Some time ago, I was part of a meeting where many people brought out their laptops and started working. They kept glancing at their wristwatches and I could tell most of them would rather be elsewhere. It got me thinking if devices should play a role in productive meetings. If you are reading this article because you want a quick answer, let me tell you I don’t have one. On one hand, I have attended meetings where the use of technology enabled devices allowed for richer engagement. For example, we once used Jamboard to capture ideas from as many people as possible during a meeting. On the other hand, it’s easy for people to whip out their phones and play mobile games under the desk.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have been taking part in a lot more meetings. Due to social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions, a lot more meetings are taking place online. This has made it easier for people across different locations to have rich conversations. It has also made it easier for some people to join a meeting, mute their mic and watch their favourite series on a different screen. Online meetings will be here to stay for quite some time.
My quick guidelines for technology usage in online meetings are:
- If you are able to have physical meetings at your location, determine if devices are required beforehand. If most of your participants will be listening and only need to take notes, they should leave their devices in a different room. Provide paper for those who wish to take notes. These can always be retyped or scanned to a preferred digital format later.
- If you are having an online meeting, choose a note-taker beforehand. Invite the person speaking to share their screen so they can draw everyone’s attention. Most people get bored fairly quickly if all they have to look at are profile pictures of meeting attendees.
- If you plan to use technology such as Jamboard or zeetings to make your meetings more engaging, be sure to clarify how they will be used during the meeting and agree on what constitutes acceptable usage of mobile phone during the meeting eg typing during the assigned time for sharing opinions is allowed but phones should be in your pockets at any other time.
While technology has allowed collaboration in many ways, it is not necessarily an enabler of productive meetings. Whether your meetings use digital devices or not, it can benefit greatly from basic rules and structure. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when participants start using meeting time to finish work on a report. They simply see more value in completing their report than paying attention. At that point, you need to ask if the meeting is still necessary and whether their presence is required or not? Meetings are notorious for creating the illusion of work getting done even when nothing has been resolved. Technology has simply made it easier for participants to pretend they are paying attention.