Etiquette: My meeting, my rules

"The etiquettes of workplace technology"At the beginning of any meeting, depending upon circumstances, we make introductions. We share agendas. We explain where the toilets and fire exits are.

I moot that if you’re holding a meeting you should also set expectations around technology use, beyond the ‘don’t forget to switch your phone to silent’. And if you can, do it beforehand, and make it clear that people can approach you for clearance for anything special.

I don’t know how many English speaking cultures use “Murphy’s Law” as an expression, but I understand it as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong—and usually at the worst possible moment.

Based on this principle, I can almost guarantee that just before I go into an important meeting, a Twitter account that has had little interaction for weeks will suddenly spring to life with a question being asked, or a debate raging that needs a moderated eye. Or a competitor will come up with something that a client wants dealt with soonest.

It’s really hard to be ‘present’ in a meeting if I’m worrying that a client is about to be hit by a Twitter storm, and if anything like this happens, I need to ask permission to check periodically that all is well. (A well timed message usually quells things, but if there’s a void, something will fill it!)

But my worries are minor compared to the stress of a parent who’s left their child with a sitter for the first time. Or the people waiting for a call to a death bed that could come in the next ten minutes or the next ten years – but either way, Murphy’s Law dictates that it will come just when you’re in a meeting where you can’t be contacted.

Although all of these examples of the times that accessible technology can help make people more present, there seems to be an assumption by many that any kind of glancing at technology or breaks to take a look are at best a sign that people aren’t paying attention, at worst a sign that the ‘perpetrator’ is rude.

Until we get to a point where people can trust each other to use their technology properly, and only tend to it where completely necessary, should people convening and/or moderating meetings take responsibility for finding out what technology will be in use and why, and giving people a chance to ‘declare’ at the start of a meeting? There will be no pleasing those who consider all modern technology a break down in standards, but this approach might help move people towards a greater understanding of, and empathy with, colleagues.

It would also allow those who assume to believe that the digital note takers, mentioned in a previous blog, are simply checking emails, to relax in the knowledge that it’s the meeting, not their dodgy hairstyles, being reported.

Of course if it’s your meeting, it’s your rules, and if you have a hard line ‘I hate technology in meetings’ approach, perhaps this too, should be declared beforehand, or at very least at the start of the meeting to avoid transgressions?

This blog is part of the Global Integration Technology Tuesday series.

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Etiquette: My meeting, my rules

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