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CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?

CEOs and executives can’t remember to unmute either

A person sits in front of their home computer using Zoom
Reuters/ Albert Gea
"You're on mute" is becoming the catchphrase of the work-from-home era.
Published

Even with offices around the world shut due to Covid-19, business has carried on, though not without the occasional technological hiccup.

Video conferencing has become vital to workers operating remotely, but with it have come certain challenges, like remembering to unmute when you want to talk on a call. It’s a whole thing at this point.

CEOs and other executives aren’t exempt. On calls to discuss their companies’ quarterly earnings, plenty keep forgetting to unmute.

“Chip, I think you’re on mute,” Harmit Singh, the chief financial officer of Levi’s, told the company’s CEO, Chip Bergh, on an Oct. 6 call.

“I’m on mute, yes,” Bergh replied. “You would think after doing this for seven months, I would figure out the mute button.”

Maybe Bergh can take comfort from the fact that he isn’t alone. Mentions of “on mute” by executives and analysts have spiked since the pandemic began earlier this year, according to an analysis of transcripts from earnings calls, conferences, and analyst and shareholder meetings.

Before the pandemic, there had been less than 100 mentions of “on mute” per quarter. In the second quarter of 2020, as the pandemic was raging and offices closed, “on mute” was recorded 429 times in transcripts compiled by Sentieo. Unintentional muting seems to have dropped slightly since then. Perhaps executives are starting to get a hang of remote meetings, though some still have their stumbles.

“You’re on mute, Amy,” said Marc Benioff, co-founder and CEO of Salesforce, to the company’s chief legal officer, Amy Weaver, during an Aug. 25 call.

“It would not be a call if I did not forget to take myself off mute at some point,” she said.

“You’re on mute,” Brian Lawlor, president of local media for the E.W. Scripps Company, told CEO Adam Symson on a Nov. 6 call.

“You would think we would know by now,” Symson replied.

“You’re on mute,” Peter Nordstrom, president and chief brand officer of Nordstrom, said to Kenneth Worzel, the company’s chief operating officer, on a July 7 call. ”You’re on mute,” Nordstrom pointed out to Worzel again later in the same call.

These reminders have elicited some common replies.

“Can you hear me now, Chris?” asked Jennifer Taubert, Johnson & Johnson’s executive vice president and worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals, after the company’s vice president of investor relations, Christopher DelOrefice, pointed out her silence on an Oct. 13 call.

“Thanks” and “sorry” are also popular.

Phrases on repeat lately aren’t just about the mute button. Executives are also “super excited” a lot more than before as results in the third quarter largely came in better than expected across companies. Unsurprisingly, information technology execs, such as Kelly Steckelberg, CFO of video conferencing company Zoom, used “super excited” most often.

With no return to offices imminent in numerous countries and the pandemic ushering in permanent changes in many workplaces, remote work will remain widespread, and with it workers forgetting to unmute.

“Gavin, you’re on mute,” Tracey Joubert, CFO of Molson Coors, said to the company’s CEO, Gavin Hattersley, during a Dec. 1 presentation hosted by Morgan Stanley. “OK, thanks, Tracey,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the sentence of the year this year, right? ‘You’re on mute.'”

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