Why Banning Cell Phones in Meetings is Good for Company Culture
The only hard-and-fast rule delivered to me upon my arrival at Origin Investments in November was thus: No cell phones in meetings.
For those first few months, I loved it. I wouldn’t even look at my phone from the moment I arrived at the office until the moment I left. I felt free, untethered and more productive, focused solely on the work at hand.
Then one Monday morning, as I was on my way to work, a crisis hit with a business school project. One team member had fired and insulted another team member over email. Texts were flying back and forth, and I was trying to console one classmate’s bruised ego while getting the assailant to take it all back and apologize.
Without even realizing it, I walked into our Monday morning staff meeting with phone in hand and began thumbing away.
Although I was oblivious, my boss wasn’t.
I had been sucked back in that quickly.
Researchers have warned that we are becoming addicted to our phones because of a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is released into our brains when our phones buzz or alert, saying we got a text message or e-mail or Twitter mention, etc.
Most of us have heard of dopamine as the source of pleasure and also an addiction. But recent research is starting to contradict this view, pegging the opioid system, and not dopamine, as the source of pleasure. Meanwhile, dopamine, they say, drives our curiosity.
“Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out and search,” according to Psychology Today. “With the Internet, Twitter, and texting, you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Dopamine starts you seeking. Then you get rewarded for the seeking, which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.”
According to leadership and management guru Simon Sinek, allowing this addiction to seep into a workplace’s culture is corrosive.
“If I’m holding a phone in my hand, do you feel the most important to me right now?” Sinek asks during one of his popular lectures, which are available on YouTube. “If you show up at a meeting and put that cell phone on the table, it says to the rest of the people in the room that they are not the most important people in the room. And by the way, turning your phone upside down is not more polite.”
That prompted knowing laughter. We’ve all done it.
Sinek recommends firms adopt several policies.
When someone comes into your office, put the phone in a drawer, turn off the computer monitor and shut the laptop.
When you go out to dinner with a client or colleague — this also applies to family and friends — give someone else your phone.
And collect the phones at the beginning of meetings.
“You know what happens when you take all the phones away? People relax,” Sinek says. “In the break, they sit and talk to each other. No one goes to get their phones. And on the way out, they’re actually talking to each other. It creates camaraderie.”
Bottom line, Sinek says, never have a cell phone in a conference room.