Getting close to the end now! Just a few more columns to go. Planned completion date is September 26. The full document will also be published on that day (hopefully without any urgent issues, because I’m leaving on a trip that night :P)
#93: “These Situations Still Exist Today”
Published in 2017/10/05 issue
I don’t like using smartphones or laptops during meetings. Even when other people do it, I can’t help but feel uneasy. Ever since laptops and smart devices became cheaper and more useful, most people at Square Enix have been bringing their laptops or other devices to meetings.
The higher your position, the more likely it is that you’ll be assigned a company laptop or smart device. Plus, you get way more emails addressed to yourself, so many high-rank employees use their devices during meetings. When I just got hired in my 20s, I was under the impression that you were supposed to concentrate during meetings—that it was rude to the speaker if you were doing other things. It’s incredibly troubling to me because I don’t know if my way of thinking is correct or behind the times.
Some people out there have the ability to process multiple things simultaneously. They can listen to someone’s explanation, read an unrelated article, and reply to an email, all at the same time. As for myself, there are times when I can manage this, and times when I can’t at all. I’ll be going through my emails with my office door open, and a staff member will come in and ask, “Do you have a minute?” to which I respond, “Yeah, go ahead.” Sometimes, I’ll listen to and comprehend what they say and respond accordingly while continuing what I was doing. But other times, I might be nodding along only to suddenly realize that it all went in one ear and out the other.
When I thought back to previous cases, I found that, surprisingly, my ability to multitask tends to be heavily influenced by my physical condition and whether or not I’m dealing with my fields of expertise. It’s an incredibly unreliable ability. So, I try my best not to fiddle with my devices during meetings. Most of the meetings I participate in involve people reporting to me or asking me to make decisions, or me proposing an idea and discussing it with them. It wouldn’t be acceptable to say, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that because I was reading my emails. Could you repeat that?” It’d feel disrespectful towards the speaker. That’s just how my generation is.
Many of you should be reading this and thinking, “Well yeah, of course that’d be disrespectful, since you were rude to them.” But what I’m trying to ask here is, if there were a person who could multitask perfectly, would it be disrespectful for them to do so? I think the answer to that would vary greatly based on position, their relationship to the speaker, the generation they were raised in, and the values that they hold.
Twenty years ago, before companies had internal communications infrastructure and before the use of email or instant messaging software, the number of items that would be sent to you was far lower than it is today. Direct contact was the main form of communication, and once a meeting was in session, no one was going to barge in and say, “Please approve this” unless it was considerably urgent.
Now that we have emails and instant messaging, the sender no longer has to match up timings with the recipient. Regardless of whether it’s convenient for the recipient, the sender can just say, “I emailed you about it.” Also, the sender won’t know whether the recipient has read it or not. From their perspective, by sending the email, their task is complete for the moment. They can then work on something else while waiting for a response. In other words, by eliminating the unnecessary time spent on direct contact, everyone can work more flexibly, resulting in more efficient usage of time than before. It’s a good example of how technology has improved efficiency.
But on the other hand, the higher you get in an organization’s upper echelon, the more items you have to process each day. Regardless of how many hours you actually have in a day, you’ll receive more and more things to check from your subordinates, and your inbox is constantly bursting with emails. 20 years ago, your boss could only check as many things as they had free time for. If the staff couldn’t catch hold of them, they’d have to give up and try to ambush them the following morning. That is no longer the case today.
When you’re at the forefront of a company, you have to acquire information faster than anyone else and respond to it immediately. So in a way, it was only natural that laptops and smart devices would flourish. They became lighter, easier to carry, and their performance is continuing to improve—because you have to be able to use them at any time.
After writing all of this, I still can’t decide whether this situation is right or wrong. A lot of people who work in management have to deal with an absurd number of issues, and they devote themselves to their work to keep everyone’s work running smoothly. It also wouldn’t make sense to stop someone from multitasking just because I don’t have that ability—they’re not playing around; they’re desperately trying to do work for the staff’s sake. Though it’s hard for me to think that when I see people smiling at their screens during meetings…
I’m sure that this problem will no longer exist 30 years from now. Face-to-face meetings should be rare by then, and everything will be done online. Webcams are enough if you want to see people’s faces; there’ll be no more reason to talk to people in person. This also means that all of the meeting rooms can be eliminated, drastically increasing space efficiency.
Also, during online meetings without video, the other participants can’t see what you’re doing. That means that they won’t see if you’re taking care of other things while talking to them. As long as you’re responding to the conversation promptly and giving the correct answers, they won’t feel any disrespect regardless of what else you’re working on at the same time. Basically, whether or not you can be seen makes all the difference.
Actually, there’s no need to wait 30 years for this. It’s already possible today as long as you enforce it. So then, why hasn’t it happened yet? In the end, I think it’s because of people’s beliefs and upbringing. It’s hard to accept for people who grew up being told, “You have to look people in the eye when you talk to them.” “When someone talks to you, you must concentrate on what they’re saying.” “It’s disrespectful to do something else while listening to someone who’s seriously trying to tell you something.” And I think that’s how it should be.
30 years from now, there’ll be less people around who were raised this way. I’ll be retired by then, too. We’ll see more efficient workstyles and methods than what we have today, because they’ll be more profitable with respect to time. But right now, I think it’s still better to act based on the situation. Putting the office aside, if you’re meeting with someone outside your company, you should definitely wait and play it safe—especially if they’re older than you. It’s very easy to give them a bad impression, and it reflects poorly on your company as a whole, not just you. Again, I’m not trying to say that it’s good or bad. It’s just that these situations still exist today.