Hardware

How to manage meeting participants and their smartphones

Need a way to get a handle on meeting attendees who are riveted by their smartphones?

In some ways, technology has made the world a less polite place. The convenience and allure of smartphones, for example, has led some people to do things they normally wouldn't do, like texting constantly to others while dining out with someone or taking calls during business meetings.

If you're a manager who watches attendees constantly use their PDAs during meetings, there are a few things you can do to get a handle on the behavior. Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, offers some tips:

  • Bring it up as an issue early and get the group's consensus on a ground rule.
  • Use facilitation techniques that require participants to walk around or at least remain actively engaged (e.g. affinity diagramming, nominal group technique, etc.).
  • Make a point to begin calling on people by name early in the session (sets a tone where participants know they need to pay attention).
  • Get the group's agreement on "No PDA multitasking" if you agree to provide a break every hour for everyone to respond to messages as needed.
  • Get the group's agreement on a penalty for any ringing phones/devices -- e.g. violator must sing a tune.
  • Walk around during the session and stand near any violators.
  • Pose a question to a violator who has disengaged.
  • Leave a basket at the front door for everyone to drop their gadget into before they take their seat.
  • Announce at the start of the meeting that you'll ask anyone on their PDA to step out as needed.

Note that there are a variety of techniques that can be used to address this very common problem, and they range in level of assertiveness. The level of assertiveness you use should be determined after weighing several factors (including personalities, seriousness of violations, etc.) The key is to NOT ignore the problem -- bring it up with the team and let the group consensus be your guide!

14 comments
bvansickle
bvansickle

I think that when we regularly have trouble getting folks to "attend" at our meetings (in person, without distraction), we probably should have some thought (and some discussion with attendees) about the need/nature/format of the meeting(s). What's causing them to "slide off", mentally or physically? What can we do to get more of their involvement and waste less of their valuable on-task time? Perhaps it would be better to shorten the meeting down to less than an hour. Maybe less than half an hour. Maybe take the seats out of the conference room? Maybe only invite critical deciders/actors to the meeting? Build a tighter agenda? Maybe skip the "It's Monday morning, so let's have a meeting" meeting entirely? Staff want a sense of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Their leaders want them all moving in the same direction to get the right job(s) done propertly, on budget, and within timeframe. If we can achieve those goals with one less scheduled meeting, so much the better. With the effective use of various collaborative tools (even simple ones, like e-mail), they could even attend your meeting while they're listening to someone ELSE prattle on about the new forms so-and-so wants us to use. Beyond signing their paycheck, what can we do to be the legitmate center of their attention, instead of being seen as just another hurdle on the critical path?

mongocrush
mongocrush

If I'm in a long boring meeting about pointless nonsense then I will excuse myself from the meeting (some excuse that the servers need a hug or something). Other than that I will pay attention and stay interactive in the meeting. In IT you don't really need to be available 24/7, you just have to know who needs immediate response. My phones are normally silenced in meetings with exceptions that I have set up beforehand. My phones will ring if I receive Security/Important alerts from my servers or if certain people call my phone.

ITsupportCOC
ITsupportCOC

There is always an exception to the rule. For example: IT Folks that are required to be available 24/7, expecting an email/call, ect.--I AM the IT for where I work and I only take my phone w/me to a mtg if I fall under that scenario, which isnt always so to be respectful, unless I need my phone I leave it at my desk. However, I still think it is rude, distracting to others and inconsiderate for anyone else that is not required to be "on call" to be futzing with their phones during a mtg--even more so if it is the person that called the mtg! Its even more annoying when they have two phones (one personal and one work) that they futz with and they have no reason to be dinking on it--they are just texting their friends. Again, with the expection of anyone that is required to be on call or monitoring something. Yes we are all adults but that doesnt mean we always act like one.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

Only the president of the United States and some military commanders need to be constantly available. Everyone else can be "off line" for protracted periods without risking the end of the world, without risking their careers, and without risking friendships. This revelation may come as a serious blow to the egos of certain smartphone owners, but it is true. If a meeting is necessary (yeah, we know many are not), ban smartphones from the room and participants will be better able to focus on the subject matter of the meeting. As a side benefit, some blowhards may curtail their comments in order to shorten the time away from their beloved phones.

