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Meetings: Leave your devices at your desk

I recently heard a story about a departmental meeting in which an attendee was asked a question by his boss, but did not reply. He wasn’t asleep; he was looking at his smart phone.

Fortunately for the employee, his manager was a patient man and took the time to explain what the group had been discussing.

We might expect a young intern to make this mistake, but it happens that this employee was a veteran of the department.

Ignorance of office etiquette

The fact that the employee was infatuated with his cell phone is not surprising today. What must have been exasperating for the manager is the fact that the man was clueless about office etiquette and so nonchalant about his disregard for the proceedings. How could the manager leading this meeting not be offended?

For one thing, I have found that an alarming number of employees join the workforce without any idea about how to conduct themselves in an office setting. It’s not just the inexperienced ones, either. Another thing: It seems the lack of office etiquette is contagious, and even experienced workers become lax when it comes to respecting others and paying attention.

The obvious purpose of a group meeting is to gather the team for an uninterrupted session.

As elementary as it may seem, a simple session about office conduct and procedures a few times a year serves as a good training tool for new employees as well as a reminder to the veterans. Consider it a form of due diligence when it comes to running your department. Besides, you want to make sure your people are listening and participating in the process when you are conducting group meetings.

While you are at it, take the time to explain that when a meeting is called, the employees are expected to leave their cell phones, i-pads and other electronic devices at their desks. The obvious purpose of a group meeting is to gather the team for an uninterrupted session to gain instructions, training or participate in a discussion about departmental operations and procedures. Perhaps the team is trouble-shooting or spitballing, creating solutions or creating new concepts. You don’t want anyone’s attention to be wandering.

Times when mobile devices are needed

Some may be thinking this advice about leaving cell phones out of meetings is outdated. Everyone relies on information gathered quickly by utilizing mobile devices. The devices might be helpful or even necessary in order to conduct a meeting today. Besides, most employees use their devices to take notes, make reminders and set dates on their calendars.

This is true, but it’s up to managers to set the specific conditions as to when cell phone use is permissible, and they must make sure everyone is aware of these rules.

Looking foolish

There are cases when fascination with the capabilities of new technology work against us. Looking back several years, I recall a certain interview I was conducting with a candidate for a reporter position. This young guy was determined to impress me with his ability to take notes electronically. He pulled out a stylus and began scribbling notes on what must have been a Palm Pilot. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t keep up with the conversation and he dropped his stylus a few times. It became such a distraction that he failed to answer a couple of key questions.

Believe it or not, this very incident was repeated a few months later with another reporter candidate. I have also witnessed my staff reporters fumble with a number of electronic gadgets they brought to work over the years.

It must have been one of the earliest cell phones, the kind that used to be housed in a suitcase-like carrier.

I guess the most awkward situation I witnessed involving cell phone technology occurred in the early 1990s with what must have been one of the earliest cell phones, the kind that used to be housed in a suitcase-like carrier. A certain San Diego City councilman and his loyal aide hosted my publisher and me for lunch at a restaurant with an outdoor patio. We sat talking on the patio, waiting to place our order, when the subject turned to a certain set of statistics about population. No one had the statistics available, but the councilman’s aide stated that he could find the information. The councilman proudly watched as his aide pulled out the suitcase from beneath our table. He opened it, took out the banana shaped phone and dialed up their office. We waited, and waited. Finally, they sheepishly explained that we must be in a “dead spot,” unable to make the connection. We let the subject drop as the aide slowly stashed the phone back into its case and pushed it under the table. They could have easily asked to use the restaurant’s phone to make the call, but apparently that was not a consideration.

Surprising offenders A few years back I was attending an important meeting with a regional publisher, the president of a large newspaper, the newspaper’s chief operating officer and a senior IT guy. To my surprise, the president, the COO and the IT guy all took time to text, read and answer their mobile devices at different occasions during the meeting.

Apparently they had been issued these new devices a few days earlier and they each had one clipped to their belt. They were making it a point to play with these new toys as we attempted to conduct business. I was dismayed upon experiencing this behavior exhibited by three senior members of the company — two of them being executives. If lead by example is one of the tenets of management, these guys failed miserably. They made themselves look bad.

I could no longer take any of them seriously.

Their behavior was disruptive and I left that meeting greatly frustrated because we couldn’t finish what we had intended to accomplish. I was also incredibly disappointed. In fact, I lost all respect for these leaders in the time it took to hold that meeting. It appeared they were more captivated by their lofty positions in the company and by the fact that they were given these new tech gadgets, and we were not. They were extremely rude, and I never trusted any of them after that. Although they were important men at our company, I could no longer take any of them seriously.

Their behavior during that meeting is one of the main reasons I feel so strongly about office etiquette and treating all employees with respect. It’s also a reason I insist on running well-planned meetings and adhering to the procedures for running them in order to accomplish the intended purpose of each meeting.

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