Why BT should have got Mandy naked

"Please enter your pin now, and don't pull the chain"

Yesterday BT sent a letter to Lord Mandelson threatening legal action if he follows through with his plans for broadband liberalisation, but today it lightened the mood somewhat with daring real-life tales of people conducting conference calls in their birthday suit.

BT handles roughly 15 million audio conferences a year. It has now conducted research which finds that 68 per cent admit they have dialled in to a conference call while wearing pyjamas: the most common colour or style is not recorded. But presumably those 68 per cent are among those people who are able to work from home, rather than those who take their conference calls at the office. Not least because nearly half say they have joined conference calls in their undies, and 20 per cent say they have joined a conference call starkers.

The telecoms giant said the growth in the use of conference calls (the number of people using BT audio conferencing was up almost 20 per cent year on year) has led to calls being conducted not just in the nude, but in some rather odd places, too.

The most popular place to hold a conference call was in bed (you see, the wearing of pyjamas is actually rather sensible, given the circumstances), followed by the toilet.

Why so many conference calls should be taken in the smallest room in the house is open to debate. When you've gotta go, you've gotta go, one supposes. But there is also the fact it's often the only room in the house with a lock. And with children, pets and partners around, people might want others on the call to have at least the illusion that they are focused on work, and not merely skiving off to play with the kids/dogs/PlayStation. (Another recent study found that one in four men has pulled a "sickie" in order to stay at home and play video games, the dweebs.)

With many respondents telling BT that they had been disturbed while on a conference call by babies crying, cats miaowing, dogs barking, or kettles boiling, you can see why so many people head to the bog when about to "face" their colleagues on a conference call.

This is not without its dangers, though -- many respondents said a conference call had been interrupted by the sound of a toilet flushing, which is surely bad call etiquette in anyone's book. Those taking the call in the smallest room could at least save their flush until the call has ended?

But BT is trying to make a serious point too, natch.

It says that in 2008, using conferencing helped it to cut out more than 700,000 face-to-face meetings and 1.4 million journeys, saving 53,000 tonnes of CO2. Which is certainly not to be sniffed at (and anyway, CO2 is odourless, unlike the atmosphere on many conference calls, judging by the research).

But perhaps all these naked, loo-based conference callers could soon become an endangered species, as the analyst firm Ovum says that 26 per cent of conferences will be held by video by 2012.

So perhaps, instead of sending Mandy a "letter before action" about his broadband liberalisation plans, BT should have got him on a naked conference call. It might have been our last chance to see whether he's a conference call flusher.

Jason Stamper is the New Statesman technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review


Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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Zac Goldsmith has bitten off more than he can chew

In standing as an independent, Goldsmith may face the worst of both worlds. 

After just 48 years, we can announce the very late arrival of the third runway at Heathrow. Assuming, that is, that it makes its way past the legal challenge from five local councils and Greenpeace, the consultation with local residents, and the financial worries of the big airlines. And that's not counting the political struggles...

While the Times leads with the logistical headaches - "Heathrow runway may be built over motorway" is their splash, the political hurdles dominate most of this morning’s papers

"Tory rebels let fly on Heathrow" says the i's frontpage, while the FT goes for "Prominent Tories lead challenge to May on Heathrow expansion". Although Justine Greening, a May loyalist to her fingertips, has limited herself to a critical blogpost, Boris Johnson has said the project is "undeliverable" and will lead to London becoming "a city of planes". 

But May’s real headache is Zac Goldsmith, who has quit, triggering a by-election in his seat of Richmond Park, in which he will stand as an anti-Heathrow candidate.  "Heathrow forces May into Brexit by-election" is the Telegraph's splash. 

CCHQ has decided to duck out of the contest entirely, leaving Goldsmith running as the Conservative candidate in all but name, against the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. 

What are Goldsmith's chances? To win the seat, the Liberal Democrats would need a 19.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives - and in Witney, they got exactly that.

They will also find it easier to squeeze the third-placed Labour vote than they did in Witney, where they started the race in fourth place. They will find that task all the easier if the calls for Labour to stand aside are heeded by the party leadership. In any case, that Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds have all declared that they should will be a boost for Olney even if she does face a Labour candidate.  

The Liberal Democrats are fond of leaflets warning that their rivals “cannot win here” and thanks to Witney they have one ready made.  

Goldsmith risks having the worst of all worlds. I'm waiting to hear whether or not the Conservatives will make their resources freely available to Goldsmith, but it is hard to see how, without taking an axe to data protection laws, he can make use of Conservative VoterID or information gathered in his doomed mayoral campaign. 

But in any case, the Liberal Democrats will still be able to paint him as the Brexit candidate and the preferred choice of the pro-Heathrow Prime Minister, as he is. I think Goldsmith will find he has bitten more than he can chew this time.

This article originally appeared in today's Morning Call, your essential email covering everything you need to know about British politics and today's news. You can subscribe for free here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.