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

If they missed meeting etiquette 101 then instruct them. Then adhere to acceptable meeting practices yourself and keep the meeting short. Anything that doesn't apply to the group at large should be discussed in teams or one-on-one. If you have meetings going over two hours then you may want to take a serious look at the content (I realize there will be exceptions but I had to draw the line of generalization somewhere). Email discussions are very possible in our day and age so if you have self-explanatory presentation slides then just email them rather than wasting people's time going through them all adding only an additional tidbit here and there. If you have managers that cannot be away from their staff for more than an hour then they need to do a better job of cross-training, organizing, or managing. It is important to keep in mind that there will be times when someone will need to take a phone call during a meeting (ie. if their wife is due to give birth at any moment or they have an important phone call they couldn't reschedule). It would be best if they could warn the participants or at least the presenter before the meeting starts that they may need to take a call. It is then up to that person to sit near an exit, keep their phone on vibrate and off the table, and to discretely step out of the room when and if that phone call comes. If you have employees or managers that are not able to adhere by the no-phone/device-use-in-meetings policy and are still always doing something on their phone give them a verbal warning in private (public humiliation while sometimes effective is poor management unless you're a tyrant or a dictator), give them a second warning where you explain why you don't want them on their smart phone/tablet during the meeting and work with them to resolve any concerns they have but also let them know that that behavior is unacceptable, give them one last written warning if it continues, and then if they still have issues get a new employee or manager preferably one who can act like an adult. No one should have to babysit their employees or management staff. Meetings with clients are a little different. When you are with that client they deserve your time and attention. Don't squander those moments by being unprepared or disinterested (the two reason's I commonly see for device use during a meeting). If you only have a small part in the meeting try to be genuinely interested in the whole process rather than just your one little piece. Chances are you can glean valuable information from the rest of the process even though it may not apply directly to you.

DBinNC
DBinNC

what are you supposed to do when it's the MANAGER who called the meeting who's the one mesmerized by their iPhone??? Seriously. They sit and read their mail and whatever else the entire time after they call on someone to give an update/status report. Makes one feel like they're talking to the wall.

Carl Herrmann
Carl Herrmann

The only problem is that a lot of people use their PDA's / SmartPhones for taking notes, keeping records of assigned tasks, etc.

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

Some situations call for immediate action regardless of where you are or what you're doing. I think you've struck the right balance of respect and utility in your approach. Is there a single utility, multiple utilities, or is it a stock OS feature that you utilize to get that functionality?

ITsupportCOC
ITsupportCOC

It might also make the mtg a tad bit shorter if there are less distractions--ok...probably not but we can hope. Espc for those really (un)necessary mtgs. :)

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

If you have a pending phone call or other business to attend to during the time of a meeting, either do not attend at all or quietly leave when you must. No phone required. As for personal matters that purport to require immediate attention, such as the imminent birth of a child, I recall this bit of wisdom from an old salt: "Son, you're necessary for laying the keel, but not for the launching of the ship."

AlainKaz
AlainKaz

But by the time I finished typing on that small kbd, I was two task points behind. And there's still the question of perception. How can you tell between those who take notes and those who text their buddies? Call me old school, but I still like my small hard cover "paper" note book. Gawd ;-)

DLeh
DLeh

Listen, I'm not five and I work in IT. I'll be more than happy to walk out of a meeting. I have more important things to do than a meeting 99% of the time. If I was playing games, that's one thing. But I spent nearly $1000 on my own gadgets with my own money to get work done anywhere, anytime. So if this person thinks they're going to call me out for checking email or server status during a presentation, they're going to get a quick dressing down from me. Similarly, I'm not going to tell a salesperson in a meeting to turn in their phone or even mute it. When they lose a call, we lose business. The problem here is not the PDA, but the self important meeting host. I've never ever been to a meeting that was so important it took precedence over essential employees keeping tabs. Maybe this better fits large corporations where the majority of all they do is go from meeting to meeting. This doesn't work for small businesses where wasted time is wasted money. One last thing, what's with all the childish passive aggressive tactics like "standing near violators"? Really?

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

and think of them as people rather than ships may beg to differ. Some things are ultimately more important than your job although I'm sure some would call that heresy. *edit - I perhaps went a bit overboard with that comment I did not mean to accuse you of not valuing family or of thinking of them as ships. It appears as though we have a difference of priorities and I apologize for reading more into it than that.

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