Blackberries, iPhones and Androids: Do SmartPhones Belong in Meetings?

Last Updated Dec 3, 2010 5:19 AM EST

Back in the dark ages when cell phones were just, you know, phones, you could make calls and you could receive calls. If you could send text messages, no one I knew did such a thing. We were, after all, adults. If you were expecting a super-duper important phone call, you might set your phone to silent mode and place it on the table next to you during a meeting. If that call came, you'd excuse yourself and leave the room to answer it.

My how things have changed. SmartPhones are everywhere and in every meeting. People text, e-mail, surf the web and even, according to the NY Post, watch videos (presumably with the sound off) during meetings. So, the question is, if everyone is doing it, should you bring your little companion with you?

Maybe. It depends on what message you'd like to project.

I'd give a better answer, but I just got three text messages and I need to go tweet something important.

Some companies are banning SmartPhones from meetings. Wendy Sachs, editor in chief of Care.com reports that her company
has banned iPhones, Androids and Blackberries from meetings.

"We don't bring them in. They literally stay out of the room," says Sachs.

She acknowledges that meetings can be "long and boring and soul-sucking" -- but she's found that when people aren't obsessively checking their Facebook status, sit-downs are more efficient and take less time.

"It's sort of ironic given that we're a tech company, but what we found is that people are looking at their BlackBerry or their laptop and they're just not as engaged," she says. Post-ban, "You can clearly see more engagement and less distraction."
Wow. You mean when people are not paying attention to the meeting, they are not as engaged? This is almost as groundbreaking as the Canadian study that showed that hockey players who smash into each other are more likely to be injured than those who don't.

Many people claim that incivility is on the rise, and using your phone rather than paying attention, whether it's at a meeting or at the dinner table, is just not polite. Even if everyone is doing it.

But, I have a different question. Why on earth would you hold "long and boring and soul-sucking" meetings? Seriously. Yes, yes, I know that some topics are not that thrilling. Heck, I've spent hours and hours and hours in meetings where we went over legal documents line by line. But most meetings are not that tedious. And if they are and if you have time in a meeting to check your e-mail, update Facebook and tweet about how boring the meeting is, maybe you shouldn't be in the meeting.
People who aren't contributing to the meeting should not be there. You want visibility and meetings are where you're likely to gain it. No matter who does the actual work, the big-wigs give the credit to the person who presents. So, you need to be at the meeting. Strike that, you want to be at the meeting.

Paying attention to your SmartPhone rather than the meeting demonstrates the following:
  • You would rather be someplace else
  • You think you're more important than whoever is speaking
  • You don't have anything to contribute
If that's the message you want to project, then go ahead, use your phone during the meeting. But, if you'd like to project a different image, leave it at your desk.

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