Sometimes in this column we try to tackle the really big issues confronting remote teams. (You're welcome. No, really.) We also know that more often than not it's the little things that create headaches. So today we're going to take a look at one of those little problems: people constantly searching the web during your online (or physical) meetings.
There is often a knee jerk reaction when we see people checking the web during a meeting. Obviously they're not paying attention and darn it, it's rude. Online you can't always tell what they're doing, although we all secretly suspect everyone's doing it since they're not saying anything. Here's the thing, not all web searching is productive, but it's not all bad either.
In the old days, we used to have to table discussions for a lack of information, or promise to get back to people with an answer. Now those reasons (excuses?) no longer need apply. Many of the answers to common questions are a few keystrokes away - and why delay a decision or keep everyone waiting when you can be more productive and move things along?
What's not productive, though, is to ask a question and then have everyone dive nose-first into their phones, tablets or computers while conversation comes to a screeching halt. Sometimes this is a sign of an eagerness to help, which can be productive, but more often it's a search for anything more useful and entertaining to do than what's happening in the meeting at the moment.
A simple way to address this is to ask for a volunteer or assign someone to be the one person to look the item up while the meeting continues. This allows you to reduce the number of people not paying attention in the meeting. This might sound unnecessary, but do you really want the brains of several of your attendees all doing the same grunt work while the whole meeting grinds to a halt?
This has an added bonus of keeping some of your participants gainfully occupied. Do you have that Smart Aleck who always has to provide the answers? Here's a chance for them to actually provide accurate information while stoking the fires of their self-esteem.
Maybe the single biggest advantage to this simple technique is the ability to create a sense that someone is actually in control of the process. Good, timely information is critical to making good decisions and moving your project or task forward. Gathering accurate data while maintaining a productive atmosphere (and setting guidelines around your expectations of participants for which you can hold them accountable) is one way good leaders use meetings constructively.
So yeah, if people Googling during a meeting is your team's biggest problem I want your job. Still, by addressing the matter in a simple, proactive and positive way it can reduce some headaches and create an aura of control and accomplishment that can ripple throughout your team's meetings.
Just something to consider.