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Ask the Etiquette Expert: Laptop Etiquette

Feb 13, 2014 | Updated Apr 15, 2014

Q: Do you have any ideas or suggestions for office etiquette when using laptops? Our management team uses them while in meetings, but this can also give the appearance of not being engaged as we check email and write notes. I look forward to anything that you can suggest.

A: Most business meetings are now accompanied by the all too familiar tapping of fingers on laptop keys. Here are six laptop etiquette tips for meetings:

  • Maintain eye contact. One of the major issues with taking notes by laptop is that you lose eye contact with the speaker and others participating in a meeting. Eye contact is important to help convey understanding and to visibly demonstrate that you are engaged with not only the speaker, but also your colleagues.
  • Designate a note taker. By appointing one person to take notes on the laptop it quickly eliminates the noise of several people typing on their computers at one time. Have the designee then email the well-organized notes to the other attendees after the meeting is over.
  • Alert the speaker in advance. If you were asked by a supervisor to take notes, inform those surrounding you in the meeting. This allows them the chance to move if they feel it will be too large of a distraction, and will keep others from thinking you are posting to social media or checking your email during the meeting.
  • Sit in the back. If you have no choice but to use your laptop during the meeting, choose your seat strategically so you will be less visible and won't be a distraction to others.
  • Monitor your body language. If you sit down with your open laptop in front of you, your body language is already communicating disinterest; you have just put a physical barrier between you and virtually everyone else in the room. Make a point to compensate with other gestures -- eye contact, posture (appearing alert and focused) and "leaning in" at the table. These actions will "balance the scale" even though your laptop is open, you are showing you are still tuned in and attentive to what's being said in the meeting.
  • Consider a tablet for note-taking. Yes, it's still technology and it can become a distraction, however, it has a few advantages over laptops. The tapping sound of hitting the keys can be silenced and it eliminates a bulky barrier between yourself and others in the meeting. This allows you to easily maintain appropriate eye contact and show you're engaged.

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