Let’s make meetings great again
A controversial campaign with irrational ideas to bring our senses back to life
If you’re like me and love being one of the first people to walk through your office doors at the start of your business day because of how quiet the workplace is, then you’re also in a very interesting position: you get to observe how everyone else walks into the office with their phone in their hand. It doesn’t matter if they’re calling someone with it, looking at it or just holding it, our observations will most likely lead to the same conclusion: we all start our office day with our phone in our hand.
But that observation isn’t worthy of being called groundbreaking. Far from it. We’re all addicted to our phones. That’s old news. Reports on how the average person spends 4 hours of their day on their phone don’t surprise us anymore. However, despite our being aware of it, we continue to develop these addictive, detrimental habits we know are bad for us yet do very little to change them.
Life in the office is fascinating.
If you’re the average 9-to-6er with a one-hour lunch break from Monday to Friday, you spend roughly 40 hours of your week in the workplace. And regardless of what our status and role are inside the organization, whatever we do and wherever we go, our phones usually follow.
Feeling like taking a break from writing cold emails to go grab that cup of coffee in the pantry? Chances are you’ll be taking your phone with you. Looking for someone around the office and not sure if you’ll find them in one go? Chances are you’ll be taking your phone with you. Hell, we take our phones with us every time we want to take a crap because, well, what else are you supposed to do once you’re sitting on the toilet? Stare at the door or, worse, look down? Unlikely.
Our relationship with meetings is… complicated. Most people hate meetings. We hate receiving unexpected emails that automatically block a full hour of our day in our calendars (or just half an hour if you’re lucky); we hate thinking about having to sit there and listen to people talk about something you either haven’t been briefed on yet or simply care very little for. They kill your productivity when you’re in “the zone”, making you grumpier than when you started the work day.
What do we do when we’re attending something we know we’ll hate? We take something with us that we love to offset our troubles, and that something is very likely to be our phone.
Who hasn’t attended a boring work gala, lunch, or birthday party where after 10-or-so minutes of forced engagement with smiles and giggles, we ventured off someplace far far away from the crowd (ironically, the bathroom seems to be a popular destination) to check something — ANYTHING — that may have happened online in our absence? Unread messages, new photos on Instagram, or an additional dozen likes on your latest post that had us worried as if we’d been gasping for air and were finally able to fully breathe again.
As offices are now split between multiple generations, our relationship with technology has evolved drastically. While some employees have had to adapt to these new devices, younger staff coming out of university were practically born with them, and as such they bring their addiction to phones with them. Is it contagious? Possibly.
Workplace technology has become an inevitable element of the office. Technology improves productivity… facilitates more meaningful connections among staff… transforms the way people think about and approach work in the office. But if you don’t have the right office culture in place, technology can also have devastating effects on how people verbally — not virtually — communicate and, ultimately, negatively impact that improved productivity we all so enthusiastically searched for.
Relationships are built in meeting rooms
Except for lunch when small groups of friends get together for an hour or the short periods of time we spend filling our coffee cups back to happy levels in the pantry, meetings are technically the only chances we have to socialize with our peers in the office. Think about it: when we’re not in a meeting, we’re back at our desk, on a couch or whatever latest cool addition Finance has invested in, working alone depending on the nature of our job. Sadly, we don’t look at meetings as opportunities to engage in conversations. We think of them as burdens.
Let’s say Caroline is leading the meeting today and invited Bob, Josh, Vivian and yourself to join. You’re a few minutes early and waiting for the others to come in, and didn’t bring your laptop with you or a journal to write with, so you take your phone out and start swiping (not on Tinder, although I’m guilty of having used the app on multiple occasions in the office). You’re alone and looking for something interesting to read or look at when suddenly, Bob and Josh come in. You look up, say hi to Bob and Josh, and bring your head back down to see what the latest Instagram Stories are. Bob and Josh each take a seat and take their phones out. Silence remains.
Vivian eventually makes her way into the meeting room and asks if the meeting has started already. “Caroline’s running a few minutes late”, you tell Vivian. She takes a seat and her phone follows. Finally, Caroline walks into the room and apologizes for being a few minutes late. She closes the door, everyone puts their phones on the table — the meeting officially starts.
What if our office had imbued a culture of not bringing our phones into meetings? What if we didn’t ignore others around us while in the same room? What if we… talked?
Behold! The workplace of the future.
Putting people at the heart of workplace design is what drives the entire design, architecture and engineering industry forward, amplified by the ever-evolving technology we incorporate into our daily work. But let’s not forget our most inherent need to socialize with others — and that includes meeting rooms. So next time you receive an email for a nonsensical 5:00 PM meeting, try leaving your phone behind.
Walk into that meeting room, take a seat, and ask Bob: “Hey Bob, what did you get up to this weekend?”