The Culture of a Phone

DevOpsGuys Kate Jones, Head of Client Delivery explores our attachment to the phone and the impact it has on our communication

This year we have implemented a ‘no phones in meetings’ rule, and I have to say, I love it!

When I was a kid I loved a phone, the white plastic ones with wheels that made a ring a ling noise when you pulled it. I think our house phone rang about once a month (if that) and we used to run to answer it (I rarely got there first). Getting an actual phone call for myself was of course even more rare, somewhat dictated by my age but also phone calls were expensive in my childhood — you only called people when absolutely necessary. I was surprised when my son was younger (and even still now) and he too loved a toy phone, as did all his friends, even the little white plastic ones on wheels. Until now, I hadn’t really considered why this phone had so much attraction but over the years this has increased ten fold as they are now ‘smart’. And this phone addiction has definitely become part of adult life too. I mean, I for one can’t find my way anywhere without Google maps, I don’t even try. Need a fact — my phone, a photo — my phone, shopping — my phone; and it goes on. In fact when I had my son, my phone was my lifeline.

There is nothing quite as overwhelming as a newborn baby crying, not eating, not sleeping and just you in the depths of the night, but going on my phone I could go on mumsnet and see that I was not alone, I could get advice, I could see my other friends who were in the same boat and that feeling of contact was invaluable (obviously I am aware people did have kids and survive prior to the mobile phone!!). So don’t get me wrong, I love a phone and what it can bring.

But then I watched this clip by Simon Sinek (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HK97VG-m3W0) and it invoked amongst other things, a feeling of guilt. The phone I love to use and depend upon had become intrusive in many situations and was preventing me from doing things that I actually value & enjoy way more. The observation he makes on how you don’t do chit chat interaction with colleagues because you use your phone right up until the last minute hit home. I work remotely, so when I go to the office I am regularly just in meetings (something else I’d like to change), so every minute free I am catching up on emails, Slack, Skype and other forms of communication, except the best one — talking to people, face to face. Interacting and learning about them, their lives and what they deem important.

The point he makes that if you are in a meeting it should be important, important enough to give it your full attention, a phone beeping, buzzing, flashing detracts not just you but everyone, and whether its intentional or not, others are equally distracted and those running the meeting may well feel you are not giving them your full attention. And do you need that information there and then? Pretty much most of the time no, but by just having it there you can still do damage.

I found myself at the beginning of the year talking to a colleague who was telling me they didn’t have enough time to do non client work. My advice to them was this, there will always be something to do for a client, if you wait for nothing to be there you will most likely be waiting a long time (unless your business is in trouble and that is a different issue), but, really it’s about prioritising. Some things (most things) really can wait, if you don’t do it in the next two hours will the world fall apart, will the Client ditch you? No, just make sure you have set expectations. That is when I saw my own advice applied to that pesky phone I love so much, actually what really was going to happen if I didn’t see all those notifications, emails, WhatsApp messages for a couple of hours — oh look, nothing too bad and in fact a whole lot of good.

So what happened? Well someone in the office bought some dodgy pocket looking thing that now hangs in our main meeting room and most people put their phones in there at the start of a meeting or when they go in the room. Laptops are banned too unless you are projecting or making notes. And I love it. I’m sure you’ve guessed that the world hasn’t fallen apart but meetings are no longer interrupted by a phone, people are not on a laptop rather than listening and it feels good. We do chat more at the beginning of a meeting now, is it all non work, no, but it’s good, healthy face to face interaction of getting to know people. And this for me is just a small part of how you build a culture that I want to be a part of, making sure that people feel they are important and what they say and do matters, at all times. If someone I work with would like my time as they feel it is important for me to input, it is for me to respect that request and give it my full attention, or politely decline with my reasons, but not do a half job. Does everyone love the new rule — I suspect not, breaking a habit is hard and not all people like change but I believe the benefits it will bring will win them round.

And what of the white plastic phone I loved so much, well I imagine they still make them and children still love them. Maybe we love them as a child because they are all about communication (& noise). After all you spend your formative years learning just that, how to communicate. We learn how to read people, how to understand their emotions based on their reactions — you need to see people to do that, you need to watch, listen, learn and react, hiding behind a phone diminishes these skills that you spent years of your life learning and in fact can hinder you continuing to learn them as it should never stop. A phone has a place in this world of course, but nothing beats proper interaction and I don’t believe it ever will. Would I have swapped my phone with a friend who was physically with me in those small hours with a baby crying, hell yes. I want to know the people around me, not just how good they are on social media or instant messaging and this includes the people I work with.

Originally posted on Hackernoon

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Readers Comments (1)

  • I’m very on board with this.

    I only began to realise how annoying checking messages was when I made an effort to stop. Seeing other people carrying on with a habit I was trying to break only strengthened my resolve!

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