How to Rein in Smartphone Use at Staff Meetings

Jul 1, 2018 | 0 comments

In today’s always-on workplace culture, it can be difficult to focus. Slack notifications from the boss, emails from a client and the ubiquitous Twitter chirp are all vying for our attention. And they’re all right there, on that never-leaves-our-side smartphone. In general, this increased access is a good thing. It can enhance productivity and enable remote working, giving workers the flexibility they desire. But there’s always a flipside, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the staff meeting where one or more participants are checking their phones and unable to fully engage in the topic at hand.

Unfortunately, distraction is not just annoying to onlookers, it’s also counterproductive to the individual. Research shows that shifting between tasks can cost up to 40 percent of someone’s productive time, says this American Psychological Association study.

“Banning smartphones altogether is tempting, but there will always be a good reason that someone needs to have their phone at hand,” says Michelle Thompson, XMI’s director of human resources.

Instead, she recommends reining in smartphone use with these tips. Surprise! Most of them have nothing to do with banning the devices from the meeting room.

Establish smartphone expectations: Don’t overcomplicate things. Simply request that meeting participants consider whether they need their phone during the meeting. If they don’t, they should leave them at their desks. If they do, ask that they be set to silent and placed face down on the table (or otherwise put away). Thompson says you may want to include this expectation in meeting invites, as well as give a quick reminder at the start of every meeting.

Make a break: If the meeting will be long, build in some quick breaks for checking email before getting back to the topic at hand. Thompson that to encourage respectful meeting behavior, it’s also important to end meetings on time.

Get a clock: Because many people now use their devices as a watch, make sure all meeting rooms have a clock. This is also a great way to keep the meeting from staying on track and not going over the allotted time.

Make meetings more meaningful: A lot of mindless smartphone use in meetings is caused by boredom—or the perception that meetings are a waste of time. Create a meeting agenda and send it out to invitees ahead of time. This will let people know if they really need to be there or can miss the meeting. If you only need someone for a few minutes, put their agenda item at the beginning or end, then excuse them from the rest. Also ask yourself, is this something that really needs a meeting? Or could it be accomplished by a quick Slack chat instead?

Privately address smartphone overuse: If you notice someone who is consistently distracted in meetings, speak with them privately, not in front of the group.

They may be swamped and be open to an alternative arrangement, such as sharing their update via proxy. Thompson says it’s also possible they don’t understand how much their behavior is distracting others—they may think they’re being discreet. Before you complain to others, be sure to give them the opportunity to correct it.

Model example behavior: Follow your own rules about meeting etiquette. Come to meetings prepared and ready to engage. Notice and praise when others do the same.


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