Leave Your Guns Outside

Wild West

Over the last few years, the Corporate World has been going through dramatic changes many of which are for the good but, not all.

Social media has been embraced by sales and marketing functions to reach out to their target audiences.  On line buying now accounts for a significant percentage of our shopping activities.  The Millennial Generation has entered the workplace with a refreshingly different attitude to working habits where hot desking, taking their pets to work, flexible working hours and so on are the norm rather than the exception.  The list of positive changes is long.

However, there are unwelcome changes that we need to do something about before they become deeply ingrained in our working habits. Emails which are not so new still account for a high percentage of workplace inefficiencies.  Like bad driving, it exists everywhere but we are all convinced it is always the other drivers who need to improve their driving, not us.  So, we still receive AND send more emails than necessary or healthy.

Meetings still consume a good chunk of our working hours, even with the use of tele-conferencing, meetings take too long, are generally run badly and their outcome is rarely useful.

Then there is the smart phone!  No self-respecting employee would walk from one place to another without a cup of coffee in one hand and a smart phone in the other, not looking where they are going.  Eye contact has all but disappeared from our daily interaction.

The instrument itself is not the problem.  The problem is us, the users.  Once again, technology has provided a powerful facility and the user community has not developed a code of conduct or appropriate business etiquette to go along with this tool.  We need to catch up with technology and do something sooner rather than later.

I am sure you have seen many selfies showing families gathered in sitting rooms or round a dinner table, where everyone is deeply engrossed in their respective smart phones and not interacting with one another.  This practice is also growing in acceptance in corporate meetings.  Someone is talking or presenting something and almost all attendees are covertly, or even overtly, looking at their smart phone screens.

It has become an acceptable practice to engage in and disengage from meetings by dipping in and out of your smart phone screen as often as you want.  There is no way of knowing whether what you are doing is work related or not.  Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a meeting to proceed when some attendees are reading newspapers, answering their correspondence or using desk phones.

Recently, I was at a 3-day seminar with some 30 attendees where a quick scan of the room showed at least 20 of the people attending were looking at their mobile phones instead of paying attention to the presenter.  Worse, some were actually answering phone calls in mid session.

In the Nineties, I worked for a company where it was the recognised etiquette for everyone to pay attention to the speaker or presenter all the way through.  Side chats with the person next to you were frowned upon.  The CEO would not even tolerate an involuntary yawn when he spoke, taking it to signal boredom and disengagement.  We forgave him such intransigence because he was the most respectful and courteous of listeners.

A common practice in such situations is to remind attendees to put their phones on silent mode but, that hardly prevents them from using them.  Such instruments should remain tucked in briefcases or not in the room at all.  If we are to believe Hollywood version of the history of the Wild West, the town Sheriff insisted cowboys unbuckled their gun belts and hung them on the post outside the saloon bar before they were allowed to go in drink beer, play cards or other money wasting activities.

We should take a leaf out of Wild West legend and start hanging our smart phones outside meeting rooms.  But, I fear some of us will walk in with mini-phones tucked into our boots.

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