Before mobiles and smartphones, we had a rule in meetings: “One meeting please”. That’s to say if colleagues were gathered around a topic to discuss, or problem to solve, it was the courteous way for everyone to pay attention to the main discussion, stay with the group, and refrain from having side conversations with their neighbours. Why? Because the people running the meeting needed everyone’s undivided attention to move forward, and the people ducking out to have other discussions with their neighbours would miss out on some of the main points.
Unless invited to have ‘break out group’ discussions, meeting goers and workshop participants were expected to be fully present in the topic.
When mobiles first came in, as a work tool, it was unimaginable for people to bring and use them in a meeting or workshop. We were all new to the technology, and let’s remember the functions were all quite basic in the beginning.
The touch screen phenomena has made smartphones a desirable companion wherever we go. Perhaps it’s our need for tactile interaction that keeps our fingertips in caress mode almost obsessively.
Nonetheless, as a seasoned workshop facilitator and meeting leader, with years of practising yoga and adhering to zen principles (such as focus on the task at hand, be in the here and now), I find the cavalier consulting with smartphone screens during a workshop or meeting highly unproductive. For everyone.
It’s downright discourteous to the workshop leader, to ‘leave’ the live discussion, in favour of an incoming email or message from someone outside the meeting. It is akin to walking out of the room with no notice and striking up a conversation with another person who has no bearing on the meeting. What happened to good old fashioned productivity and effectiveness? This truncated way of interacting, part in the meeting/workshop, part through a portable screen, makes us ineffectual as a whole. Never completely present, or focused long enough to have a quality experience or outcome.
May I suggest to those in charge of establishing workshop and meeting etiquette within organisations, that we take a stronger stance on the ‘one meeting please’ rule, and curtail the prolific tendency to screen surf at will whilst assembled around one purpose or topic. Or perhaps we must include regular ‘smartphone breaks’ as part of the agenda to allow for participants’ dependence on their devices. Or ban them entirely from workshops, meetings – collect them at the door and return them after said meeting. Whatever it takes.
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© Amanda Yensa Manor 2016