Laptops in Meetings?

I am at yet another company where laptops in meetings – even staff meetings – is common practice. It’s very interesting how and where the practice has evolved. I know I have been guilty in the past of paying too much attention to my Blackberry in meetings, yet I always made a concerted effort NOT to check my smart phones in my boss’ staff meetings or any important organizational meeting in which such behavior might be perceived as disrespectful. The Manager-Tools guys recently did a podcast called The Fruit Bowl at Meetings where they advised managers to ask their directs – and even all meeting attendees – to place smart phones in a big fruit bowl in the middle of the table when a meeting begins. I know that I would be looked at like I had two heads if I said that! I would be seen as a dictator enforcing draconian rules of oppression!

Actually I would love to have just that problem … since never mind iPhones, my meeting attendees bring laptops! The first time my directs began doing this was a couple of years ago. In that role, I managed production teams and provided reactive support, so they (and I) rationalized that they had to be able to address those emergencies. And that actually did happen a few times, but was rare in relative terms. Currently I am managing a projects team with no reactive support responsibilities, yet laptops attend every staff meeting. I am near-100% sure that no one is typing notes on what I say, and while I do know at least one has on his screen PDF copies of my agenda which I previously emailed, for the most part, attendees are off in email, server management tools, or just plain surfing.

I am thinking that this is maybe somewhat unique to technology departments in smaller companies as that’s where I have really noticed this as of late. I googled the subject and saw a post on TechCrunch about a similar problem at VC board meetings even. But maybe not.

I am not sure how I feel about the subject. Most meetings out there are poorly planned and poorly executed, and the distraction can save one’s sanity. So we could just toss it up to the poor meeting habits that plague corporate America. I will keep quiet about it, I think, in my role as meeting host. And I might partake in the vice a bit, as a meeting attendee, but I will watch for cues and gauge the reaction of the meeting host, and not push too far.