked ten schools and three GPs. I have the names written down – should anyone would be after details. I was expecting to see that expensive paper everywhere (or at least in most places). And my assumptions were wrong. The results showed, that only two organizations had very expensive backsides. Eight organizations were using “average” products and three of the list were using “lowest specifications” paper. I (we) should be happy! Yay.

However, then I remembered another exercise that I did about uniforms The Emperor’s new clothes. Or what does it take to become efficient in procurement. Does it mean, that when it comes to their own money, people (organizations) are managing it quite properly, but when it becomes an opportunity to make decisions about “someone else’s” money,  all the logic goes away? Once again – universities and experience can give you tools and knowledge. But none of them can give you the right attitude (and the importance of it is shortly covered here: Dark Matter in Procurement?)

Toilet Paper Test. With results