Information technology enables us to communicate in text, audio and visual means across vast distances, but is IT a barrier to communicating information effectively over short distances?
Staff are encouraged to bring their electronic devices to meetings in order to access the information required during the meeting. By bringing electronic devices into the meeting, it is argued that paper and money are being saved. Whilst reducing the use of paper may be considered to be environmentally beneficial and reduce the cost of consumables in organizations, are costs increasing due to the lack of effectiveness and poor performance of a meeting?
Previously paper documents would have been read before a meeting. During a meeting, participants may have glanced at the papers to refer to specific sections and taken brief notes during the meeting. The pace of the meeting would have been dictated by the time taken to refer to papers with slight pauses to make notes. However, eye contact would have been maintained demonstrating an active interest and engagement in the subjects being discussed. Members of the meetings demonstrated a degree of commitment to the information being exchanged and created during the meeting.
Now laptop screens provide a physical barrier separating individuals across the table, forming a higher barrier than the table itself.
Previously individuals sought positions of power in relation to the meeting table, now individuals seek power sockets around the meeting table in which to plug their IT devices.
Mobile phones and tablet computers are strategically positioned so that they can be referred to when the device demands attention. At any point in the meeting, eyes are down as the meeting’s participants scroll through the documents on their devices trying to locate information or read the meeting’s materials for the first time. Participants talk to typing fingers rather than to the faces of those present as notes are typed and saved.
Furthermore there is the issue of multitasking. Whilst it is hoped that people are typing points from the meetings, in reality some participants are sending emails and and working on other tasks that are not directly related to the subject of the meeting in which they are currently sitting. Doors are closed but the alerts of mobile devices, instant messaging applications, and social media all seek to command attention, diverting attention away from the meeting where people are physically located. In addition, how many people have played a game or watched a video, checked the news or sports results during a meeting?
It is extremely difficult to arrange a meeting with more than two people, to find a mutually convenient time, and yet the value of face-to-face communication time is being devalued by screen-back to screen-back typing time. If a meeting is sufficiently important to demand face-to-face communication of information then why reduce the value of the face-to-face meeting by using electronic communication during the meeting? Physical meetings provide important information beyond the words communicated. The information communicated is richly layered with the informal information conveyed through facial expression, body language and the overall climate of the meeting. This provides a rich communication context in which information is created, exchanged and interpreted. Information communicated via text lacks this richness so why do we seek to filter out the richness of information by hiding behind computer screens?
When you are next in a meeting, try putting away electronic devices, remove the distraction of email and the temptation of news feeds. Instead focus on the subject and people present in the meeting. You may find that the meeting is more productive, shorter and enjoyable as information is communicated more freely and effectively. This will also enable social relationships to be developed and sustained through the sharing of formal and informal information.
Further Reading: information richness is discussed in Chapter 15.
Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:
Cox, S. A., (2014), ‘Is IT a Barrier to Communicating Information?’, 19 September 2014, http://www.managinginformation.org/it-a-barrier/, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]