At the new gig, everyone is sporting fancy laptops and the whole building is wired for 802.11b. This has some significant implications on the way work gets done in a meeting.
First, let’s describe the average well-run product development meeting in a non-wireless setting.
A bunch of folks show up. The alpha person has provided an agenda beforehand and each person has read that agenda and determined what they need to know/bring to the meeting. It’s likely if they needed to bring something, they printed it out or forwarded to the rest of the team so they could print it out.
The meeting begins. The agenda is followed. Brainstorming occurs and action items are assigned for questions which are asked, but can not be easily or honestly answered. Print-outs are examined; more action items are assigned because of additional unanswerable questions. The meeting completes, actions items are pondered, print-outs are thrown away, and the cycle repeats itself.
Now, add wireless and let’s see what happens.
An agenda is sent out, but the amount of preparation which occurs less because you know, going into that meeting, you’re bringing your entire desktop to the meeting in the form of your wireless notebook. What else do you need? Why print out what you have?
The meeting begins. The agenda is followed. Brainstorming occurs, but there is decrease of action items because you are able to dynamically problem solve. Wondering about the status of that bug? Well, fire up your bug system and take a real time look. Forget to forward your slide set to the team? Mail it now. Save a tree. The meeting finishes and there is a distinct lack of action items because most questions were answered. Folks leave the meeting and silent ask themselves, “Why do we have that meeting?”
Now, I’ve described a semi-fairy-tale-like scenario above and the reality is a bit bleaker. Wireless-equipped meetings do feel more productive because of the presence of much data, but that data can be a distraction because not only do have access to bug databases, project schedules, but also PORN AND INSTANT MESSAGING WOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
These distractions lead to a lot of people typing away during meetings and the impression that they aren’t actually paying much attention. Sure, they might be digging up a specification because they know it’s required reading come the next agenda topic, but they also might be checking their stock portfolio. Who knows.
My impression is that wireless access etiquette will evolve at a company. There will be meetings were access will be required (where timely access information is essential) and meetings where it will be forbidden (where focused, creative thinking is valued).
Whether it’s a cell phone in your car or a wireless notebook in a meeting, the argument is not whether it’s a good thing, it’s a question of how much of your brain you want to do the devote at the task at hand.