Can you hear me?

In the last few weeks, how often have you asked, “Can you hear me?”  I feel like it is the sentence spoken most often while working from home. It is funny how many meetings now start with this question instead of, “Hey, how is it going?”. The two main issues leading to our need to ask the other participants if they can hear us are either an issue with the internet connection or with the periphery (headset and microphone).

I want to share my lovely experience from today when we had our bi-weekly meeting session. This means my day was full of meetings and I should have been the lead in most of them. No problem, I have a good and stable internet connection, it worked in all the previous meetings of the last three weeks of COVID-19. However, it seems I wasn’t taking into account Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Follow me through my thrilling day of misfortunes:

I always join calls 10 to 15 minutes early for two simple reasons. First, if something goes wrong, I have time to fix it and second, it gives me and my colleagues time for some small talk before the meeting starts in earnest. This morning validated the first reason: I noticed my internet connection was unstable and I was not able to connect at all – not even with bad quality. After a fast investigation, it was clear that the internet connection had issues overall. No device could properly connect, even with the LAN cable. What is the most common solution for this issue? Restart the router. No problem, the router is new, fast and usually does not take more than 2-3 minutes to reboot. Today? After 10 minutes it was finally back up. I scrambled to be on time, tried to join the call and got greeted by Murphy again: my Bluetooth headset was not able to connect with my laptop.

At that point, I was beginning to wonder if I had done something bad over the weekend to upset my karma. But I needed to start this meeting and I have the room to myself, so I just used the integrated speaker and microphone of my laptop and hoped it would work. Do you want to guess my first sentence in the meeting? Yes, it was “Hello, can you hear me?”. They could hear me, so I could share my screen and start the meeting.

Ever shared a screen? Usually, your shared part gets a red border to show what you are sharing. In the middle of a sentence I noticed that the border was gone, and it was too quiet to be due to anything else than losing the call. Short check and yes, I was disconnected from the call. Checking the network status: disconnected. Frustrated, I hunted down the LAN cable to get rid of this issue with my unstable connection, returned to my laptop and frantically searched for the connection jack… and there was no jack! That was the “this cannot be happening” moment.

Thanks to COVID-19, many phone providers gave “free access to unlimited data” to their customers. So, I went to hunt down my smartphone and private laptop, which usually has a more stable connection – and with which I’m more used to fixing issues. I activated the hotspot and searched for the password – I have WLAN, so I never have needed to connect to the hotspot before. Finally, I connected my private laptop with the hotspot. I re-joined the call and apologized to everyone – and yes, I then asked, “Can you hear me—again?” Good news at this moment? My headset finally worked without issues.

I asked one of my colleagues to share the presentation because I did not want to put any pressure on my connection. It worked perfectly for an hour, and at the end I was like, “Great, the hotspot works, so I should be able to share my screen to show something.” But Murphy’s Law was still in effect, and my first attempt to screenshare failed. It seems there are some programs that do not want to be shared in full screen. Either way, I noticed quickly that I could share it if I was not in full screen. Finally, success – not! My hotspot data volume crashed down and the “Can you hear me” question had to be asked once more. After the call, I found an SMS on the smartphone to approve the free unlimited data volume – silly question if you ask me!

At this point, I was extremely happy about lunch break and extremely afraid of the meetings that would follow afterwards.  Fortunately, Murphy also took a lunch break and spared me from cutting my fingers. And then next meeting started. Similar to the morning, I was 10 minutes early. I had everything ready to connect my office laptop to the hotspot.  And again, the headset was not recognized in the call, but it was visible in the Bluetooth settings… That issue got resolved quickly – lucky me – by reconnecting to the headset. Do not ask me why, I never had to do that in the weeks before. All set, right? No, the connecting through the hotspot for some reason was low quality and when I joined, I did only hear half of the stuff my early colleagues talked about. I had still time left and decided to switch to the normal WLAN connection because it could not be much worse – and first success of the afternoon: I was in the call with my headset, and I could understand everyone! I think I asked at least once in those 10 minutes if they could hear me…

Great call, my connection worked, I understood them, they understood me… and suddenly, nothing. Shared screen of a colleague was gone, no sound, nothing. Frantically I looked at my internet connection: connected and secure. Confused, I tried to re-join the call. It worked!  I was greeted with many versions of “Can you hear me,” and I answered with, “Oh good, it was not my connection,” which was meet with many chuckles. The whole call had been disconnected.

We live in a great time where we are always available – until the internet connection fails! With that, I wish you all good luck with your call meetings and as few encounters with Murphy as possible. May your colleagues be able to greet you with a “Yes, I can hear you well.”

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