I'm not about to call this a trend yet, but I've seen a few meetings at work in recent months that advertised and enforced a "no laptop" rule.

Part of me thinks that it's a great idea. There are meetings I've almost skipped or found fairly useless because a significant proportion of the people in the room were suffering from continuous partial attention and often seemed lost or constantly behind the curve.

Another part of me thinks that it's absolutely ridiculous that we have to mandate common courtesy and force people off their laptops long enough to have a useful meeting.

I wonder what, if anything, schools (mostly college) are doing to help ensure that this isn't a problem in the workplace as more and more students start working full-time. Do they know how to put away the laptop or cell phone when the time comes?

Maybe the problem is that the people "at the top" of many companies set a bad example, walking down the hallway with their eyes glued to a Blackberry screen or constantly plugged into a Borg-like bluetooth headset.

Have you seen "no laptop" meetings starting to emerge in your organization yet?

Posted by jzawodn at March 10, 2008 10:54 AM

Reader Comments
# Nelson Minar said:

One of my biggest frustrations when I was an engineer at Google was being summoned to an executive meeting only to find 3/4 of the executives too busy with their laptops. I'd spend hours preparing a summary of my project status, a briefing on a new strategy area, or a review of staffing assignments. As requested. And 3/4 of the directors, VPs, and higher would be busy tapping away on their laptops and paying no attention at all to my doing what they'd asked of me. Nothing communicates disrespect to your reports like ignoring
them when they're with you.

I'm a cheeky guy and would object to this behavior. The answer I usually got was "the poor VP, he's so busy he has to do two things at once". As if somehow I wasn't busy too, or his time was more valuable than mine.

The one executive who never, ever had a laptop in front of him at these meetings was Google's first VP of Engineering, Wayne Rosing. There's a lot of reasons why the people who worked for Wayne loved him. The fact he respected the people who worked for him had a lot to do with it.

on March 10, 2008 11:04 AM
# said:

Hey Jeremy-

I've seen a number of "no laptop" meetings, but, the irony often is that the manager(s) who establish/enforce those rules typically are the biggest violators.

The real trick for companies is to drastically reduce the number of meetings held - so that "real" work can get done.

on March 10, 2008 11:09 AM
# Guillaume Theoret said:

It's only going to get worse. I don't know of anyone that doesn't bring a laptop to class and spend most of the class not paying attention.

on March 10, 2008 11:16 AM
# Lars Viklund said:

Back in August 2007, I read a rather relevant article on the Rands in Repose blog over at http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2007/08/31/the_laptop_herring.html
He makes several rather good points about laptop usage in meetings there.

on March 10, 2008 11:18 AM
# Matt said:

In my experience the meetings are so bad/boring/waste of time that people bring something else to do. That's how 90% of my meetings have been for the last 5 years.

I think management set a bad example by breaking all the rules of having meetings. That's what I have experienced, anyway.

on March 10, 2008 11:19 AM
# diego said:

If you need to enforce a "no laptop" rule, you should question why some people are attending the meeting or why it was called in the first place. People may be bringing in their laptops because they think the meeting will be a waste of their time based on previous experiences.

If a meeting requires your full attention, you don't need a laptop. If it doesn't perhaps you don't need to be there, or at least not for the entire meeting.

on March 10, 2008 11:19 AM
# BCS said:

I've had/have more than one prof that ban laptops in the class room. One even requires anyone who's cell phone rings in class to bring donuts the next day (we've had donuts 3 times in the last 2 months).

p.s. does anyone known of a auto dialer that can be set to go off at a given time? :b

on March 10, 2008 11:21 AM
# Ben Wern said:

I'm all for limiting the number of meetings, focusing meetings, etc -- but for those of us who have gone "paperless" and use a tablet PC for all meeting notes, this just becomes an annoyance that I have to deal with because *someone else* can't focus.

on March 10, 2008 11:25 AM
# Aaron B. Hockley said:

The commenter "diego" above nailed it. If folks are stuck in their laptops, they probably don't need to be at the meeting. Why are they there?

The only exception I could think of is if someone uses it for note-taking.

on March 10, 2008 11:31 AM
# Nathaniel said:

I'm a student in the CS program at a decent-sized university, and I've heard that some professors have a 'no-laptops' rule for their classes, but most of them tend to be fairly lax about it--after all, we're paying to be here, and perhaps we are actually taking notes on the laptop. I don't shoulder surf enough to know how many people are taking notes versus goofing off or doing something unrelated, but I'm sure it happens. There certainly isn't any sort of "meeting etiquette" being taught that I know of--other than the indirect teaching that goofing off and getting a bad grade as a result might get you.

