Spring Forward

Part 4

Welcome to the final part of our current monthly theme – Spring Forward! Now that the clocks have changed, we’re looking at ways to make the most of the daylight hours by boosting our energy. If you’ve been feeling a bit sluggish at work during the long winter months, why not follow this blog for the next few weeks to get some energetic ideas?

It’s undeniable that technology has revolutionised the way we work, and loads of innovations have been targeted at meeting rooms. From smart whiteboards to note-sharing software, many teams are embracing the chance to use computers inventively in a meeting environment.

But evidence increasingly points to one negative use of technology in a meeting space – employees bringing their own laptops. We examine the arguments against having multiple computers in the meeting room…

Firstly – what are the benefits?

A famous Chinese proverb states that ‘the palest ink is better than the best memory’. If you apply this logic to meetings, the conclusion is clear – it’s all very well intending to remember what’s been said, but you can’t beat writing it down.

Many people want to bring their laptops in to meetings in order to take notes in the quickest possible way. By typing their notes immediately, many employees argue that this makes their note taking more efficient and thorough than if they hand write (and then have to create a digital copy later for circulation).

Also, having a laptop can be a way to conduct rapid research on a topic during a discussion. For example, if someone wonders ‘have any other companies done this?’, a laptop user may be able to answer that question before the meeting is over.

However, while these points might seem like laptops are essential for productive meetings, in reality, the opposite appears to be true.

1. Your laptop distracts you…

Let’s be honest – if a notification pops up on your laptop half-way through a meeting, are you tempted to click it?

Many people argue that they can multitask, and quickly firing off an email in the middle of the meeting won’t prevent them contributing. But in actual fact, it has been scientifically demonstrated that our brains can’t effectively or efficiently switch between tasks – and we have a much lower retention rate of what we learn while multitasking.

So you might think replying to emails makes you more productive, but it actually makes you worse at all the tasks you’re taking on. So why not wait until the meeting is over, when you’ll not only write a better email, but you’ll have made better contributions too?

2. …and distracts everyone else!

One of the less expected drawbacks of using a laptop in meetings is the effect it has on everyone else. Research at York University and McMaster University in Canada tested the effect of laptops being used in lectures, specifically looking at the effect on those who weren’t using them. They discovered that the presence of laptops was negatively affecting not just the person using them, but also those seated immediately around them too.

This does make sense when you consider that you may well be distracted by the exact same things that your laptop-using neighbour is distracted by – if emails and messages are arriving out of the corner of your eye, or someone ends up quickly scrolling through a news article, you might find yourself glancing over.

Interestingly, research at the United States Military Academy also found that laptop and tablet use in classrooms was negatively affecting everyone’s learning – even in conditions where tablets were laid flat on the desk so professors could monitor them (so no sneaky Facebook-checking was taking place).

3. It’s easy to come across the wrong way

You might be thinking the points above about distraction seem a bit unfair – maybe you go into every meeting with your WiFi disabled, and only ever type notes on your laptop that are strictly relevant to the subject at hand.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that not everyone in the meeting can see the diligent notes you’re taking – they can just see that you’re switching focus between the presenter and your screen. So while that might be fine for the designated note-taker in your team, for everyone else, it might come across like you’ve decided to switch your attention away from the topic at hand.

4. Writing is better for your understanding than typing

The New York Times examined a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, which found that students using laptops to take notes during a lecture had a substantially worse understanding of the material than those who used pen and paper to take notes.

The theory goes that because students can type faster than they can write, the lecturer’s words were flowing into their typing fingers without stopping for substantial processing by their brains.

So if you’re trying to wrap your head around new ideas in meetings, then typing them up might not be the best approach.

That’s all from me this week, but I hope you enjoy trying out laptop-free meetings!

Join us next week for the first part of a new topic!

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