The Art of Checking E-mails in Meetings

A recent survey reveals what you already know: coworkers from entry-level associates to the highest-level executives are checking their e-mails in the middle of meetings. But do those numbers make it okay?

According to the survey:

  • 86 percent of senior executives polled said it is common for professionals they work with to read and respond to e-mail messages during meetings.

  • However, close to one-third of this group (31 percent) disapprove of the practice.

  • 37 percent of respondents felt it was acceptable to respond to
    urgent” e-mails

  • 23 percent of those polled said professionals should excuse themselves from the meeting before responding to e-mail.

The national poll includes responses from 150 senior executives -- including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments -- with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

The conclusion here may be that it is indeed a faux pas to assume no one minds if you focus on email instead of the meeting. But another lesson here is that executives probably get more leeway on this one, said Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.

"The least disruptive option is to avoid using handheld email devices during meetings, but that may not always be possible for executives who must be accessible," said McDonald. "Professionals who may have to check email during gatherings should alert their hosts and be as unobtrusive as possible."

He offered these additional tips for anyone using mobile devices during meetings:

    1. Be Discreet
    If you need to bring your mobile device to a meeting, set it on vibrate to avoid disturbing other attendees or the meeting leader.

    2. Consider your Audience
    Your coworkers may be more forgiving of your need to respond to email than a client, for example, so adjust your email 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 email 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.

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