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The Boss Who Banned Phones, and What Came Next (wsj.com)
11 points by cohaagen 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments

"Now, he tells his 40 employees not to attend meetings unless they really have to be there and strongly advises they fully engage." There's the issue. You're running bad meetings with a massive deck full of terrible slides with half the company in attendance. Of course you're getting tuned out. 20 minute meetings with no slides and 1-2 topics about which decisions need to be made by all in attendance, and you're done.

"Mr. Hoopes put his convictions into practice at group gatherings when he took over a team of about 25 people at the aerospace defense company three years ago. “Every time someone’s phone went off, they had to stand for the rest of the meeting,” he says."

That sounds very unprofessional, it's like a punishment a teacher would give out. I'm not even sure how I'd react to being told to do that but I think it's unlikely I would be staying in the meeting.

But it's not unprofessional to walk into a meeting, where the combined pay of everyone present is being spent for the purpose of discussing whatever's on the agenda, and have your phone going off — let alone answering it — distracting the group from that stated purpose?

Really? Your call is important enough to waste the time of everyone else in the room?

There are professional ways to deal with unprofessional behavior.

Something like talking to the employee after the meeting. Some of us don't like being treated like children when we make a small mistake.

I really wonder at the intersection between the sets "people who find this manager's behavior unprofessional" and "people who idolize Steve Jobs".

My intuition is, it's substantial.

If its my wife calling about my son going to the hospital, you are damn right its important enough.

Stop assuming the meeting is more important that people’s lives. In fact, I say the meeting is less important.

If a boss did that, I’d leave and find a new job. I’m not a 5 year. I’m an adult. I will be treated like one.

This is one of the cases where "the exception proves the rule." It's massively specious to point to exigence as an excuse for general unprofessionalism. Of course that circumstance is different from chit-chat. If you're interrupting a meeting I'm in, when I could have had my hands on the keyboard accomplishing things for that, I'd want you to find a new job, too — but you probably wouldn't want to use me as a reference.

Would leaving be more, or less, professional than the phone to begin with?

If an employee "just left", then I wouldn't blame management or expect to see that coworker anymore.

It seems like having secretaries or assistants has become a luxury over time, and is gone for many people. If companies would have them, and the employees give those numbers for emergencies as well as client calls, then it would provide a barrier that could potentially address routine calls that need a call back (or not) vs. emergency calls that need urgent attention. That would seem courteous to those who call as well, having someone talk to them and tell them that their message would be conveyed.

With smartphones, the option available is to have everyone put their phones on Do Not Disturb mode (hopefully that's available for everyone) and keep all the phones in silent/vibrate mode in a corner in the meeting room. On IOS, further configuration is possible for favorite contacts and repeated calls to get through. But this solution is still grossly inadequate by itself.

> At work, Mr. Lee persuaded his team of eight to download the app and post their daily phone hours on a whiteboard. The team member with the lowest time gets bragging rights.

> “We’re thinking of having a trophy we can pass around—or maybe just shaming the loser,” he says.

I'm kind of disappointed in Docker over this one.

[Unrelated to the topic] Not sure if HN should allow articles that are behind a pay wall like WSJ. Thought?

It is a bit annoying, but you can click the "web" link right underneath the title, which sends you to a google search of the title [1]. Clicking the WSJ result gives you a paywall bypass.


Not working for me, but maybe depends on the country of the request?

I believe this happens if you've already visited a link to the article (that's what happened to me). Try opening a private browser session, paste in the google link and click through to the article and it should bypass correctly (it worked for me!) :)

This comes up every time someone posts to WSJ.

They have relevant and interesting articles so the real solution is buy a subscriptions or use one of the many workarounds.

Outline works well:


I was not referring only to WSJ.

I don't believe it is realistic to expect people to pay for every pay wall that exists.

Thanks for the link though, I will use it.

I may not subscribe to everything, but I need to see the links to the content behind the paywalls to help me decide which to subscribe to.

> I don't believe it is realistic to expect people to pay for every pay wall that exists.

I don't either, but most paywalls are porous.

Nice clickbait title

You won't believe what happened next!

Cell phone companies hate him.

