How will wearable technology change meeting dynamics?

The day started like any other; I was up and out the door on autopilot before I knew what was happening. I went to the office and checked through my emails that had somehow multiplied overnight and I had just managed to catch up before my 9am meeting. I stepped into the room confidently and ready to take on the day and as I sat down, I felt prepared for the agenda.

The other participants arrived, some in good time and others rushed and late. And as the owner of the agenda, I started by welcoming the group and reading out the agenda items, making clear the ground rules for the meeting that included cell phones being off and to respect the group, no side bar conversations. I felt in control and knew what we had to achieve in the critical meeting. When I announced the first agenda item and referenced people to the pre-work that I had completed in advance of the session, I felt a sense of relief. I had spent the day before preparing and I realized it was the right decision as people went through the printed copies that I handed out.

Part way through the meeting, I witnessed something that I had never imagined seeing though I understand now that it is something that I shall see very frequently in the future. One of the participants had an Apple Watch and part way through answering my question, she paused and lifted her arm. As she did, the screen lit up and she was clearly transported to another world. I have no idea whether it was a text message from her friends and family, an email from her colleagues or a reminder to stand up and move around, but there it was, and it had disrupted our meeting. 

Now, technology is often seen as an enabler and I’m pleased that we have so much good technology around us! We can do so much from so far away just because of the devices and connectivity we have. It’s amazing. And although I appreciate that there is a time and place for technology like so called smart watches and other smart wearables, what I’ve witnessed first hand is that just because people have smart watches doesn’t mean the people are behaving in a smart way. Honestly, it’s no different than being mid answer to a question in a meeting and seeing your phone light up with a text/email/call and stopping the meeting to do something with that. It’s not really acceptable socially and it’s not acceptable in formal or semi-formal settings like work. However, we have yet to determine what the social etiquette is around smart watches and, frankly, that’s causing us problems. With the advent of wearable technology, we are now in a position to be what I like to call, "webuffed"; to reject or snub bluntly, often disdainfully, through the use of wearable technology.

I had worked hard to prepare myself and everyone else for the meeting we were taking when the Apple Watch distracted a participant. Across our organizations, time – and therefore money – was being invested – to get the right outcomes and so for us to have to halt our meeting while a participant viewed and answered a message, email, friend request, or invite to play a game was, quite frankly, awkward. I have no issues with people wearing and carrying technology, but please, think carefully about how you will use it and the impacts on those around you so you don’t let it interrupt your meetings when you know you wouldn’t accept someone doing that with their phone. There's also an increasing onus on the meeting owner to set broader expectations up front so that participants know what acceptable meeting behavior looks like.

Now is the time where we are re-establishing boundaries that come with this new technology and learning how to be appropriate human beings on the basis of what we might be carrying and wearing. And if you decide to carry or wear the latest gadget, don’t be under the impression that everyone you meet knows what it is or cares what it does for you. Not everyone you are with will want your time together to be interrupted with something perceived as trivial and although you are doing your best to be productive, you may – by virtue of having that technology – being less productive than you think you are. Rock on with the technology but remember that being smart doesn't come from strapping something to your wrist!

As well as being an experienced management consultant and energetic public speaker, Rob Whitfield is a certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified Master Coach and a certified Master Practitioner of Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy.