Local government meeting etiquette and the laptop
I have a colleague who brings his laptop to meetings. He claims he is trying to be paperless, and whilst I am happy to stroke my chin and claim that ‘it will never last’ as he lugs his enormous council issued laptop around the place, at least he is trying.
However, the mere fact of him having his laptop in meetings, and the fact that many councils are moving towards having laptops rather than desktops for their staff, raises a number of ‘meeting etiquette’ questions that we need to de-bunk.
Sitting there typing away in a meeting for some reason seems a little rude but is it any worse than sitting there taking notes on a piece of paper? Well, of course not.
But whilst it is fine to take notes on a laptop what if he uses it for other reasons?
In a meeting last week the discussion turned to a Government announcement and as quick as a flash there was a tap tap tapping in the corner and my colleague had the relevant document on his screen and started reading it out. Although impressed, one of my older colleagues did mutter as we left that:
‘I wonder if that’s what he spends the whole meeting doing?’
Now, let’s move past the fact that what he actually did was damn helpful to the progress of the meeting; what if he did spend every meeting surfing the internet, checking his e-mails and generally catching up on other work? Is this a problem?
There are two inter-related issues here:
- Is the member of staff paying attention?
- Is the member of staff contributing at the appropriate moments?
If those two criteria are met does it matter? And even if they don’t is the laptop the problem?
Of course not; a laptop is only as distracting as the person is distracted. And bearing in mind how distracted the average manager is by his or her blackberry (and/or the fly circling the room) I’m not sure a computer is going to make any difference at all. Indeed, if other work can be completed in the meeting it might even make people more effective.
Despite this, there is one issue we need to be aware of. A room full of laptop users can be a little anti-social. Instead of looking at each other a room full of laptop users might be a problem as we all hide behind our screens (especially if they are large council issues laptop screens!). Small people especially can be lost behind a sea of screens.
Increasingly, councils will be trying to issue their staff with more flexible IT equipment; from thin client machines to laptops to tablets to slates. All of the final three can be totally movable and will enable staff to come to meetings with their computers, contribute and do so without printing out the endless papers that accompany the average council meeting.
One other thing; where council managers are still a bit suspicious of the meeting laptop; I’d remind them that in a year or two this will seem normal and the people with the piles of paper are going to be the strange ones.
After all, the etiquette is simple (if constantly changing); we just need to get the technology in the council first!
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