Let’s end the ‘schedule a call’ culture

Schedule a call

I’ve never been a big fan of the “schedule a call” culture of most businesses (some call this “hop on a call”), although I do understand the rationale.

Even though a lot of executives tend to focus on 1-2 markets (i.e. the United States and maybe somewhere else), it’s true that business is global. Oftentimes, the only two ways to get a hold of someone — i.e. a potential partner — in another place would be:

  • EMail
  • Let’s schedule a call!

Well, email sucks and I hope we all understand that by now. People also waaaaaaay overuse the sending of it. We’ve all been on 471 email-deep threads that could have easily been a five-minute conversation. It’s because of laziness, although many are reluctant to admit that reality.

So, because email sucks donkey, we turn to “let’s schedule a call.” But here’s the thing: calls take time. There’s always that period of small talk at the beginning, and then a couple of people beat around the bush on the real issue, and then maybe we get into the issue. If it’s a conference call, you’ve got a host of other problems. Someone forgot to mute and their dog is going nuts. 55 percent of the attendees are slobbering on Chipotle. Repeatedly someone keeps saying, “Hey, is Dan on the call? Dan? Danny?” It’s a miserable cluster mess.

I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to replace the schedule a call culture. Collaboration tools is probably the easiest answer, but … they have flaws too. Maybe we all just put our heads down and wait for the AI robots to take our jobs. But first, let’s discuss this schedule a call culture — albeit briefly.

Schedule a call culture: Priority and productivity

One of the major problems with most white-collar work is this:

  • It’s truly about making money, but …
  • … there’s really no causal tie between “being productive” and “making money”

Some of the laziest, most off-task people I’ve ever worked are rolling in dough. Why? Because individual work-gained wealth tends to come from bonus + salary, which tends to be higher at higher levels. (Logical so far, right?) The people who reach these higher levels are usually:

So, you can make money without being productive. That’s the dirty little secret. All you really need to make money is decent relationships, an OK product, a good business sense, a lower moral threshold, and some good lawyers. Productivity has nothing to do with it. Most companies are terrible at setting priority, often worse at any measure of productivity, and around 21.4M U.S. workers probably don’t even need to have their jobs.

Pretty much, then, the most advanced capitalism in history runs on relationships and greed — not really productivity and innovation. That’s where the “schedule a call” culture begins.

Schedule a call: Who cares if it goes nowhere?

There are two sides to this.

The first side is some type of professional networking deal. In those contexts, you ask for 10 minutes of someone’s time. “Let’s schedule a call?” It takes the more powerful/important person weeks to actually do this, but eventually you get the 10 minutes. Secretly both sides this will go nowhere except “Let’s stay connected on LinkedIn,” but we schedule a call anyway. The utopian reason is that we all have FOMO on business deals. What if the one time you don’t schedule a call is the $55B idea? It terrifies many of us.

The second side is that organizations are designed to be relentless around financials, and relentlessly tracking those. Look at the Trump-Pence interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes right after Pence was added to the ticket. Here’s the link. Trump represents probably the worst of workaholic American white male bullshit, and in that interview, he says the term “looking at the financials” about 12 times. It’s everything to those types of guys.


In the process of that being foremost, you know what we don’t manage scientifically?

Our time.

Most people use their time very poorly, especially at work. It’s OK, though. Time doesn’t matter. Money does. And when someone argues with us that “time is money,” we find another excuse. If the money is there, the time can be completely wasted. Schedule a call? The call has no purpose? Does. Not. Matter. We still making money, right?

Schedule a call: The deep sigh and “OK” aspect

I’ve worked with so many people — sooo many — who have all these calls and meetings on their schedule for a week with no purpose. Half the shit is some recurring thing that came up as a one-time tire fire and is still there six months later. You know the drill: Johnny missed a deadline, so Johnny’s manager and three other managers decided to create a “weekly check-in.” Now this thing is draining 1 hour of everyone’s week but they’re all still trudging to it because “that’s how work gets done.”

