Banning laptops and phones in meetings. What would happen?

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Banning laptops and phones in meetings. What would happen?

What a contentious suggestion! Well it turns out there has been some very interesting research performed in recent times to determine ‘what does happen’ when laptops and phones are banned.

Recently I was reading an article by Kathryn Vasel who writes for CNN Business, and she broached this very topic.

The Findings


Kathryn begins by providing one major reason why people like using laptops and phones in meetings – because their ‘to do list’ is growing whilst they sit around a conference table and having their devices with them allows them to multi-task (participate in the meeting whilst dealing with other tasks).

Well I don’t want to burst your bubble, but the latest research shows that if you try to do two things at once you will rarely do either task well. All it does is compromise productivity. In this situation people often ask questions to be repeated or bring up topics that have already been discussed due to their lack of a single focus, making the meeting drag on unnecessarily.

The other downside is that when you are staring at your screen you aren’t making eye contact, and your body language can be off putting being so focussed on the screen.

Staring at a screen is a barrier because you don’t really know what the other person is doing.

“When people are staring at their laptops, or worse their phones….. it seems disrespectful and it can prevent a quick finish of the meeting.”
Rafat Ali, CEO, Skift

By banning devices the idea is that if people aren’t distracted, meetings will become shorter, more efficient and increase collaboration.

Wouldn’t we all want that!

Taking Notes

The second reason I am often given for needing a device in a meeting is to take notes – you are a quicker typist than you are a writer and thus it helps you to take better notes and therefore retain more information and again, boost productivity.

Again, I am going to have to burst your bubble! This research paper shows that in fact it doesn’t help retention of information or boosts to productivity.

People who use laptops to write notes tend to take more notes than those writing notes by hand. In fact they are more likely to write notes verbatim, writing down every last word.

New research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students (in a University context) who write their notes out on paper actually learn more. They don’t write as many notes but they had a strong conceptual understanding and were more successful applying and integrating what they had learnt than those who took notes with a laptop.

So why is this so?

Because the researchers believe that taking notes on paper requires different types of cognitive processing than typing notes on a laptop. Because writing is slower, people can’t write down every word. So, they listen, digest and summarize to capture the essence of the information. The brain has to do some heavy ‘mental lifting’ and this fosters comprehension and retention.

When typing you can easily produce a written record of the meeting, but can you process its meaning? It is unlikely as most of your effort is in getting all the words typed out not in comprehending and applying the information to a specific context.

The most interesting finding though for me was that when the laptops were connected to the internet (which most if not all are in meetings), people spent 40% of their time using applications unrelated to the content. In one study of law students, nearly 90% engaged in online activities unrelated to course work for at least 5 minutes and roughly 60% were distracted for half the class.

Take a few moments to read the findings of their research in more detail – it just might make you think twice or three times about making the move to ban laptops and phones from meetings.

What productivity losses are there now?

Imagine the productivity that could be gained.

Is it worth the risk to try it?

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