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A recent article in the Houston Chronicle discussed the etiquette of texting in the workplace. Communication consultants warn that, at the wrong time and place, texting can be extraordinarily rude; it is essentially a message to those around you that your business is much more important than whatever is going on there.

 

Texting during meetings doesn’t seem to be a huge problem where I work. The few times I have seen a manager texting away during a meeting, I have to admit that I had mixed reactions to it. On the one hand, I shrugged it off as an executive probably jumping to respond to someone higher up. As they say, rank has its privileges, and no one wants to be the one keeping an impatient executive waiting. On the other hand, an executive is often invited to a meeting because his or her input is needed, and lacking full engagement can result in a lot of expensive wasted time, as talking points, or possibly even the entire meeting, are repeated. Much has been written on the opportunity cost of meetings.

 

It is a given that, in the IT work world, emergencies can be an all-too-common fact of life; we even used to have regularly scheduled “emergency” migrations. Thank goodness, someone in authority finally saw the irony in both the nomenclature and the situation and insisted on a change. However, as long as there are business critical systems that we must keep up and running, it is unlikely that we will see an end to emergency messages.

 

All the same, I’d wager that at one time or another, we’ve all seen someone texting away under the pretense of “dealing with an emergency outage”, when the situation was nothing of the sort. Treating everything as an emergency can become a habit without you even knowing it. While it can be nice to know that you are needed by your department or organization, it can also be taken to an extreme, both by the senders of the “emergency” messages and by the recipients who fall into the habit of jumping every time their device alerts them. Those nifty smart phones can get the better of us with their insidious allure.

 

Numerous studies over the years reached the conclusion that multi-tasking is just not as efficient as it may seem.  Staying focused on task is better in the long run, but training yourself to ignore tempting interruptions can take a concerted effort.

 

With SAP TechEd Las Vegas and Community Day right around the corner, I’ve been giving this situation quite a bit of thought. I regretfully admit to missing a sizable chunk of session content one day during TechEd 07 due to an outage situation in my organization. Once I started responding to the urgent messages, I drifted further away from what was going on around me. If, as I did, you “come to” and realize with a start that the room is empty and the session over, you may have lost valuable opportunities both for learning and for contributing to the discussion. Another risk that concerns me is that if I lose focus during a session, I’ll end up asking a question already asked and answered, wasting everyone’s time.

 

This year I am going to spend some time in these last weeks leading up to TechEd and Community Day to ensure that my backups are better prepared to deal with a wider range of problems, so that I only get called away for the most serious of situations. I want to get the most out of my time at TechEd, as well as position myself to engage fully and contribute to the Community Day discussions, with as few interruptions and distractions as possible. I am also going to refrain from being drawn into an extended message dialogue during the sessions, and if the situation truly requires an immediate response, step out of the room to avoid being a distraction to those around me. With some effort to better planning and preparation, I hope to have my best TechEd yet, and I encourage each of you to come prepared to have a great TechEd experience, too.

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  1. Jim Spath
    Gretchen – well said.  We’ve had a rule in IT about not taking your laptop to meetings unless you’re presenting, as you can easily see when someone is not engaged. Smartphones and other texting devices are harder to control; I am normally not very happy when someone is talking to me and then their attention shifts to their handheld gadget.
    Whether the next generation is able to better multitask than us veterans remains to be seen, as I’m constantly amazed at the number of simultaneous inputs my son seems to process.  Jim
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