Don't be offended if you are soon asked to come to a meeting "topless". Tired of people tapping away on their laptops in meetings or killing time with their BlackBerrys, a growing number of companies have ordered employees to leave the devices behind and come to meetings "topless", as in lose the laptop. The trend started in the US and was catching on here, boardroom consultant Geoff Kiel, chairman of Effective Governance, said.
"With BlackBerrys and wireless coverage, people can literally have access to the world all the time, and I've observed board meetings where directors are doing their banking, emailing and even communicating to people outside the meeting what is happening," Dr Kiel said.
Some companies have developed clearly articulated policies based on the expectation that people should be devoting their full attention to a meeting.
"Most people would regard a sideways conversation in a meeting as rude - you can take that and say that doing things on the web is equally rude."
He added that it helped to be clear about the policy on gadgets.
"If you don't have a stated policy different people march to different drums, and what's offensive to one person is fine to another."
Gerard Daniels's general manager of board consulting, Alison Gaines, said she knew of some boards that had instituted rules for phones and laptops in meetings.
"At the end of the day, you want people to fully engage, and any distractions take away from that ability," Ms Gaines said.
Advocates of topless meetings said that not only would they make people more focused and attentive in the workplace, their workmates would feel more respected and listened to.
University of Sydney researcher Judith MacCormick said that people in a meeting with a BlackBerry user sometimes wondered if they needed to be there.
"BlackBerrys can be a real lightning rod for meetings-related issues at work, and bring up questions of whether the meetings should be occurring or if all the people there are really needed," Dr MacCormick said.
She said that people with BlackBerrys reported feeling more in control of their work and able to use otherwise lost time, but also feared the perception that they used them more often than they did.
"But you can have too much engagement with work and it can lead to problems too," she said.
The pervasiveness of BlackBerrys in the workplace is on the rise, with sales growing faster than the market.
"They used to be handed out on an as needs basis, but increasingly management are happy to give them to all appropriate-level people," Dr MacCormick said.
Fairfax Business Media
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