This is part of the “schedule a call” culture. Even freelance these days (as I am) and not working in an office, I get invited to so many aimless, rambling, semi-recurrent calls and meetings that I’m shocked. These people ain’t even paying me health insurance! But it’s vital to them that I hop on their calls. Sometimes it’s cool. Oftentimes it’s just a series of traded info we all already knew. (I will say that these meetings are usually much more productive than in-office ones, which is terrifying and interesting all at once.)

I’ve always wondered this about work. Why are we so happy to just schedule a call, even if the call has no context or necessity? And why are we so OK to keep these things on our schedule and do them over and over if they don’t move any balls forward?

I guess it goes back to the time equations above, but I might be misguided.

What else would you say about the proclivity of business people to want to schedule a call?

Ted Bauer


  1. Hi Ted:

    I used to be part of the corporate structure, at a very, very low level of management. Part of the weekly rigmarole was to get on a weekly conference call with all the other department managers in the district, so the district department overseer could read the initiatives for that week. Never mind that we already got this in our email box and would be a three minute read. Noooo. That would make too much sense.

    Needless to say, I made a political enemy out of my department overseer, because I would get on for roll call, then just go back to doing work. Of course all of us were understaffed as could be. So glad I am out of this now.

    There’s a lot of truth to what you’re saying here.Conference calls make sense sometimes. But most of the time, in a corporate structure, it is all about showing who has more power. If you can force me to take a call that I have no desire to be on, AND is completely unnecessary for anyone to be on, that is someone flexing their hierarchical power.

    “How business gets done.” Heh.

    Keep up the great writing, and keep telling it like it is.

    • Someone’s got to, right? Flex that power… compare sizes of your wang. I think that makes you eligible for U.S. President now, yea?

  2. Counterpoint here. I’m on several calls a week with our clients — we’re a digital ad agency. My boss is very good at keeping the calls on point with action items and accountability.

    On the flip side, we’re 1/2 remote workers. Only reading Slack messages does not build company culture (feel free to burn my effigy in a responsible way). So much of communication happens with our voice: intonation, inflection, pause. This is a way for us to connect in a deeper way or if you’re worried someone is not being responsible with the truth, to hold them accountable.

    Even better is video. Communication is mostly body language, expression, and vocal cues. We’re increasingly relying upon text only and wondering why we feel disconnected, isolated, out of the loop, and find ourselves bonding with others instead of our coworkers. You can’t build an effective company culture or working relationship on words alone.

    • The words part is 1,000 percent true and thanks for saying that, because I whiffed on mentioning that…

    • Hi Bridget:

      I 100% agree with what you are saying. Don’t get my message twisted, I still have the scars from that old job even after all this time.

      We and Jonathan often do videos just to touch base, and I prefer communicating with clients over the phone for anything that could be tricky. It is often quicker and less open to strange interpretations than email is.

      My pain comes from having non-essential calls scheduled for no apparent reason. The big thing that I didn’t mention is if the company culture is broken already, these are going to be like ingesting broken glass.

      I know that WordImpress has a great company culture, I’ve talked to Devin and yourself, so I know your company doesn’t try to tear employees don, but build them up. But blessed are those who have never gone through some of the company cultures that exist in corporate America. If you ever wonder why so many things run poorly, it’s because the employees are constantly asked to do more with less, which keeps getting less and less every year. I’m talking from first hand experience here. 🙂

      There’s a saying in corporate board rooms that “the only controllable expense is labor”. Which leads to states of constant cutbacks, layoffs, contract renegotiation, and the declining morale of workers.

      I LOVE being in web development, because I get to choose who I work with, and though I have several bosses now (clients) it is night and day difference from working for THE MAN, which I did for a little over two decades.

      In my current life, I’m happy to take phone calls with clients, because those are the folks I let through, and am agreeing to help. These are true partnerships with a common goal.

      The “common goal” is what is missing in a lot of workplaces. Earning a living is reduced to a necessary evil, and there is constant struggle between Mangement and Employees.

      We’re very lucky to be knowledge workers in the place and time that we are living in. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of broken workplaces in the digital world too #agencylife. But you and I are both very fortunate to have great bosses.

      See you on the interwebs, friend. 🙂

  3. For sure John. I’ve been in really toxic workplaces. And you’re right. We are lucky to be knowledge workers in the right place and time. And people like you make it better.

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