It’s a mobile world out there and, in case you haven’t noticed, many of those living in it appear to be tethered to their phones. This is true personally as well as professionally. I’m a Millennial – I’ve never known a world without cell phones, where you could be reached pretty much anywhere at any time. But the accelerated rise of smart phones use has been a game changer. Now phones aren’t just for calls anymore. Instead, communication and information of all kinds is flowing in constantly.
Unfortunately, some people seem compelled – like Pavlov’s dogs – to respond to the bell or buzz or tinkle or ringtone every time it goes off. Something I’ve become more concerned about is people getting on their phones in business meetings to check their emails, texts or even their social media pages. (I’m more forgiving of someone actually taking a call, because I assume if someone takes a call during a meeting it must be something really important.) The fact is that if you’re sitting in a meeting with these people, you can easily feel like you’re the distraction.
That, by the way, is the real problem – the impression you make on others in the meeting when your phone takes priority over them. The best multi-tasker in the world can’t read or answer a text and pay attention to a complex meeting discussion at the same time. Now imagine the other people in that meeting are clients or your boss – people you really don’t want to have a bad impression of you – and you can see the downside of being a smart phone addict.
I’m not alone in my concerns. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, 94% of Americans think it’s just as unacceptable to check your phone during a business meeting. Even among the most lenient age group, my Millennial peers, 90% said it was unacceptable.
So what’s the answer? I suggest having a clearly stated phone etiquette policy for your business. Just like any other workplace communication, it’s important to let people know what’s expected. At Reuben Rink, our policy is very straightforward: “Cell phones should only be answered or paid attention to during meetings in the case of absolute emergency and/or if you are expecting information that is extremely urgent. If you are expecting something urgent, our expectation is that you make others aware before the meeting begins that you may be interrupted or may have to step out. Lastly, if the meeting is particularly long, schedule a brief break(s) to allow people the opportunity to check their phones without interrupting the meeting.” That’s worked well for us in our internal meetings, and we also think it serves our clients well when we meet with them.
So what’s your take? Does your company have a stated “phones-in-meetings” policy? Do you agree with it? If not, what do think it should be?