Apart from the days when I am out preaching the AML gospel, I work alone in an office above my garage. Although this means that I get all the Jaffa Cakes and can break off to dance to ABBA’s “When I Kissed the Teacher” whenever I need to stretch and loosen my shoulders, it also means that I quickly fall out of touch with modern office manners. And what has been on my mind recently is the use of the mobile phone.
When mobiles first became ubiquitous, people would bring them into AML training sessions but hide them: for some reason, they thought that I wouldn’t spot them fiddling around under the desk with their phones (at least, I hoped that’s what they were doing under there). But now mobiles are brought in completely openly, placed brazenly on the desk, and picked up and consulted with impunity, which does rather discombobulate me. I realise that some of the fault is mine: I should check with the MLRO beforehand, to ask about the in-house policy on phones in training sessions. (Nowadays of course, in life outside work, it is perfectly acceptable to have your phone with you – and to check it at will – wherever you are: out with friends, in bed, in the cinema, on a date… So we’re swimming against the tide here.)
That said, my concern is less about etiquette than about concentration. I know we think we can multi-task, but actually we can’t. The current fixation with mindfulness is the predictable outcome of a realisation that although we can do several things at once, it really means that we’re doing none of them well. And – I would suggest – if you’re reading an email or surfing the web during a training session, you’re not listening to the trainer or processing what is said. And where will it go next? Actually, I know: in a recent training session, I had someone answer their phone (I’ve had this before) and then stay in the training room and have a loud conversation (that, I will admit, was a first).
So help me out here, those of you who work in offices: what is the expectation these days? Phones in all meetings? Can you check/surf/email/talk – or only some of those? And do you find it enervating to try to do it all? Would you actually find it a welcome relief to have a phone-free session?