Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Etiquette: The use of technology in meetings

Have you ever turned up at a meeting where people barely glanced over the top of their tablets or phones to welcome you in?

Or at a meeting where you’re glared at for getting your phone out to turn it to silent?

Meeting etiquette is hard.

In this post, I’ll talk about private meetings where workplace issues are being discussed. I’m not talking top secret planning meetings or new prototype reveals. Anyone who breaks with privacy and shares that kind of information (except with the blessing of colleagues) deserves any ensuing wrath.

No. I’m talking about those meetings where tasks are shared, where direction is discussed, where our input is required to make something work. And where we’re all reminded that Pablo in accounts needs our expenses in by Thursday.

Should technology be allowed? I would argues yes, but with some reservations:

  • If someone has the ‘lid’ of their laptop up, it makes seeing them, and therefore communication, harder – so small net books or tablets are ideal.
  • If you use a phone, people may assume you’re texting rather than paying attention.
  • We need to respect the wishes of others present. Of course we don’t usually know that until we’ve started, so perhaps this is the duty of the person who calls the meeting? (This is the subject of a later blog).
  • ‘My tech’s smaller than your tech’ syndrome abounds. I use a fairly large screen because of a small visual impairment in my right eye. And often it’s slightly older tech because I’d rather spend my money going places than on the latest shiniest new object and I personally hate having to set everything back up from scratch. I’ve learned over the years that this feeds into first impressions, which can be hard to counter. (I do, however, have a very tiny business card holder that created an utter stir at one meeting, with at least three people flocking to my side in the coffee break to find out what tiny gadget I might be secreting. Oh if only I’d had the speed of thought to invent something to put me at the top of their ‘cool’ stakes!)

The benefits of allowing technology use in meetings?

  • Efficiency and speed. Often the document that we have found we need can be found and shared immediately without reams of photocopying.  We can fact check on the spot. Although these checks may interrupt the flow for a few moments (comfort break!) it does save the time an, sometimes, agony of finding another time when everyone is available and potentially saves the cost of all travelling to get together again. (It also goes without saying that having the facility shouldn’t be abused – there’s no excuse for not having the right papers, or having circulated the right information, beforehand. Limit it to what couldn’t have been anticipated.)
  • Making people more present. There are times when we all need to have our minds in two places. We’re waiting for that dreaded call to a bedside. Or we’ve left our child for the first time in order to attend the meeting. We need to know that the plumber’s turning up tomorrow. Knowing that they can see a text immediately if there’s a problem will allow people in these situations – which should be rare, but people are uncomfortable declaring them – to relax and stay present.
  • Note taking. This one always causes raised eyebrows, often from the people who’ve been happy to sit doodling on pieces of paper! Personally I’ve learned that if you’re making notes on a phone or notebook, it’s best to tell people what you’re doing unless that’s clearly the norm. They’ll usually say they don’t mind, but   some will probably mind greatly unless you explain to them. Some will still mind – and at that point, there are decisions to be made!

I’m slightly more ambivalent about claiming being able to work in the breaks as an advantage of technology. Unless you really are on a crunching deadline, for most people the chance to get to know and talk to other people in that meeting is more valuable. Your emails and missed calls will still be there after the meeting. Anyone who’s travelled to get there won’t be.

Take a look at an interactive graphic of our effective meetings learning path and module contents.

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