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Connected devices could be creating a disconnected workforce

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Billy

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5 October 2018 | 0

I must admit that my interest was piqued by a survey of UK workers in which 89% confessed to checking their devices during meetings. The survey by Probrand.co.uk also reported that 81% were guilty of doing the same thing while carrying out other tasks at work.

The last time I worked full time for someone else was before the advent of the smartphone, but I can honestly say there were very many meetings I went to in those years where being able to use a device to access the internet or read my e-mails would have been a blessed relief.

This reflects more on the nature of all too many meetings where my contribution and the value to my job was minimal and probably represented five minutes out of the 45 minutes or hour I was expected to spend in the room, rather than the shortness of my attention span.

So I’m not going to come right out and condemn people for using their smartphones during meetings, especially when it appears that the vast majority are busy checking their emails i.e. doing work. While it’s true that they’re not giving that particular part of the meeting their full and undivided attention, let’s not kid ourselves that they wouldn’t be tuning out and staring off into space or day dreaming, if they didn’t have a smartphone.

In fact, an argument could be made that because they have devices, they’re actually being more productive than they would have been in the days before smartphones, tablets etc existed. At least they’re doing something. Which isn’t to knock day dreaming because that sometimes helps produce some great results.

The big problem is when that ‘something’ is not work related, such as social media or instant messaging, which came second and third in the survey. There’s also the fact that they’re not giving the meeting their full concentration because devices are distracting them. I agree that’s a problem but, again, they probably wouldn’t be giving the meeting their full concentration even if they didn’t have devices to distract them.

You could argue that the devices are merely a physical manifestation of a distractedness that always existed. The only difference is that because they can link to something else, they have the potential to improve someone’s productivity when they’re wasting time in meetings. The other side of that connectivity is the potential to provide even more distraction than if someone was stuck in a meeting with only their own thoughts to occupy them. Eventually, boredom with their own thoughts might bring them back to paying attention to the meeting.

One unintended benefit would be if the person leading the meeting was aware of who was using their devices and when, because they might be able to get a valuable insight into what parts of the meeting worked for different people and when. They might even find that the meeting wasn’t really all that interesting for anyone. Imagine the consequences of that.

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