As for myself? I use paper and pencil to take notes in class and during what meetings I go to. I don't have a laptop either, but even if I did, I suspect my habits wouldn't change much. I know myself well enough to know what a distraction a laptop would be to me if I brought one to class, and there just aren't many situations where I feel I could justify it as being better than paper and pencil.

And if the class is honestly that boring, I can play games on my PDA instead. Less conspicuous, IMHO. ;)

on March 10, 2008 11:33 AM
# hunter said:

No Laptop and No Chairs meetings are both on the rise in my experience. Both result in more attentive, focused conversations with the goal of arriving at decisions.

on March 10, 2008 11:44 AM
# Dave Dash said:

Too many meetings these days around del.icio.us. We're usually there to sync up, or exchange status, not necessarily to discuss things. Laptops help us get work done.

on March 10, 2008 11:59 AM
# Wally Punsapy said:

If your colleagues didn't bring their notebooks to meetings, they'd probably be twittering, txt'ing and surfing on their mobile devices. I've seen all this in daily stand-ups as well.

Bottom line: bring yourself and 100% attention. Hopefully, the moderator (the bloke who called the meeting) sticks to the agenda and blows through what needs to be said and done.

Happy Monday! =P

on March 10, 2008 12:07 PM
# Joe Lazarus said:

No laptop meetings make sense. No meetings make even more sense.

Regarding your question on schools, I was in grad school a few years ago and noticed the same partial attention problem. The campus had wifi, but professors could flip a switch that somehow blocked it if they noticed everyone was just IM'ing each other and surfing the web. It must be a major distraction for high school kids.

on March 10, 2008 12:07 PM
# Charles Eicher said:

It seems like there's another side of the argument here. If everybody's using their laptops, why don't they do more videoconferences?

I do have a low tolerance for meetings that are not conducted quickly and efficiently, out of respect for everyone's time. No-laptop seems like a logical approach.

on March 10, 2008 12:29 PM
# Basil Mohamed Gohar said:

I have to agree with the comments above the stress fewer meetings and ensuring only people that need to be there are in fact there. Company- or department-wide meetings should be short enough that they're over as or before the antsiest attendee starts to twitch & fiddle.

For higher-ups that need meetings more, the agenda should be clear, the meeting organizer should ensure they stay on topic, and most importantly, the meeting itself must be more essential than the combined sum of the productivity of all the people's time that it is taking had they been doing their regular routines...

...and I guess for some people, that might just be more meetings...

on March 10, 2008 12:29 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

We don't have hard and fast rules, but some people will (managers) will occasionally ask that lids be closed.

on March 10, 2008 12:30 PM
# Hooda Thunkit said:

Hunter nailed it!

I devote full attention to meetings, only writing down important things like number$, and absorb the rest.

If it is important, I can later put it into a report and forward it to other folks, not to read.

I find trying to take copious notes distracts me from listening, hearing and participating in the meeting.

on March 10, 2008 12:38 PM
# Ontario Emperor said:

I can confidently say that I haven't brought a laptop to a meeting (other than one I'm chairing or presenting at) in a year and a half. That's because I bring my phone. :)

The underlying problem isn't the lack of a no laptop/no mobile phone/no smoke signals policy, or bad examples by senior management, or whatever. The ideal situation would allow most decisions to be made on an asynchronous basis. If there are truly that many decisions that require the simultaneous presence of several people, then perhaps the decision-making process needs to be examined.

on March 10, 2008 12:40 PM
# Craig Hughes said:

I think diego's got it right. Anyone thinking of asking for a "no laptop" meeting should just not ask for the meeting, if he thinks people will judge that they have things more important to be doing during that time than "attending" the meeting. If your planned meeting is going to be so boring that people are tuning out and doing other stuff, then frickin do something more interesting/useful/attention grabbing.

on March 10, 2008 01:05 PM
# jr said:

For what it's worth, I always bring my laptop to a meeting and still pay attention. Mostly, I use it for notes or to look things up quickly. It's a portable brain, and i find i tend to think better while typing. (Kinda like how some folks remember better when they write it down.)

The facts that folks have found my habit of staring, unblinking at them when I'm not taking notes, "disturbing" and the fact that I can sneak a quick peek at server statuses while they're arguing about the exact shade of blue that pixel needs to be are just pure gravy.

on March 10, 2008 01:35 PM
# Giles Bowkett said:

I prefer to avoid bringing my laptop to meetings. When I do, it's usually a sign that the meeting shouldn't be happening, or that I didn't mean to be there. Sometimes I have the ability to avoid unnecessary or counterproductive meetings. When I don't have that ability, I bring my laptop.

