Laptops and meeting etiquette

Having the word "manager" in my job title naturally means I'm attending a lot of meetings these days, though that's a fact of life for almost everyone I know that works in large team; rule of the thumb: the more cross/multi-prefixed adjectives needed to describe your team, (e.g. cross-functional, cross-product, multi-disciplinary, etc.), the more meetings you will need to attend. :)

What struck me in many of the meetings I did end up attending though was the number of people who brought their laptops to there meetings and then had them open right through. This wasn't just "keeping it open to take minutes/notes" open. This was "doing work, answering email" open. They'd drift in and out of the meeting as required (someone else would typically keep the agenda/main conversation going.)

There's the obvious etiquette dilemma. My default for the last few years has been to shut the laptop down once someone started talking. It seemed like the polite thing to do, and I tend to get more out of meeting that way. However, nothing annoys me more than people (particularly back in b-school) who insisted on this. :)

How would you feel if you were saying stuff that you thought was important (or at least necessary) and it looked like some people weren't paying attention? My guess is that most people will feel at least a little slighted; at the very least annoyed! I thought about it for a bit, and despite some reasons to be very concerned if too many people in your meeting seem distracted by their laptops, it may not necessarily be a bad thing

Here's why it should give you some cause for concern
  • are you so boring or is the meeting so unnecessary that most people think its better to get "real work" done instead?
  • are the wrong people (or too many people) in the meeting?
  • are people so over-worked/stressed that they can't focus on the meeting?
Here's why it shouldn't
  • People are busy...tough; maybe they don't need to be attentive right through the meeting, but having them right there when you need them for certain information or to make a decision is worth it; and its better that they be productive when they aren't needed.
Its hard and requires some practice and discipline to not take being ignore while speaking personally, but it may actually be the right thing to do. The key is being aware of the trade-offs above, and keeping these in mind when you're speaking in a meeting and look around a room and see the glare of the LCD screens reflected in eyes that aren't looking at you.:)


Andrew said…
I strongly defend the lame-ass stickler stance on this one: no laptops in meetings, unless there is one open that everyone is looking at.

For me it's not a question of etiquette - it's about having an effective meeting.

I think you could put it this way: if a laptop is open, it means that someone doesn't think they need to be at the meeting; that they don't need to pay attention to 100% of the meeting; that the meeting has useless components; that the meeting is too long - or something similar.

Either (1) that person is right and the meeting should be changed or (2) that person is just being a punk and they need to get on board with the meeting!

Then, with everyone paying attention, you can have a dynamic, faster meeting and get back to work ;-)
Satyajeet said…
I agree with you in principle So far, I've slammed the laptop shut as soon meeting unless its just to keep stealing glances at my email or reference documents.

But the question is what happens when I don't need to be attentive 100% of the time; the right fix is to fix that problem rather than do the hacky thing: try to squeeze in work. Lets see what I do when the time comes.:)
vin said…
Couldn't agree more. Banish the laptops.
Karin said…
If you would like to know more about Meeting Etiquette it would be great if you would join my community "MannersAndCareer" on
There is a lesson called "30 tips on Meeting Etiquette". Thanks.
Have great meetings in the future ....
Willie Sager said…
Very informative and well written post! Quite interesting and nice topic chosen for the post.

HP - 17.3"Pavilion Notebook

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