Is Technology Getting in the Way of Business?

March 23, 2016
We really need to recognize the addictive nature of technology and our feeling of security and satisfaction of playing with our adult equivalent of the baby rattle.

If you think back to your first week on the job, your outlook calendar started getting filled with meetings. The invites looked interesting and the attendee list impressive. But after a few of the meetings, a pattern emerged. The attendees were often some of the same people recycled from one meeting to the next. The other thing you may have noticed is how many people showed up with their laptops, iPads and smartphones in hand. So much is going on here that everyone must be really busy and you are sure glad they hired you because obviously they need the help!

So are they really that busy? What are all devices doing in meetings when you are there to resolve issues? Is technology getting in the way of your business? Here are some technology commandments to be posted in every meeting room.

  1. There is absolutely no reason to bring a laptop or iPad device to a meeting (unless you are designated to take minutes).
  2. No cell phone should ring, buzz, chime or ding (sing or dance for that matter) during the meeting.
  3. In the event a cell creates a noise that requires your attention (you are on call), you MUST remove yourself from the meeting in order to interact with the device.

These are all simple rules. Think back at every meeting that you have attended and had to listen to the clatter of laptop keyboards. How many times have you been in the middle of a discussion and half the room is looking at their cell phone?

This is really about our new smartphone addiction and communication skills. When was the last time you forgot your smartphone at home? How far have you back tracked to go get your smartphone because you had left it at home?  The fact is that we have all become addicted to technology devices. Do you think addiction is too strong of a word? Think about this:

  1. Psychological Addiction. Smoking has a chemical addiction component and a psychological addiction (the actual ritual of using a cigarette and manipulating it). 
  2. Reward system. Our stress levels increase as the work load increases. We often feel better when we check email or text messages and receive updates on issues on a recurring basis. So it’s no surprise that people take their laptops or smartphones on vacation and pay premium Wi-Fi access fees to keep abreast of work related issues. This gives them the illusion of stress reduction. When in reality they are not able to relax during the vacation because they are often thinking about when they will have their next opportunity for an email fix, I mean update.

If this sounds silly to you, why do you think there are so many electronic devices at meetings? If your meeting attendee was that engaged in a crisis; what are they doing at a routine meeting?

We are now just as connected to our families as our work. Watching an old TV show on YouTube they showed a commercial for long distance telephone service, offering reduced rates after 10pm. It made me laugh because now we just take unlimited access for granted. This same unlimited easy-access seems to apply 24/7 regardless of your meeting requirements. It’s not about multi-tasking, it’s about attention deficit. 

Contrary to popular belief, we do not multi task. We just think we do. There are plenty of sad stories of those that try to drive a car and do something else at the same time. We choose to focus on one thing or another during slices of time. When we are in a meeting listening to an update for one of our projects, then we see an email alert on our cell about a help desk issue, and a text message pops up from your mom asking about ideas for your son’s birthday next week…are you really effective in the meeting?

Another thing to be aware of is your attention span, and how it varies with your subordinates and your boss. I see people pull out their cell phone at the slightest vibration when they are talking to a subordinate. But they would not dream of doing it when talking to their boss. This is just bad leadership. You need to give your focus completely to whomever you are talking to. No one is more important than the person you are communicating with at any given time. If you are managing a work or family crisis, then let that person know that you are expecting a call before engaging them in conversation.

We really need to recognize the addictive nature of technology and our feeling of security and satisfaction of playing with our adult equivalent of the baby rattle. We also have to acknowledge that we may be scheduling additional meetings to make up for the ineffectiveness of our current meetings.

I was at a client site a few years ago and I had a meeting with clear “rules” which included technology commandments. Of course there was a Physician that was on call, but she had someone else covering for her. She knew not to answer the phone. However, her phone rang during the meeting with a loud ringtone playing Michael Jackson’s “Shake your Body.” As we were all tapping to the rhythm of the beat, she went ahead and answered the phone and said, “Hey I am in a meeting, can I call you back?” Of course the caller knew to seize the opportunity and started talking to her anyway. I waited, staring at her politely, with Michael Jackson now stuck in my head. Somehow the concept of voicemail is lost for some smartphone users.  

So what can you do? Post the meeting commandments, hand out cervical collars so people are forced to look straight ahead, or maybe have a technology jar that everyone has to contribute to every time they answer or use a device during the meetings. By the end of the year you should have enough for your Christmas party at the Ritz-Carlton.

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