I think a "no laptop" rule is a bad idea. I think using the presence and usage of laptops as a metric for meeting value is a very good idea. If a person is spending more than a little time on the laptop, they should be able to simply leave the meeting. Nearly every meeting corporations have is unnecessary. It's better to have an unnecessary meeting where people are getting work done despite the meeting than an unnecessary meeting where people aren't getting work done at all.

on March 10, 2008 02:52 PM
# ken said:

Most company meetings I've ever been to have been useless. It should come as no surprise to anybody that people would rather do work.

In fact, at a couple places I worked (but no longer!), I could get *more* done in meetings than at my desk. At my desk, one could hear a dozen people yelling at once. In a meeting room, only one person speaks at a time.

The laptops are mostly a sign that your people think your meeting is going to be worthless, but they think they have to show up anyway. Cut the number and length of meetings, and people will be less likely to want to work during them.

on March 10, 2008 03:24 PM
# Neil Kandalgaonkar said:

@Nelson Minar: WTF? The rule at Google used to be "if you aren't learning or contributing, leave the meeting". Nobody is served by partial attention.

I thought my team ther ehad meetingitis but at least a few people managed to free themselves on a regular basis. Just another tale of how bureaucracy is creeping in, I guess. Oh well.

on March 10, 2008 03:32 PM
# Hans Granqvist said:

Wally mentioned it above: If your meetings are standing room only, you make the problem go away. You need a desk to use a laptop . . .

on March 10, 2008 03:57 PM
# TEC said:

Before laptops were common I had a job where I had to attend a lot of pointless meetings. I would deal with this by bringing a good old fashioned notepad on which I would write pseudocode for whatever I happened to be working on.

These days I'm not expected to go to meetings since my employer prefers that I spend my working hours writing code. If I did have to go to meetings with a no laptop policy, I'd bring along my trusty notepad.

on March 10, 2008 04:17 PM
# Marcus said:

Regarding school, I hardly ever see laptops in class (fourth year cs/ee). Guess we're a bit behind in Sweden :) On the other hand, most lectures are vouluntary, so if you want to surf instead, why even bother showing up to class?

on March 10, 2008 04:43 PM
# jay said:

I actually worked for a senior VP and while most of the people who came to his conference room brought laptop's he almost never had his.
There were def. occasions where we'd take status meetings in his office and he'd be checking the snow levels at his cabin, but 9 of 10 he'd actually pay attention.

I think to some degree it's a "middle management" symptom as they try to do anything and everything all at once to "keep up" and "get ahead".

True Senior VP's meet too many very important people to piss off.

on March 10, 2008 05:22 PM
# said:

Schools enforce it with something called grades.

I wish I could give an "F" to employees every time they read email in a meeting (whether on a laptop or a phone).

The problem at Yahoo is that everyone's checked out (and has been for the past couple of years). Laptops in meetings are just an example.

on March 10, 2008 07:21 PM
# Mekin said:

I think stand-ups are the answer.

Has a few more advantages:
- meetings are short
- and mostly to the point

Even brainstorming meetings work well this way, with people drawing things on the white board, and others participating by editing those "drawings"

on March 10, 2008 10:39 PM
# joat said:

It's already been stated above but: be very careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Distracted people are a symptom, not a cause. If you can't hold their attention voluntarily, you risk "meeting rebellion" if you force them.

Then again, I suspect that Jeremy's post was just a vent and didn't need the dozens of responses....

on March 11, 2008 03:32 AM
# said:

My bigger deal with meetings in the length of meetings. There is no reason that every meeting should be an hour long. I think that most people set a meeting for an hour because they are lazy. They have not thought through the agenda to estimate how long the discussion should be.

I have proposed at my company a max limit on meeting length of 30 minutes. If you need a longer meeting you can create two meetings. This will force the creator to think about the length the meeting needs to be.

It will also cut down on the overbooking of meeting spaces.

on March 11, 2008 06:30 AM
# Jonathan Betz said:

Hate to disagree with Nelson, but in my meetings at Google, the open laptop is an invaluable resource for making meetings work effectively. I've put some more thoughts on my blog: http://blog.jayteebee.org/2008/03/please-keep-your-laptop-open-in.html

on March 11, 2008 07:15 AM
# Ted Rheingold said:

We went to no-laptops at meetings at Dogster and Catster about a year ago and it has been very worthwhile. Meeting are noticeably more productive.

