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:
- 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:
- Either politically-savvy or protected
- Believe that “busy” is the same thing as “productive”
- Focus mostly on the quantity of work getting done and numbers being achieved
- Pound their chests about innovation, but use bureaucracy to keep people in levels and reduce their own need for decision-making
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?
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?