In my previous life covering the financial services industry, I often worked with multi-tasking owners of independent ATM companies. Many of them took a hands-on role in the running of their business, which entailed lots of phone calls and e-mails to check on the status of money levels in machines, number of service calls and other issues.
Even though I knew this, and tried not to take offense, I found it incredibly rude when one of these entrepreneurs would attend to his or her BlackBerry during face-to-face conversations at a trade show. It was all I could do not to say, "Helloooo, I'm standing right here."
I've blogged before about some of the etiquette challenges posed by emerging communications tools. In addition to the whole manners thing, there's the issue of compromised collaboration. John Vars, a co-founder of pet networking site Dogster, sums it up perfectly in an ABC News article about his company's decision to ban laptops from meetings. He says:
If someone's typing away while you're trying to talk, you're not getting those natural human signals to see if someone's interested or understands or even listening.
Amen, brother. Dogster refers to it as "going topless," a phrase coined by one of its Web designers. Var insists that the topless meetings are "way more productive." Several tech giants, including Yahoo, Google and Apple, are among the companies encouraging their employees to engage in more face time with their coworkers, notes the article.
The director of Ireland's University College Dublin's incubation and technology transfer center came up with a novel way of doing so, which I blogged about earlier this month. He priced the coffee at the center's cafe at about half the going rate elsewhere in Dublin -- and then made sure it wasn't served until 10 a.m., when more folks are likely to leave their offices and encounter colleagues. Better collaboration through caffeine, I like it.
I also like this quote in the ABC News article from etiquette coach Colette Swan:
If you're multi-tasking, no matter how good you are, you're still half-ignoring someone else.