Are we meeting, or are we working?

As part of my consulting role, I run a lot of workshops for clients who pay me good money for my time and expertise.

Whether onsite or remote, one thing that astounds me is the amount of times people are drawn away from their screens because they’ve brought a laptop with them. While the laptop may have been brought in for notetaking, many people still receive pop-up notifications from Outlook, Skype for Business, Teams, and any number of other apps.

Before going any further, let me state that I have been guilty of this in the past myself – both in-person and via video.

I find it incongruent that on one hand I’m helping organisations and users find new ways to communicate and work together as well as move them away from traditional pen & paper for meetings to digital tools, but on the other hand those same things work against me.

The reality is that this happens to all of us. One thing I have found is that those who have mastered the ability to use a pen with OneNote on a Surface (or similar) device stay much more attentive, whereas those who keep their screens up in laptop mode are almost immediately distracted.

As we move forward into new ways of working (future ways of working, modern workplace, digital workplace, workplace, whatever), we forget some of the basics such as etiquette, respect, and the value of time.

Common excuses include:

  • I’m busy
  • I need to stay on top of this
  • I can focus on both things at the same time
  • I just need to pay attention to this for a bit, then I’m all yours

The problem is that in this modern age our attention spans wane very easily. Adam Conover created a simple and fantastic video that illustrates the point of how difficult it is for us to stay focused:


There are a number of tools at our disposal to help stay focused when in meetings:

  • Enable “Focus assist” in Windows 10 (formerly known as Quiet Hours)
  • Set Skype for Business and/or Microsoft Teams to DND (Do Not Disturb)
  • Put your phone face down, keep it in your pocket, set it to DND, or just don’t bring it to the meeting
  • Set your wearable to DND
  • Minimise or close Outlook so you don’t see that unread email out of the corner of your eye
  • Maximise apps like OneNote and put it into full screen mode so nothing else is visible

When participating in remote calls, do all of the above but also enable your video and look at the camera or participants faces. Similar to people staring at laptop screens in meetings, I’ve seen countless times participant eyes moving from side to side – a clear sign they are reading. Another visual give-away is seeing the brightness/lighting of their face change as they switch applications.

After a conversation with a colleague who is a very highly regarded trainer (and charges more per-day than I do), I created a slide to put at the start of my meetings/presentations that simply asks the question: “are we meeting, or are we working?” Because we can’t do both at once. We can’t multi-task; we simply switch tasks quickly which means we’re not giving our full attention to them.

The benefit of asking the question up front is that it brings to attention the purpose of having a meeting. If you want to do emails and work; stay at your desk and work. But if we’re having a meeting; then let’s all focus and give each other the respect and attention we deserve. Who knows, we might even finish the meeting earlier because we stayed focused!

Head over to the Office 365 Good Etiquette Guide, where you’ll find a bunch of suggestions for how to improve how people work together.

1 comment

  1. I think one of the effects of being more attentive is that the person speaking has to be more concise with their words. They can’t assume that only a few people will listen while the rest can occupy themselves till you finish talking.

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