I've just started with a team of 3-4 people, who provide external customer support.  I'd really like to schedule a weekly staff meeting, but we can't leave the phones unattended for that period of time.  I've thought of a few strategies for solving the problem, but they all have fairly bad flaws:

Get someone else to cover the phones: There isn't really anyone else who can take over -- my team is the entire support department.  For the most part whoever answers the phones could take messages, but that would impact customer service and sometimes urgent things crop up.

Schedule the meetings out of "core hours": This would mean that the entire team would have to come in early or leave late one day, impacting morale and causing issues with getting coverage at the other end of the day (we're responsible for covering the phones about 12 hours out of the day, and it's handled by having some people start/finish earlier and others start/finish later).  I really would prefer not to do this.

Leave someone behind: Pick someone to stay on the phones to cover the emergencies.  This one would be a decent option in a larger team, but at this scale someone's going to miss out every few weeks, which I think really puts a damper on the value of the meeting.  I'm especially thinking of really important meetings like announcing feedback... not something you want anyone to miss out on.

Split the team: Have two staff meetings, each with half the team.  Again, might be practical with a larger team, but not really useful for four people -- we'd be practically having O3s.

Has anyone been in a similar position, and could share their thoughts?  What options have I missed, and what factors have I failed to take into account with the options I have thought of to make them more or less appealing?


- Matt


buhlerar's picture

I agree with your assessments -- with a small group it's definitely tough to split up the team logically.  Is there a way to have someone participate in staff meeting by phone and just drop off the line if a call comes in (so they can participate as much as possible).  Or maybe have the calls routed into the conference room, etc. so someone can watch the phones while participating in person?

I'm assuming if all calls are fielded by 4 people the phones aren't constantly ringing.  But you must meet the organizational need to have someone ready to answer calls, of course.

mattpalmer's picture

That's some good thoughts, Buhlerar...  I'm not sure whether people might look at me strangely if I suggested they participate by phone from their desk 20 metres away, but it does raise an interesting new thought in my mind -- rather than moving the entire team into a conference room, why don't we just hold the staff meeting in the bullpen?  We're a second-level support team, so most calls come up from the front-line support team -- if I make sure that the other team knows we're meeting (and a set time/day will help with that), they can make sure that only the "urgent" stuff comes through and if a hot one *does* come in, someone just drops out to deal with it.

Anyone have any pros/cons, tips or tricks on running a staff meeting in the main office rather than a conference room?  The office is a large, open-plan one, my team is at an island of desks on our own, and the overall noise level in the office is... reasonable.  I may need a cane to rap over the knuckles of people who can't stay off their e-mail, though... (grin)


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

In general I like the way you're thinking.  Here's the answer:

1.  Analyze when call volume is lowest, on average.  I know, you can't predict it, but there ARE trends, and there are usually highs and lows.  When one call center manager told me there really weren't, I knew he wasn't looking at the data, or he wasn't looking at the data to find a time (versus just seeing some basal level), OR it must be impossible for anyone ever to have LUNCH.

2.  Schedule your staff meeting then, and leave one person - 1 - on the phones.

3.  45 minute meeting, please.  With only 4, you don't need 90 minutes, and by then the guy on the phones will be ready.




I don't understand your question about main office.  Are you asking can you have a staff meeting with folks staying at their desks?  Depending upon the layout, it's possible, but surely there are other options.  I'd have them turn away from their desks...

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 One thing I'd add to Mark's suggestions is that by the end of the meeting (maybe make it a 1 minute agenda item just before AOB) delegate someone to meeting with the person left covering the phones to give them a quick (10 minutes) catch up on the details of the meeting.  Then in that person's next O3 (presuming O3s happen reasonably soon after the staff meeting) ask them if they have any comments on what was passed on to them.  This will ensure that the staff member still gets to hear what was said (in summary at least) and feedback their thoughts and will support staff into the habit of feeding back the content of meetings without giving a blow by blow.

Regarding having the meetings at desks in the office.  That really depends on how disruptive a call being taken would be to the meeting and how disruptive having a meeting around the person taking the call would be to the call.  Unless you phones are very good at filtering out background noise and the mute button is used anytime the person taking the call isn't speaking the latter could be an issue.  You may also need to consider (as you deal with external customers) whether anything discussed at the meeting might be commercially confidential, if there is then hold th emeeting away from the phones.




Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


bill_enloe's picture
Training Badge

Hi Matt, I head a Technical Support Team that provides world-wide external customer support from 4 offices with a staff only 3 times the size of yours.

As you ramp up your organization, you will probably be thinking about best practices, industry standards, and training resources.

I highly recommend as a valuable resource in all three areas, and more. They have been an invaluable resource to me, and I'm sure anyone in a support function (internal or external) would get a lot from their reference documents, on-line and in-class training, and best practice papers.

My suggestions:

1: Do what Mark said and look at your time of call loading You should have an Automatic Call Distribution system of some time to do this, if not, there are many cloud-based VOIP solutions that do this. Contact me seperately, and I'll recomend the system that we use.

2: You said you were level 2 staff. Ask your level 1 group to defer calls during that time if at all possible. If not, they page (text message, or even cell phone call) one designated person who drops out of the meeting).

3: Pick one person to miss each week.


mattpalmer's picture

Everyone, I can't say how much I appreciate this great advice.  I love the ideas coming out, and it's really helped me to form some ideas.  Specific comments below.

Stephen, you're completely right about the disruption and "overhearing" implications of taking calls at our desks -- we're an open-plan office, with the support team all together in one "pod" of desks together.  It would be distracting for both the call-taker and the meeting participants, and I think it's best if I take that one off the option list.  Mark, when I talked about the distinction between "main office" and "meeting room", the "main office" was referring to this group of desks.  As you say, I think to make that work would require at *least* the requirement that people turn away from their desks (and the ever-present lure of e-mail).

Your ideas surrounding having someone else "catch up" a team member who missed a meeting are really great, especially the follow-up in the next O3.  Assuming I get to have the whole team in each staff meeting, I'll still keep your suggestions in mind for those times that someone misses one (urgent call, off that day, whatever).

Mark, Bill, you're completely right, there are peaks and troughs through the day's call load.  It's a fairly well-defined "bell curve", though -- the slow periods areat the beginning/end of the day, which doesn't help much.  However, it appears to be easier to "pause" calls in the early afternoon, when the people who have noticed problems overnight have been dealt with, and we can hopefully deal with callers with a quick "we'll get someone to call you back" -- and then making sure we do, of course...

Bill, deferring the calls was the option I was leaning towards.  I've also discovered, as I'm learning more about the structure of the organisation, that there might be scope for getting coverage from "non-support" technical personnel.  My original understanding was that these other people were officially isolated from support duties, but it appears I got that wrong.  So that's a good option.

Mark, I'd never dream of putting my people through a 90 minute staff meeting each week without very good reason -- I think 45 minutes will be *plenty*.

Based on the "nothing new for 90 days" rule, I've got plenty of time (87 days and counting) to come up with a final plan for implementation.  But the ideas you've all given me have helped me greatly in my cogitations.  Thank you all.