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.