Look around the table during a meeting: How many employees are stealing stealthy (or not so stealthy) glances at their BlackBerrys or even blatantly clicking out an e-mail of their own?
A new survey reveals what you already know: an increasing number of employees—from entry-level associates to the highest-level execs—feel comfortable checking their e-mails in the middle of meetings. But do those numbers make it OK, and does your organization need to lay down the law on when and how mobile devices can be used?
"The least disruptive option is to avoid using handheld e-mail devices during meetings, but that may not always be possible for executives who must be accessible," said Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Resources. "Professionals who may have to check e-mail during gatherings should alert their hosts and be as unobtrusive as possible."
In a Robert Half survey of 150 senior execs at large U.S. companies, 86 percent of respondents said it’s common for co-workers to read and respond to e-mail messages during meetings. However, close to one-third of those respondents (31 percent) disapprove of the practice and about one quarter (23 percent) said employees should excuse themselves from the meeting before responding to e-mail.
Advice: If your organization is going to allow employees to use mobile devices during meetings, pass along these tips:
1. Be discreet. If you need to bring your mobile device to a meeting, set it on vibrate to avoid disturbing other attendees.
2. Consider your audience. Co-workers may be more forgiving of your need to respond to e-mail than a client, for example. So adjust your e-mail activity accordingly.
3. Respond only if it's truly urgent. It's tempting to check every message that comes in, but avoid doing so unless there's a compelling reason.
4. Step out of the room. If you receive an urgent message during a meeting, step quietly out of the room to reply.
5. Know when to let go. Spending a considerable amount of time checking e-mail will make those you are with feel unimportant. It's better to bow out of a meeting altogether than be distracted during most of it.