An e-mail comes in on your PDA device during a meeting. Is it OK to read it? To type out an answer?
Like cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) can be the bane of business planners.
While cell phone etiquette has generally been established during business meetings (cell phones generally get turned off or put on “vibrate”), the verdict is still out on PDA e-mail etiquette, according to a survey developed by Robert Half Management Resources, the world’s premier provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis. The national poll included responses from 150 senior executives including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.
“While our survey found that it is common for those attending business meetings to look at and answer e-mails, not all executives were certain that it is a good practice,” says Chuck Cave, vice president of Robert Half Management Resources in Cleveland.
Smart Business spoke with Cave about survey results and some tips on PDA etiquette during business meetings.
What did executives in your survey have to say about PDA use during meetings?
The verdict is still out on whether or not it is OK to check e-mail during business meetings, although many executives are doing it. The majority (86 percent) of senior executives say it’s common for professionals they work with to read and respond to e-mail messages on their mobile devices during meetings.
Still, 31 percent of respondents said it’s ‘never OK’ to check e-mail during meetings, 37 percent feel it’s acceptable to respond to urgent messages, and another 23 percent said using portable e-mail devices during a gathering is fine, as long as it is done outside of the room.
What kind of signal does it send to meeting participants if someone checks e-mail during the meeting?
It can be difficult to know what is considered acceptable as new technologies emerge. As with cell phones, it takes people a while to learn what is and is not appropriate. If you are focused on other tasks, you risk sending the message that you do not find the meeting’s topics important. Further, you could end up distracting other participants.
Because of technology, do companies expect executives to be available around the clock?
According to an article in the December 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review, 45 percent of high-earning managers in large multinational corporations have jobs that demand more than 60 hours of work a week, large amounts of travel, unpredictable work flows, round-the-clock availability and heavy responsibility. They believe that 10 percent of these managers work more than 80 hours a week.
Globalization has increased the need for corporate officers to travel and communicate, compelling executives to be available outside normal working hours in their time zone. Advances in communication technology have made the middle-ofthe-night international conference call or e-mail both cheap and easy.
How should you handle an urgent e-mail during a meeting?
Alert your meeting host that you may have to respond to an urgent e-mail on your mobile device during the meeting. Be as unobtrusive as possible. Quietly excuse yourself from the meeting.
What is the best way to conduct a meeting so that people will feel disinclined to use a mobile device?
Preparation is key. Devote sufficient time to keep the conversation on topic and on schedule. Prepare an agenda to keep the meeting on track. Start and end the meeting on time. Resist the urge to invite people who have little or nothing to do with the topic. Encourage open discussion and watch how the group interacts. Groups that will be meeting regularly should be collaborating.
Also, if you’re running a meeting and someone is disrupting the meeting by responding to e-mail, you can discreetly ask the meeting participant to either stop e-mailing or leave the meeting, attend to the issue and then return.
CHUCK CAVE is the vice president of Robert Half Management Resources in Cleveland. Reach him at (216) 765-8367 or Chuck.firstname.lastname@example.org.