Skip to content

Mobile devices and meetings

A  few weeks ago, I was off site at a small biz client’s office facilitating a marketing strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working — at the same time.

When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, “Surely you must be joking,” to, “Heretic!”

“I need to check my email,” stammered one participant. “I’m on deadline for a project,” said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point. “But we always answer our phones, even in meetings,” said another.

I’ll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

It seems things have gotten so out of hand, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive, revealed 62 percent of of the survey group believed that during work meetings their co-workers were sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. Here’s what they thought was happening among their co-workers:

47% – Hid their mobile device under the table
42% – Excused themselves to go to the restroom
35% – Hid their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
9% – Pretended to tie their shoes
8% – Created a distraction

Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn’t think “sneaking a peek” was necessary — they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It’s a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in — no matter what.

The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resource and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

But most of us don’t need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily —that distraction is bad for business. So if you’re ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

  • Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.
  • Don’t bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way — on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.
  • Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

If all of this isn’t enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report from TeleNav where one third of us would rather give up sex than part — even briefly — with our phones.

How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps businesses negotiate the wired world of today’s media landscape — social and otherwise.

 

Read more about Business

 

14 comments

Devan
31 August 2011 #

Perhaps we should also look at this situation from the perspective of “How interesting/relevant is this meeting”? We have all at one time or another been forced to attend a meeting to discuss trivial matters or to basically represent a ‘rent a crowd’ so it is no surprise that in these situations we look for something else to engage our attention.

But I do agree that basic human consideration must be paramount. Either say ‘no thanks’ for attending the meeting, or if attendance is mandatory, give it 100% so that the meeting stays on course and focused, and you can be out of there in no time! :)

Barry Hynd
1 September 2011 #

Hi Karen,

I know these feelings only too well as someone who actually detests meetings! It always surpises me just how many people dont understand how to run these effectively and I certainly do feel that technology plays a major distracting fact.

Whenever I attend meetings I set the duration in advance and am quite pedantic about sticking to it. This has worked very well for me as people tend to focus more on the outcomes. This post also reminds me of the book Rework as the team at 37signals has a great approach towards meetings :)

Great post!

Ross
1 September 2011 #

Hmmm, I’m worried by the comment about the 33% that would give up sex rather than being separated from their technology… Really??

Jeff Sutherlin
7 September 2011 #

doesn’t it make you wonder, how did people ever get it all done before? even 10 years ago? Before all of this technology onslaugh? It is definitely out of control.

Leroy Donovan
7 September 2011 #

So glad you posted this, it needed to be said. People need to be aware that although they feel like they are getting a lot accomplished their productivity is actually diminished.

Martin
7 September 2011 #

Karen you are brave for doing what you did and I applaud you!

Tom Draney
7 September 2011 #

not at all surprised by the 33% that would rather give up sex….we are in a society that is addicted to technology and has very intimate connections with it.

Nguyen To
7 September 2011 #

The fault lies with the boring meetings that we are subjected to. I text/email so as to stay awake during those times of boredom!

Stuart
9 September 2011 #

good suggestions on what to do, and I would add to it engage the people you work with more, ask for their input, make eye contact… don’t allow for them to stray!

R Smith
9 September 2011 #

The problems with cell phones and other distracting devices stem much farther than in business. Schools for example struggle with students having them. Yes, they are to be kept in the backpack but many students sneak them out and use similar tactics you described in your meeting. There too they should not even be allowed on campus.

Bruce Hardie
9 September 2011 #

I don’t understand why this is such an issue. If the employer does not like it he should say so. If a co-worker is bothered by it, address it. Speak up people.

Tracy Willis
9 September 2011 #

I find it so ironic… the more ‘connected’ you are through all of this technology and gadgets, the more disconnected you actually become from others, and really life itself.

Karen Leland
10 September 2011 #

Tracy;

I’ve been pondering that very irony myself lately. I think it’s so important as business people that we make a distinction between being connected with others vs being in contact.

Karen Leland
10 September 2011 #

Part of what I am finding interesting in your comments is this thread of meetings that don’t make a difference. Poorly run, poorly planned, poorly executed. It’s an issue I constantly face when consulting with clients. I think we have to start by telling the truth about how effective the meetings we are holding and attending are and deal with fixing that problem, not avoid it by using technology to keep our selves occupied and numb to the issue.

Add your comment





We welcome all feedback but prefer a real name and email address.