Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leave your laptops out of meetings

The new year is just here! And can I suggest a new year’s resolution?

Normally I bite my tongue and don’t mention this. I’ve not blogged about it before because what ever client(s) I’m working with at the time I blog about it will automatically assume I’m talking about them. (Yes, I know people at client sites find and read my blog so I try to self-censor.)

But, I’ve just finished up a major engagement (coaching 4 development teams in the same company) and new stuff kicks off in the new year, so I can say this for once.

Please, don’t take your laptops to meetings. And if you do leave them powered down.

If you go to a meeting it deserves your full attention. If you don’t want to give it, or can’t give it, than make your apologies and say: Sorry I can’t make it, go on without me.

If you do go then give the meeting your attention. OK, occasionally we all need to take a phone call but it is far less often than we think. I remember breaking my own rule a few years ago to take a phone call, but then I was waiting for my farther to die.

Phone calls are different to laptops. A phone call is an interrupt. It says “Someone wants you.” By definition if someone has sent an e-mail it is less important, or at least less urgent. So as much as I dislike meeting interrupted by phone calls I can accept them - personally, I switch my phone to silent and reject calls that come during meetings.

If you are so important you carry a Blackberry (or similar) and urgent (meeting interrupting work) arrives via e-mail it may be a sign that your organization can’t prioritise. But at least a Blackberry is small.

The problem with a laptop in a meeting is it creates a barrier between the user and the other people in the meeting. Every time someone lifts their screen I see a sign that they don’t want to be here, don’t want to hear what is said, and don’t want to be part of the team.

That screen is big. Its a big barrier. Its a sign. It says “I don’t need to interact with you people.”

And what do people do with these laptops?

I tell myself they are answering e-mail, important requests that cannot wait. But... well... I heard about a case recently where the senior manager in the meeting was booker herself a flight on EasyJet. I once went to a meeting which was so packed I had to stand at the back, from where I could see a manager (director level) surfing Amazon.

And people who are typing? Are they really replying to an urgent e-mail or having an Instant Messenger conversation with their significant other?

I once took an IM from a colleague in the New York office. Later in the day I saw him in the London office. He’d landed that morning and spent the first few hours in the London office in meetings. So when I IM’ed with him he was in a meeting on a totally different subject and he could have asked me face-to-face an hour later.

Please, stop taking your laptops to meetings. I’d rather you make your apologies and not turn up at all.


  1. This is so true. I've seen meetings where the Project Manager was focussed on typing in everything that was said for the record, rather than focussing on understanding what was going on with her people. Apparently the whole company was like that.

  2. I couldn't agree more. It's not just meetings, but conference presentations too.

  3. Steve, that's an interesting comment. When I go back to work on Monday, I'll be assigning one of my team as a RAD scribe and his job will be to record everything and probably straight into a laptop. Following your comment I'm now wondering if pen and paper should be the medium.

  4. While what you say is rational,I find I have a work schedule of wall to wall meetings and work needs still to get done (usually emails to keep projects rolling smoothly).

    Capturing stuff via pen and paper only adds additional transcription work.

    Also there are those meetings where your attention was only merited for a fraction of the time.

    Then there are conference calls - these can be perfect as they allow the closet overcommitted multi-tasker to be "in the meeting" and busy working at the same time. The mute button comes in very handy to ensure no one can hear you typing ;)

    If I had a more reasonable workload I'd totally embrace your suggestion.


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