Banning Devices in Meetings

Posted by Steve Knutson on May 28, 2015

At the start of a recent Management Essentials training session for new and aspiring managers at Marco, we told participants that the use of tablets, laptops and mobile phones would not be allowed during the daylong session. Their first reaction was disappointment.

Then, we went around the room asking participants how they feel when other people use devices in meetings. The responses shook me as a leader – and one who almost always uses a device in a meeting.

One manager shared how it made her feel unimportant, unappreciated and like she had nothing to contribute, when her boss texts while meeting with her.

Certainly everyone has a different experience and many of the perspectives are well aligned with personality styles, as the group members discovered through the DiSC personality profile assessment at the training.

No matter where you fall, one thing is for sure: We need to gain better control over devices in meetings and even ban them in some cases.

I started a ban of sorts with my IT leadership team at Marco. Yes, I asked a group of IT-hungry employees to put away their devices at a meeting. If they can do it, I know others can, too. It’s a practice I hope leaders institute throughout our company and other organizations.

Why? It leads to more productive meetings. We cannot actually type a thought and say another at the same time. Remember meetings are meant to engage in dialogue.

The challenge? We have become so digitally wired that more and more employees take notes on their devices and this can be perceived as productive, too. The key is understanding the dynamic of the group and type of meeting.

So how do we gain control over our devices in meetings?

It starts by setting an example. Leaders themselves need to put away their devices more often. The email, text message or phone call can wait. If the meeting is important, it deserves your attention, and the best way to show it is to let go of your device.

Then, it requires outlining some clear expectations for your organization. Here’s a look at six guidelines to consider to get started:

  1. Require phones to be set to silent in meetings. Yes, that means no vibrations on the table. That’s distracting.
  2. Identify meetings where devices are banned completely.
  3. Identify meetings when only one person is charged with note taking on a device. Remind participants that this is designed so they can be more effectively engaged.
  4. Reduce distractions while taking notes on a device. Encourage colleagues to set their devices to a form of “airplane mode” to prevent them from being distracted by emails, instant messages and other notifications.
  5. Set parameters around digital note taking at the start of the meeting to increase engagement. People who take diligent notes can be less engaged in the meeting. They capture the content, but often contribute little of it.
  6. Consider what external factors inhibit meetings. Often, it’s that “pressing” email or instant message. As a leader or an organization, you also may need to set some parameters around proper and even effective use of other communication tools like email.

Above all, know the personality profile of our colleagues and specifically how it affects their preferences related to devices. Some people may not be bothered when you answer a text message in a meeting. Some may want you to take a series of notes while others feel like they lose the human connection because of it. Have the conversation and set good boundaries together to create the most productive meetings for all the participants involved.

What are some guidelines that work for you or your organization? I’d like to hear them. Share them below or on Marco’s Facebook page. Together, we can learn how to control our devices and not allow them to control us.

Topics: Mobile Devices