Deciding how, when & where to interact with technology at work
by Howard Lewinter
February 26, 2018

So much of life and business runs parallel because business is life. Picture this: It’s the weekend, and you have a lot to catch up on after a busy workweek. A friend who just happens to be in town contacts you, and the decision is made to meet for lunch. You’re having a great time, enjoying the good food, atmosphere and conversation. Then, for whatever reason, you get distracted. It could be a stranger passing by your table, the pinging smartphone next to you or any number of other causes. No matter what initiated the distraction, think about the following questions for a moment:

  • How does your being distracted affect your friend and the flow of conversation?
  • How does it make your friend feel?
  • Will you ever really know?

Now, consider a typical workday. You’re sitting in a conference room during a business meeting with coworkers or perhaps a customer or prospective client. Your smartphone is positioned next to you and indicates a call coming through. What do you do? You answer it—right in the middle of an important meeting—and disrupt everyone by responding to the incoming call.

This is a prime example of what every CEO and business owner should never do in a meeting.

Handling phone calls and other messages distracts you and everyone else in attendance. You may never know the degree to which it affects the meeting or the business relationships formed on that occasion, but you can be sure that it disrupts the flow of thought by pausing conversation and dividing attention that should be focused solely on the discussion.

There are some occasions when a call is anticipated and it is necessary to answer during a meeting. When possible, mention to those in attendance that you may be interrupted. Then, when the call comes through, politely excuse yourself to take it outside the room.

Most often, taking the call during a meeting is not necessary—but I’ve experienced it countless times when calling a company. I ask to speak with someone, get them on the phone and the response is something like, “I’d like to speak with you, Howard, but I’m in a meeting.” Or, taking it one step further, “I’m in a meeting with a client.” Why answer the phone at all when you know the conversation cannot be held at that time?

As a company CEO, president or owner in the construction industry, the day includes meetings in your office and also on jobsites. Your phone, or the phones of your employees, may potentially ring numerous times each hour. Company policy and etiquette should be set regarding communication and the use of smartphones during work hours. Some questions to consider when deciding what is best for your company might include:

  1. How do I get the work done right and on schedule?
  2. How do I give customers/clients or employees the impression that they are a priority and what is being discussed is important?

The Control Factor

It’s a phrase you may have heard before: There is a time and place for everything.

It’s your choice. Technology can control you, or you can control how, when and where you interact with technology. The digital age we work in dramatically speeds up work expectations and opportunities, but boundaries still need to be set. Otherwise, you potentially lose what you perceive as gained by being constantly surrounded with technology at your fingertips. It’s no different than having a weekend lunch and not giving your full attention to your dining companion. The people you are face to face with are most important.

The People Factor

Remember: Business is all about people. Without them, you don’t have a business. Technology may change, but the needs and wants of people do not. Finding the right balance for the most effective level of communication and productivity is key to your company’s success. Otherwise, what message are you sending to those who are in front of you?

  • You’re not important.
  • I’m bored.
  • I don’t need or want to focus on what we’re talking about.
  • I don’t really need your business, or you’ll do business with me regardless, so let me work on something else.
  • I can’t just not take this phone call.
  • It’s as important, or maybe more so, than you are.

Other than the phone call exception previously mentioned, it is simply bad business to answer your phone during a meeting—period—and you shouldn’t do it.

Perhaps the opposite has happened, where you’ve been in a meeting with someone and he or she defers to the phone. Review the scenario in your mind, and think about how it made you feel.

Let’s consider another example. It’s Saturday, and you decide to see a movie. It seems there are about 20 minutes of previews prior to the start of the main feature. What’s usually the final message on the screen before the movie starts? A clever announcement from the theater asking everyone to silence their phones and to not distract others by using cellphones in any way during the film.

Consider doing the same throughout your business day. When you’re participating in conversation with other businesspeople, focus solely on them—text messages and phone calls can almost always wait. If someone really wants to speak with you, they will wait a bit longer for you to return the call or answer the text.

Meetings require total concentration to be productive: no wandering minds, no looking out the window and no staring off into space. If the meeting has lost direction or become boring, ask a question to liven it up.

The Time Factor

We only have so much time, and once it’s gone, we can’t get it back. If you allow yourself to get distracted in a meeting, ask the following questions.

  • Why did I schedule or attend this meeting in the first place?
  • What was the purpose of the meeting?
  • Is there a better way to accomplish what needs to be accomplished?
  • Could the meeting have been shorter?

The next time you are