by Kristen Lamoreaux

Wearables etiquette in the workplace

May 05, 2016
CareersConsumer ElectronicsIT Leadership

You should practice old-school manners when using new-school tech.

The days of leaving your phone in your car when heading into a job interview or making a big show of turning your phone off in front of your colleagues at the start of a meeting may come to an end when your phone is also your watch.

Will etiquette rules need to be adjusted once we all start using wearable technologies? Maybe not — maybe we just have to remember to follow the old rules. After all, even the current generation of mobile devices is causing many of us to forget our manners.

“As technology continues to advance, it will be embedded in everything — unleashing a constant barrage of data from our watches, shoes, jackets and glasses,” says Leif Maiorini, global technology services director at Cushman & Wakefield. As wearables become more common, he adds, we can use the tools to make the most of our time or we can allow the beeps, taps and alerts to distract us from being in the moment and cause us to squander the very resource — time — that we seek to optimize.

Given the way people multitask (or fail to multitask) today, the latter scenario may be more likely, he adds. “How many times have you been in a meeting ‘multitasking,’ only to request that a direct question be repeated after a period of awkward silence?” he asks.

Helane Stein, CIO at Brixmor Property Group agrees. “I’m old school when it comes to being present and listening during a meeting or conversation,” she says. “As much as I like and use technology, knowing when to put it away is important.”

The old admonishment to “do as I say, not as I do” won’t work when it comes to wearable tech etiquette. As a leader, you need to set the proper tone for the group and then stick to it. “In a collaborative environment, it’s important to set the ground rules for all participants, be fully present, listen, and pay attention to both the verbal communication and the visual cues,” Stein says.

Old-school manners don’t mean new-school tech isn’t permitted. There will always be times when you’ll be expecting an important call during a meeting. In those instances, just be polite and let your colleagues know. “If there’s a pressing matter and I’m waiting for an email or a call, I warn the person in advance that I may have to interrupt our meeting,” Stein says.

Wearables can also create awkward situations in other ways. For example, what do you do when your fitness tracker announces that you’ve been sitting too long — while you’re meeting with your CEO? One answer may be to change our idea of what constitutes a meeting. Stein routinely invites colleagues to go for walks to brainstorm ideas. “Several of us walk together and have been able to solve complex tasks with creative solutions, while at the same time getting a little exercise,” she says. “However, I make sure walking is not perceived as a mandate. I only do this with those who enjoy it.”

“When we choose to spend our time with someone, or they decide to give their time to us, we should treat that gift with respect and gratitude,” says Maiorini. “Getting an alert on your watch reminding you to be on time for a meeting while you’re answering email demonstrates an appreciation and respect for that individual’s time. Getting an alert on your watch while you’re speaking to someone and then getting distracted — or, worse, responding — sends the opposite message.”

Relationships are built on trust. We build trust when we listen. We can listen only when we are quiet. Quiet your devices.