Who Pays For Dinner?

I was sitting at book club last night and my friend Carla turned to me and exclaimed, “Write about laptops and devices!” What? I was puzzled.

“Write about bringing laptops into meetings and how disrespectful that is. People think they are multi-tasking and being productive, but they are really expecting the meeting to run on autopilot. They may be listening, but they are not contributing.”

I was thinking about the meeting I had facilitated earlier that day. Two participants had been using their phones under the table. Literally under the table. Did they think their colleagues didn’t notice? Did they think I didn’t notice? Did they realize that they aren’t super humans and their minds can’t be in two places at one time? AND, it was a wake-up call to me that my program had gone a bit astray and if I were completely on topic and relevant, this wouldn’t be happening. Immediate feedback!

And then I thought about Kristine at the same meeting. She told me she had been waiting for a call from her doctor, which she received during the very same meeting, and she left as soon as she received the call. Fortunately for her, she was able to receive the medical care she needed during the work day and return to work.

I also thought about my colleague Sharon Weinstein . She attends EVERY meeting with laptop in hand and she takes copious notes. She often shares her notes and they are incredible. Somehow, she is able to take notes AND contribute. Though I am not a neuroscientist, I am going to guess it is because the notes she is taking are about the meeting, not about another topic. What I do know is that Sharon is unusual. Unfortunately, most meeting participants are not using their devices to focus on the meeting. Most are using them to multitask, or to text and engage with their social network.

Interestingly, in technology companies, devices are banned at meetings. That’s right, the people who make the devices and the software that supports them know you can’t be two places at one time! In fact, those very same product developers and engineers frequently place their phones in the middle of the table during meals. The first person to reach for his or her phone pays for dinner. They know that you can’t have meaningful discussions and relationships while checking your phone.

If your organization suffers from “device creep,” and most do, I recommend considering the following options:

  • Create a policy of device-free meetings in your organization.
  • If you don’t have that policy, discuss as a group at the beginning of the meeting if the group will allow devices.
  • Have one notetaker with an on-screen laptop and distribute those notes.
  • Use notepads. For those who have forgotten, it’s paper with lines and you will need a pen or pencil.
  • Place devices in the middle of the meeting space. The person who grabs his or her phone first is responsible for the task that no one at the meeting wants.
  • Take breaks and allow time for people to check their devices and respond accordingly.
  • Only hold extremely important meetings and keep them short. If the topic is relevant to everyone in attendance, the devices are less likely to surface.

If you are the meeting organizer, or in my case the instructor, and you see the phones come out, don’t be judgmental. You don’t know if the participants are taking pertinent notes, texting a message that the class is so interesting that they will be running late, or checking the stock market.

If you want to manage devices, manage them as a group, at the beginning of the meeting. And while we might be able to manage devices, the only way to manage attention is to be relevant.

How does your organization handle “device creep”?

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