Should you ban tech gadgets from meetings? No, but boundaries are important

March 10, 2009 – 9:00 am


I read an article over the weekend called “Should you ban tech gadgets from meetings” by Chris Penttila from the January Issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

Do I think mobile devices should be banned from meetings? Not exactly, although I do think that some guidelines should be put in place and if you are too busy paying attention to your mobile device, it’s probably a meeting you don’t need to be at anyway.

Most people know that I’m a gadget guy that likes flashing lights (it’s an engineering thing) and I make an attempt to stay informed on what’s hot in technology. As part of my involvement in emerging media and mobile marketing, I usually have a handful of devices that I test, like the early iPhone, Google Android phone (G-1) and others.

With the latest devices from Apple and Google, I would say that the distraction factor has got significantly worse, because people aren’t just checking messages anymore but are surfing the web, watching video, checking their Craig’s List postings, etc. And lets not forget that March Madness is just around the corner.

When I read the article above, it hit home. I’m trying to be better about balancing an ever-growing influx of RSS feeds, email, text messages, Twitter messages (tweets) and Facebook updates (along with everything else that comes out) with information overload.

At our company, most employees are offered a company sponsored BlackBerry or iPhone as well as a laptop. I think this is a great idea for several reasons, including the ability for employees to stay in contact while traveling, working from home, keeping current on technology, etc. And it’s a lot easier than trying to have employees expense part of their personal phone bills.

Is there abuse, with people using the company sponsored phones or laptops for personal use? Of course, but our IT department does a good job of trying to keep people in check when it comes to monthly bills, but isn’t overbearing into how you use them.

And, since more and more people have disconnected their home phone line, myself included, what was once your mobile phone has now become your home phone as well. The last stats I read on home phone replacement with mobile devices was 15-20% and growing. I still retain my personal cell phone for communicating with my family and friends and usually leave my personal phone at my desk during the day.

Here are a few things that I’ve done to benefit from mobile devices vs feeling tethered to one.

For anyone that receives a lot of messages on their phone (email, text, etc), the first thing that I recommend is turning off sound notification of new messages. No, not vibrate. Off. Why?

If something is so important that it needs your immediate attention (which I argue that few things really are), someone should call you, and you can feel justified interrupting your meeting to take the call. We’ve all been there. Emergencies happen and I’m not saying to go completely off the grid. If you’re between meetings, waiting for the elevator, etc, why not check your messages on your mobile device and burn up some of the excess time?

But, is it really necessary that you interrupt your meeting with your largest client to read a message from one of your old high school friends that they posted on your Facebook wall? I’m sure your employer would probably feel different.

And I would argue that vibrate is just as annoying as the personalized ring tones that you hear throughout out the day at the office (mine included, I’m sure).

This is where balance comes into play.

If I’m sitting at my desk, I only check my phone every now and then to view text messages, since I’m already viewing email and other messages on my computer.

I keep the visual notification on my BlackBerry, although you could argue that I could probably turn that off as well.

My work desk phone number is on my business card and email signature, but outside of that, I rarely give it out. If I give out a number, I give someone my mobile. Why? Well, my desk phone forwards to my mobile phone anyway, so if it’s important that you have phone number, you might as well have my mobile number. Most people probably wouldn’t miss a desk phones except for conference rooms and a few account service or other related service people that are on the phone all the time.

What else have I done to optimize my utilization of messaging services and mobile devices? I’ve tried to keep my time focused and don’t check email every time one hits my inbox (unless I’m expecting an important message, of course). Same thing goes for RSS feeds.

If I’m really trying to focus, I’ll close down my email and try to eliminate distractions completely. I’m usually only able to do this for an hour or so, but it helps to not be interrupted every few minutes.

How do you best utilize mobile devices and what boundaries do you put on meeting attendees or other events?

And yes, I’ve been busted sending updates to Twitter during church, but nobody’s perfect.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Should you ban tech gadgets from meetings? No, but boundaries are important”

  2. I wish they had a ‘No Devices With Email’ rule for meetings were I work. The number of times I see people trying to slyly look down and respond to emails while I’m trying to present a new idea.

    I know it’s not my ideas that are boring them to their blackberries :)

    By Buy PSP Go on Jun 26, 2009

  3. Depends on the company. If you work on an ostrich farm, then yes. If you work at google, then no.

    By New Parent List on Nov 25, 2009

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