How to Conduct a Successful International Conference Call

Conference calling has become essential to many businesses managing virtual offices and teams, many of which are now located abroad.  We talked to Subhi Khudairi, Vice President of the Khudairi Group, a family owned and operated business headquartered in Houston, Texas, that relies on daily overseas conference calls to monitor operations.  Read on for Subhi’s tips on conducting a successful international conference call.

According to Subhi, conducting international conference calls is vital to managing overseas operations and ensuring sustainability for international businesses.  It is important to be in constant communication with business counterparts abroad because it creates a personal relationship with overseas employees and ensures management will be updated on every process.

About the Khudairi Group

Daily conference calls to Iraq are necessary for the Khudairi Group, a business focused on rebuilding and developing Iraq, to monitor operations across three different divisions:  Government & Infrastructure, Marketing & Distribution and Oil & Gas.  Each of these main divisions, based in Houston, has daily international conference calls with the staff in Iraq that provides a level of on-the-ground transparency for the Houston headquarters.

Conference Calling Systems

It’s important to choose a conference calling system that works with your business needs.  Some businesses use a simple office phone to conduct conference calls, while other companies opt for web conferencing services, such as GoToMeeting.  The Khudairi Group started out by using Yahoo! Messenger but later converted to Skype, which is great for its chat, video and file and screen-sharing capabilities.

During conference calls, Subhi’s team simultaneously uses chat and video functions to repeat information, as the chat dialogue is helpful for non-native English speakers on the overseas team to follow along with the conversation.  Using Skype, you can also save previous chat conversations, allowing users to go back and review the dialogue from the meeting.

Skype costs as low as 2.3 cents per minute or 1.2 cents per month.  International SMS rates vary by country.  The Business version of Skype allows you to utilize

  • IM
  • Conference calling
  • Video conferencing
  • File sharing
  • Screen sharing
  • Call transfer
  • Call forwarding
  • Voicemail service
  • Caller ID
  • Online numbers
  • SMS
  • Skype Manager (Lets you centrally create and manage Skype accounts for your employees, allocate Skype Credit and assign features for employees to use.)

Key Guidelines for Your Conference Call

Here are some key guidelines to follow when having a conference call:

1.    Develop and distribute an agenda prior to meeting.

Agendas help you organize your discussion points and make your conference calls quicker and more effective.  Emailing your agenda to all conference call participants prior to the call will help participants focus on specific topics at hand.

2.    Follow a predetermined structure and stay on topic.

Structure is important when managing international conference calls. Especially when dealing with management offices in developing nations, “you [should] try to create structure where there isn’t structure,” Subhi advises.  A way to create structure is to set a schedule for conference calls and stick to it.  Subhi’s team sets pre-determined phone call times each week and holds overseas managers accountable for showing up and being prepared for the calls.

When Subhi’s team first started conference calling the team in Iraq, some of the managers in the overseas office wouldn’t show up to the conference calls or would procrastinate and offer excuses.  “[Having scheduled phone calls] was a new concept for the Iraqi management team,” Subhi admits, “but once we imposed a schedule, they were more willing to show up and be accountable.”

3.    Maintain effective communication from top to bottom and vice-versa.

“Lower level managers and employees are quick to imitate [top level] management styles,” says Subhi.  “If you set a good example for effective communication and accountability during meetings, they will follow your lead.”  The following step should also help you to maintain effective communication among overseas team members.

4.    Allow time for questions and concerns.

Setting aside time for questions and concerns allows participants to voice their opinions, if they haven’t had a chance to speak.  It also lets participants bring up any other important issues that weren’t already covered in the agenda.

5.    Send conference minutes, next steps and action items to all parties involved.

Subhi is always copied on emails containing meeting minutes, and he tries to follow up with each manager/meeting leader about the conference call if he isn’t in it.  He recommends including next steps and action items in your email as well as the minutes.

Other Considerations for Making International Calls

Working with employees abroad always requires special considerations due to time differences.  Subhi’s team schedules their conference calls with the Iraqi management office for every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because the schedule works best for the overseas team.

“In Iraq—and really all of the Middle East—most people have half days on Thursday, Friday off, and they work on Saturday and Sunday, which is somewhat counter to our work week in America.  Since we’re corporate, our overseas team pretty much has to follow the schedule that we set, but we try to be considerate about the time difference and the culture there.”

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