Um, excuse me. Is what you are doing more important than what is happening right now? Is there a reason you are on your phone instead of paying attention in meetings? No, you say? Then get off your phone (or your computer)! You’re wasting everyone else’s time.

The amount of complaints I hear about Techies using technology during meetings for non-meeting reasons continues to increase. And just like other types of meeting saboteurs—Advocator, Attacker, Blocker, Dominator, Horseplayer, Latecomer, Recognition Seeker—the behavior is annoying and it ruins productivity. A client once shared this sentiment about technology and meetings in their workplace, “If you need to be on technology, then you’re too busy to be in the meeting”.

If you’re still reading this, I’m guessing technology use during meetings is a problem where you work. Let’s fix that. Try these strategies:

  1. Set the expectation before the meeting. When the agenda goes out (yes, if you want a productive meeting you should have an agenda that is sent a minimum of 24 hours before the meeting) include an announcement of what will and will not be allowed regarding technology use. Don’t stop there … have a plan to follow through with the expectation. What if someone uses technology unnecessarily in the meeting (see #2 for a creative idea)? Will they be asked to put it away? Will they be asked to leave the meeting? How many reminders do they get before X happens? If setting the expectation before the meeting is a new way of addressing this issue for you, give it time, habits are difficult to break.
  2. Sing a song. I cannot take credit for this gem of an idea. Over a decade ago I knew a chief marketing officer who took a creative approach to the problem of unnecessary technology use in meetings. He instituted a policy: if your cell phone goes off during a meeting, you must stand up and sing a song. I realize this approach won’t work in every team culture, but for this CMO’s team, it only took a few songs before everyone made sure technology was put away and keep there. (Funny thing: the CMO worked at a technology company.)
  3. Refer to Rules of Engagement (or Ground Rules). Establish rules at the beginning of the first meeting. (These rules should be created by the team, not handed down from the facilitator.) When the Techie hops on his or her smartphone to send a quick text, refer to the rules, and ask that the rule be honored. If you have an established team without Rules of Engagement, build time into the beginning of your next meeting to create them. To maintain psychological safety, explain that the reason for creating the rules is to save everyone time by running more effective and efficient meetings.

If you are the Techie, put your phone down. Close your computer, or leave your computer at your desk when it isn’t needed.

If you try the three strategies I recommend and are still struggling to manage the Techie saboteur behavior, let me know. We’ll fix it together.