How To Get Employees To Plug In To Your Meeting And Not Their Devices

The Bring-Your-Own-Device policy isn’t allowing people to multitask during meetings. It’s just encouraging them to tune out.

How To Get Employees To Plug In To Your Meeting And Not Their Devices
[Photo: Flickr user Blake Patterson]

When you bring your own device (BYOD) to a meeting, you’re not multitasking; you’re ignoring.


It’s become hard to imagine a meeting in which all attendees simply listen–no smartphones, no tablets, and no laptops to distract. We’ve all had the desire to yank a device away from a distracted employee, or we’ve been guilty of staring at our own devices during meetings. The modern meeting is so full of people “multitasking” on smartphones or laptops that it’s easy to wonder why anyone attends them at all.

Short of grabbing phones and throwing them against walls, is there any hope?

Some Meetings Deserve To Go Away

Many of us have too much on our plate, and attending meetings that don’t provide executable actions can be a waste of time for everyone involved.

We’ve all been in those warm conference rooms after lunch trying to pay attention when it seems like the only thing that will keep you awake is your smartphone.

With how much work we have to do on a daily basis it’s not surprising that meetings have become the place to catch up on email. At this point, productivity experts will tell us we should limit meetings or even skip them altogether. But let’s face it–meetings are here to stay. And they should be.

It has been proven that face-to-face meetings produce better results. And, according to a recent LogMeIn report, 73% of workers are taking a laptop, smartphone, tablet or combination of these devices into in-person meetings.


The problem is that the main justification for using laptops and smartphones in meetings doesn’t benefit the actual meeting. Rather the beneficiary is the person with the device at the expense of everyone else in the meeting. Despite what workers say, they’re not getting real work done or taking notes during the meetings.

The Problem Is Bigger Than You Think

The finger shouldn’t necessarily be pointed at meetings; it’s multitasking that you should be throwing the book at. When we multitask, our IQs fall by 10 points. Our errors increase by 50%. And according to a study by multi-project management software company Realization, multitasking is costing organizations $450 billion globally each year.

Talk about something we should ban. We can’t blame BYOD alone for this. We’ve always had distractions. As scientist and businessman Simon Ramo said in a Businessweek article, “Are cell phones in meetings any more or less distracting than people being called out to take phone calls?”

Regardless of whether you think modern technology has increased the opportunity for distractions, you can probably agree that distractions are bad for productivity. Christine Pearson, an author and professor, warns that distraction could ultimately lead to higher turnover and stress levels and lower job satisfaction, creativity, and cooperation. So what can we do?

Build A Better Meeting

And so we come to the topless meeting. For a moment in 2008 this seemingly salacious term was all the rage, even making it onto Time’s Top 10 Buzzwords for the year.

It’s not as sexy as it sounds; what it means is simply a meeting without laptops–or any electronic devices–allowed. John Vars, co-founder of Dogster Inc., talked about unplugging his organization’s meetings in an Los Angeles Times article. He said, “Meetings go quicker and there is also just a shared experience. People are communicating better, the flow is faster.”


But what else can business leaders do to ensure devices aren’t killing meetings? Organizations have limited meetings to ten minutes, have forced everyone to stand during meetings, and have even made everyone drink a lot of water beforehand. If you can’t bring yourself to ban devices in all meetings, you can do so for certain important ones. Even the Vatican did so the last time they had to select a pope.

Going topless isn’t the only way to get people’s attention in a meeting, however, and sometimes it’s just not possible. Admittedly, there are times when devices actually help meetings, such as when someone needs to pull up a document or presentation from a file-sharing app on their mobile device. Even without projection capabilities, they could share the document through the app so that everyone in the meeting has access to view it on their tablets or laptops. In this case, there is opportunity for real-time file collaboration, while also engaging in face-to-face collaboration.

The best ways to keep meetings productive is to keep them short and focused and always have an end goal in mind. Don’t just print an agenda to hand out at the start of the meeting–upload the agenda to a shared file-server a day or two before the meeting. Ask people to collaborate on it, accessing the shared document to suggest additional top-line discussion items. By giving employees a say in the meeting’s structure and topics, they’ll feel more empowered to engage and influence the meeting’s outcome.

Or, when starting a new project, you could hand out pens and notebooks to each person in the meeting, encouraging them to write not type, and to use a designated notebook for the project at hand.

BYOD isn’t going away, and neither are meetings. It is a leader’s job to run effective meetings, and sometimes that means encouraging a devices-off approach or actually incorporating device use into meetings. BYOD isn’t killing meetings, but new devices are giving distracted employees and poor management another weapon with which to beat the poor meeting to death.

What are you doing to save your meetings and ensure mobility boosts productivity instead of limiting it?


Kathleen Owens is president and general manager of Novell and Attachmate. Owens draws on more than 14 years of direct service and leadership in sales, team management, end-to-end processes and organization. In this role, she guides the company’s industry-leading enterprise IT software that helps customers tackle challenges related to leveraging legacy data in new formats from any device, balancing the need for secure file transfer and efficiency, and protecting the organization from internal threats and fraud.