It's not draconian as laptops are fine when someone is presenting, taking notes, at dev meetings, partner meeting, etc. In fact a laptop in a meeting isn't a problem. The problem is people using it to focus on other topics. As long as everyone if cosued on the meeting we hit maximum productivity.

on March 11, 2008 09:53 AM
# Cinda Hocking said:

Hi Everyone,

I was at a meeting about childhood obesity last night in new conference room at the Univ of Mich Med Center and there were nifty little pop-up containers (resembling ashtrays, the irony and metaphor were not lost on me) inset every two feet which I was curious about and felt compelled to push and see what popped up. Inside was a double plug setup for, I'm assuming, laptops. So, not only is it obviously ok to bring a laptop to lectures, it appears to be encouraged! All this while the speaker is talking about how more than two hours a day screen time is directly linked to early development of obesity...

Personally, I think our nation's multitasking mania is contributing to a lot of problems, including ADHD, but that's a rant for another day.

Thanks for bringing up this topic. It was great reading the original post and the comments on it.

Cinda Hocking
Internal Energy Plus Consultant

on March 11, 2008 12:32 PM
# Jay Prince said:

No Laptop? No Chair? Then No Jay.

Worst are the SCRUM meetings, I simply stopped going. (And then I stopped working for other people. I think the employer/employee relationship is a big factor in the disrespect shown.)

If people are using laptops in your meetings, its because they feel your meetings are waste of time, and rather than waste the time, they are going to get some work done.

If you're taking chairs away from people and making them stand, then you're tellin them that not only are you wasting their time, but you're going to make it painful too-- its just petty abuse.

I think its time for engineers to stop going to meetings called by managers. Engineering meetings with other engineers- ok, fine, cover some engineering problems (and for these the laptop is essential.)

I once worked at a company where the rule was that anyone could attend any meeting, and no meeting was mandatory. Funnily, the meetings at that company were always worth attending.

If you call meetings, consider seriously whether you are wasting people's time.

Like a scene from "Office Space" simply not showing up at meetings is effective, and you don't actually get in trouble for it, in my experience. When I was called on it once, I pointed out that the three prior meetings like this had been complete wastes of time.

And really, these days, I can't think of any purpose for calling a meeting. Engineering problems can be solved by adhoc meetings. Integration across teams cn be done by adhoc meetings of the engineers (no bosses). And product managers shouldn't be paper pushers who know nothing about engineering (as they often seem to be) but engineers.... a lot less time would be wasted.

And I bet things ship earlier at higher quality then too.

on March 17, 2008 01:43 AM
# Nelson Minar said:

This blog post and a couple of comments ended up in the Mar 31 LA Times in an article by Jessica Guynn.


on March 31, 2008 09:37 AM
# Kevan Hall said:

Thanks for the post which I picked up via the LA times article and have referred to in my recent post


It's a good technique for dealing with the "constant interruptions culture" in many modern organizations.

Some of the reaarch I have seen shows that constant interuptions are equivalent to a reduction of 10 IQ points in performance, I don't know about you but I dont have that much IQ to spare!

on April 2, 2008 06:14 AM
# Martina said:

Thanks for bringing up this topic It was great reading the original post and the comments on it.

on September 18, 2008 09:45 PM
# Laptop Fanatic said:

Some laptops in this class use a limited range of desktop components to provide better performance for the same price at the expense of battery life; in a few of those models, there is no battery at all, and the laptop can only be used when plugged in. These are sometimes called desknotes, a portmanteau of the words "desktop" and "notebook," though the term can also be applied to desktop replacement computers in general.In the early 2000s, desktops were more powerful, easier to upgrade, and much cheaper in comparison with laptops. But in the last few years, the advantages have drastically changed or shrunk since the performance of laptops has markedly increased. In the second half of 2008, laptops have finally outsold desktops for the first time ever. In the U.S., the PC shipment declined 10 percent in the forth quarter of 2008. In Asia, the worst PC shipment growth went up 1.8 percent over the same quarter the previous year since PC statistics research started. Nice blog.


on April 13, 2009 06:10 AM
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on November 11, 2009 09:01 AM
# laptop acer said:

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on May 18, 2010 08:23 AM
# kevin said:

I used my laptop at a meet for the first time recently. My pen immediately went dry, I had a dull pencil, and the fantastic presenter was relating so much valuable info, that I knew the only way to grasp this was going to be on the laptop. It made a of noise turning on, but not so much that it was embarrassing. It was worth it. I did take advantage of a lull to quickly e-mail myself the notes, as a back-up, in a very small window, as I was very conscious of the distraction I might create, or poor example. I feel I will value the notes more, since I typed them, and can readily transfer them to other forms, including having them read aloud (there are even free utilities that will do this). In my case, the laptop enabled me to take notes that I would NEVER have been able to take otherwise. It was 4 pages, double-spaced, in just under an hour!

on June 1, 2010 01:33 AM
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