Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Fri Oct 9th 2009 at 9:09am UTC

Ban Blackberrys?

At least, ban their use in meetings suggests a Forbes article this week.

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. To avoid wasting time in meetings, hardcore multitaskers sit there with their faces glued to their BlackBerrys, reading e-mails while they follow the discussion with one ear. But all they are doing is making the meeting longer for everyone else.

“Being busy and being productive are not the same,” says Denise Landers, a time-management consultant based in Houston. “I definitely believe that banning BlackBerrys from a conference room would lead to shorter and more effective meetings. We simply cannot multitask and perform at 100%.”


Another recent study, this one by the University of Texas at Austin, offers hope. Titled “The Social Influences of Electronic Multitasking in Organizational Meetings,” this report concludes that people don’t multitask because they have to; they multitask simply because they can. They see other people reading e-mail during meetings, so they do it too. But if the office culture discourages multitasking during meetings, they will stop, and focus on the issue at hand.

Even deeply ingrained habits are subject to change over time, Crenshaw notes. As every fan of Mad Men knows, smokers once routinely lit up during meetings. Now they don’t. The same thing can happen to multitasking.

“I view myself as an evangelist,” he says. “It’s going to take probably another decade of talking about this before people get the message.”

Does your workplace have a Blackberry policy? Do you?

Where I work people rarely if ever use a Blackberry while in a meeting, unless to look something up or to take a quick glance to ensure no emergencies have arisen (a few colleagues need to be available 24/7 to put out virtual “fires”). If the senior people and mentors follow this policy, it seems others stay in line.

9 Responses to “Ban Blackberrys?”

  1. Michael Wells Says:

    This was in today’s Oregonian:

    By Andy Parker

    It’s been the same everywhere in recent years: Whether I’m teaching a college class or just speaking to a class of high schoolers, the texting among students is nonstop.

    Teachers tell me it’s a constant battle. And it seemed like a losing battle until I recently walked into the state’s fourth-largest high school.

    There, just inside the main office on a little round table sits a relic to days gone by: a phone.

    Not a cell phone — just a plain old telephone, the kind that has a line leading to the wall. And between classes its services were required by a steady stream of students

    Because if you’re a student at Clackamas High School who needs to make a call during school hours, you make it on this phone, or one of the classroom phones. Starting this school year, if a teacher or administrator sees your cell phone — even during breaks between classes or lunch — they take it. It’s returned when a parent stops in to pick it up.

    As you might imagine, it is not a policy popular with many students.

    Here’s the rest of it.


  2. RS Says:

    I don’t do it either.

    Actually, I have always found people attending to phone calls in the middle of a meeting, when servicing a customer or even in stopping a conversation to answer the phone to be rude. However, I am one of those who feel over connected. I don’t feel the need to answer the phone the second it rings 24/7, or check my email at midnight before I go to bed, or reply to some comment on a face book page right away. In other words I am a bit biased on this whole topic.

    However, I think this brings up an interesting question. Does the fact that people feel the need to “black berry” during meetings imply we need policies to prevent this multitasking or does it rather imply that we have having way to many unproductive meetings?

  3. Wendy Says:

    RS — good point. When I have doubts as to whether a webcast or teleconference will be valuable, then I tend to “multi-task” and participate from my office. I’m sure some organizations call way too many meetings, resulting in people feeling like they can use the time to tap quick answers to mundane e-mails.

    If people know a meeting will be concise, efficient and stay on task, they likely won’t be checking their blackberrys constantly, or might not even bring them. And a way to keep a meeting efficient is to invite only those who really need to be there.

    I’ve generally believed that as a meeting organizer or speaker, if people in the room are tapping on their blackberrys, then I’m not presenting useful information to them. If I can switch things up on the fly, I will. Or, it’s a learning experience for next time. Maybe some attendees really didn’t need to be there? Maybe there is a better way to present the information?

    Ideally, people won’t be tapping on their blackberries because everything happening in the room is more important.

  4. Creative Class: Ban Blackberrys? | The Daily MBA Says:

    [...] Ban Blackberrys post over at Creative Class misses the point about having a Blackberry policy. What is really going on [...]

  5. Mike L. Says:

    How about banning meetings? Or at least restrict meetings to “everyone stands up throughout the meeting”. I have had at least two bosses for whom meetings were a means of displaying their power. Their meetings were a waste of everyone’s time ….

  6. Wendy Waters Says:

    Mike — good point. Actually, my previous employer did that (made people stand), sort of. For bi-weekly company meetings the first 10 people into the room got chairs and everyone else had to stand. It did make meetings go faster, and people raced to get there on time and get a seat.

    There is also research that suggests removing “guest chairs” from people’s offices or workspaces makes them more efficient as guests tend not to stay that long if they are standing.

  7. steven Says:

    how would I make it through meetings? ha!


  8. Rana Florida Says:

    My former boss banned blackberry’s during meetings perhaps because she was maniacal and demanded constant attention or perhaps due to her age which highlighted her archaic work style of keeping a Franklin Planner. I found the policy ludicrous and stone aged.

    When the world is operating at the speed of lighting so must the corporation. The corporation is already a relic with industrial age policies such as dress codes, mandatory hours and team building skills.

    When Richard gave a speech at the campus of Google in Mountain View nearly every attendee had their laptops open multi-tasking while listening to his address. Creative workers want the freedom and flexibility to do their work, on their time and on their terms. Lose the ban!

  9. Wendy Waters Says:

    Rana’s comment makes me wonder if people were using their iPhone’s, laptops or blackberry’s as a “note taking” device.

    A couple weeks ago I did this for the first time, in a meeting where I arrived without pen and paper (which I’m rarely without, but this was the morning after arriving home late from a business trip and I was jet lagged and a bit disorganized). I apologized to the speakers in advance, and said I’d be note taking.

    I noticed a couple other people, whose screens I could see, doing the same thing.

    I’m a newbie with a blackberry, but I could see doing this again as I can then file the notes easily or forward portions by e-mail to others who would be interested.

    But taking notes on a blackberry is quite a different activity during a meeting from answering e-mail.