Monday, August 27, 2007
Using the Tangible Vision to "Connect to Collaborate"
A project team without a Tangible Vision is a team without a direction. They have no idea on what strategic matter(s) to focus on (during the meeting time)
August 26, 2007
Minding the Meeting, or Your Computer?
By DEAN HACHAMOVITCH
BACK in 1994, when portable PCs started their descent from 15-pound luggables to today’s 5-pound laptops, I started taking mine to meetings at Microsoft, and so did my colleagues. So novel. So useful.
We could type notes. We could get information immediately from our computers instead of carrying a stack of paper or scurrying back to our offices to fetch a file. We could present our slides or show off new products. Geek thrills!
As we became more connected and casual with the technology, though, we embarked on some decidedly less meeting-oriented activities. We read our e-mail if the conversation took a dull turn. We checked news headlines. We surreptitiously logged on to the ESPN Web site.
In the last few years, we even started instant messaging one another during meetings, like eighth graders whispering in class: Did he just say or Does she realize that . Sometimes, people would even wisecrack over I.M., to see if they could make other people in the room laugh.
But now a whole etiquette has formed. The Microsoft.com Web site even lists seven rules for using laptops in meetings, including Make Sure There’s a Point and Turn Down Bells and Whistles. In some meetings, especially if the topic is sensitive, it just seems more respectful to leave the laptops closed. On the other hand, if the meeting is covering a variety of areas and the conversation is moving into something I’m not involved in, I don’t feel too bad about catching up on my e-mail. It beats doing so at 11 p.m.
Of course, there are mistakes and boundaries that you figure out over time. Recently, one of my colleagues was standing at the front of a meeting room, projecting some data from his laptop onto the screen. A toast popped up the little square window in the corner that tells you someone on your buddy list has logged on with a message from someone in the audience that his fly was open. This was a joke meant to remind the guy to set his laptop on presentation mode for meetings, which mutes instant messaging, among other things.
Everyone has their own way of handling the laptop question when running a meeting. When it’s me, I may sometimes glance over people’s shoulders to see if their screens look topic-related. Or if I see people buried in their laptops, I may ask for their opinions to see if they’re engaged.
Some speakers start a meeting with Laptops off, please. Others might chirp, Excuse me, we’re having a meeting here, if people are making more eye contact with their screens than with the speaker. Once, one of my bosses slammed the lid of my PC down in a fury because he thought I wasn’t paying attention.
Tablet PCs the kind that sit flat on your lap and are used with a stylus instead of a keyboard seem to be more socially acceptable. Maybe it’s because there isn’t a big dark rectangular barrier that you’re putting up between yourself and the speaker. Maybe it’s because we all grew up taking notes with paper and pen, so it’s more familiar. In any case, you can still do your e-mail, get an I.M. about dinner plans, pay your bills or surf.
But it’s not all etiquette, passing electronic notes and Web surfing. The technology is really useful. I can get data from the corporate Web. I can let my wife know I’ll be late without leaving the meeting room to make a call (and making myself that much later), or answer a colleague’s quick question immediately. Instant messaging lets me see who’s available outside the meeting room to send me information if I need it. Checking who’s online from your PC is like poking your head into the hallway to see who’s around to help you.
Laptops in meetings can be discouraging if the most senior people in the room are frequently looking down at their laptops or, worse yet, typing for an extended time. The presenter has to wonder how much he or she is getting across. I have to say that our senior management sets a good example in this regard. In meetings, I don’t see Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer doing e-mail they’re actively engaged, and listening and asking questions.
Laptops in meetings are also becoming fashion accessories, especially among employees in their 20s and early 30s. Their PCs have stickers like those of a high school binder: snowboard products, or geeky sayings like My other PC is your laptop I’m a hacker. There are political bumper stickers and all kinds of things that show off their interests, their image, their sense of humor.
I guess the computer coming to meetings is like bringing your office’s decorations along with you. You get a better idea of the people you’re meeting with.
SOMETIMES when I’m in meetings all day, I carry around my laptop to keep up on e-mail and phone messages, and to take notes. Many of my colleagues are doing the same, so by the 5 p.m. meeting we’re all looking for electrical outlets.
The more discreet way to check e-mail, I.M., and the Web at a meeting these days is the latest-generation cellphone. While they can’t connect to all the data on your PC (yet), smartphones connected to the Internet, with mobile versions of the same Office software on your PC make it easy for insatiable information seekers to sneak a peek at headlines or send off a quick e-mail without drawing attention. Just make sure to turn off that Girl From Ipanema ring tone.
Dean Hachamovitch is general manager of Internet Explorer for Microsoft. As told to Julie Bick, a former co-worker of Mr. Hachamovitch when she worked at Microsoft.