Can I ask people to put their phones away at meetings?

Your Life
Jim Berlucchi
March, 2015

Q: I am responsible for running a weekly workflow meeting in our office. During the meeting, the attendees are constantly needing to have information repeated that they missed because they were too busy checking email on their smartphones. This results in errors on projects and makes the meetings run longer than necessary. How can I approach my boss to request a moratorium on smartphone use during meetings – he’s the worst offender!

You’ve made your case very well here. Show him the evidence of the errors and inefficiencies due to the distraction of the “not-so-smart” phone usage. Then ask his preference: Would he rather the meeting be conducted by email or in person? 

If by email, there’s no need to meet. If in person, there’s no email usage during the meeting. 

Whenever I run meetings, I request agreement on suspension of cell phone usage at the outset. “Does everyone agree that we’ll put our phones away during the meeting?” I make sure everyone nods or assents before I begin. Sometimes there’s an exception if someone has to take a call or get a message. Otherwise I’ve found people always agree. Consensus goes down easier than a mandate.