I've got a couple of thoughts on this -- it's one of my pet peeves, as well[0]. The first point is, and I get that this doesn't apply evenly depending on the kind of job that you have, but if you dislike a company policy ... find a new company. Particularly in software engineering, there's just not a lot of excuses for hanging around at a place that you're unhappy at. This isn't saying "don't like it, tough!" ... I find most people stick around at a job they hate out of fear or other false reasons ... it's "don't like it? Find a place that values you and shares your values". That said:

- I'll toss out a $10 bet that the same "don't ignore me by putting your nose in your phone during a meeting I'm running" applies to "don't ignore me when you're home, enjoying dinner with your family, and I send you a text/e-mail". A policy that forbids phone use while in the office, if matched with a policy that forbids responding/checking e-mail while at out of the office[1]/on non-work time, is a lot more palatable. My big rule -- and the one thing that has been the deciding factor of whether or not I would take a job or whether or not I would quit working where I was at is the answer to the question "Do they give me the tools and the freedom to do my job in a way that is sufficiently efficient and does not hinder me?" Generally speaking, companies with a lot of these kinds of "edicts" like "phones in meetings are prohibited" don't score highly in answering that question.

- Responding to people being distracted by their phones in meetings with "Bad the Phones" is text-book example of treating the symptom of the problem rather than identifying the problem. Speaking from personal experience and from anecdotes from coworkers over the years, the problem is the meeting itself. I'm not an advocate of tossing chairs out of the meeting rooms, banning meetings[3] all together nor am I generally of the opinion that most meetings are bad. The problem is that most of the individuals invited to a meeting are not needed, they know they're not needed, and they've got other things that they are needed for. In a lot of cases, these are the guys who are brought in because they're an SME on some corner of a project and their input will be needed for 5 of the allocated 55 minutes[4]. Get the answers you need from minor contributors through Slack (heck, you can even schedule them as a Slack participant so that they know to be near their PC in case a question pops up) or e-mail and stop inviting them to spend an hour at what amounts to "a different desk". It sounds like the company in question came to the right conclusion in the end -- stop going to meetings you don't need to be a part of.

- Somewhat unrelated, but I rolled my eyes a little at "I firmly believe that multitasking is a myth". While I'd agree that there are far more people who believe that they are "super-taskers" and are not, I have met two super-taskers in my short time on this earth and several competent multi-taskers. One is my wife, who could literally repeat back to me word for word the last 6 sentences I spoke with more accuracy than I could, all while continuing to follow the plot-line of a book she's reading and the other is a former boss of mine who I've never seen drive his car without holding a conversation via text and as many times as I had driven with him I had never felt unsafe. I'm not terribly surprised that the quotation was from a man (not meant to denigrate the individual) -- I've read that multi-tasking traits are less prevalent in men and, incidentally, I have yet to meet any male who can even slightly multi-task effectively except for my former boss (who wasn't just an exception to the rule, but a glaringly large exception). However, of the women in my life and in my past, all of them surpassed my multi-tasking abilities and easily half of them, I'd estimate, were quite good at it.

All of that said, there is a form of etiquette that I think is failing to be observed by a lot of us. Part of that needs to be established with direct communication. At the place that I work, when we have "all staff" meetings (which are the ones you really want to be dorking around on your phone), the owner asks us to give him and the others who are going to speak the time, without phones. No need to send out a passive-aggressive e-mail, just simply stated "Please pay attention, there's important stuff here" and he follows it up with "Thanks, everyone, for keeping your phones out of your hands" when it's over (and the rule is observed where I'm at). When I know I'm "the guy who they need for 5m in a 55m meeting", I say -- before or right at the start of the meeting -- "I'm a little back-logged and since you only need me for that part, I'm going to sit quietly here and get some other things done -- if I'm called on and I don't look up, feel free to throw something at me." I try to make sure the organizer knows in advance when I have to be distracted so that they don't think I just don't care and would rather catch up on Facebook (which I'm not a member of) or Reddit (which I rarely visit even on my time)[5].

[0] It wasn't always, but I think after getting one of my children a phone and noticing how he tended to be nose down most of the time, I notice it more.

[1] Something tells me they're not big on remote work. :)

[2] For those where work culture is different -- this is unusual enough of an act that when people who hadn't worked with me directly saw me do this, I'd be asked if I wanted the meeting start pushed back so I can run back to my desk to get my laptop.

[3] For the same reasons; stop treating symptoms.

[4] I'm frequently that guy. I have a lot of hobby interests that I follow closely that few others in my office have expertise in, so while I might have nothing to do with the work being done for a project, I may know something on the security side of things that makes my presence in a meeting a huge time saver for the organizer and -- provided I can sit in the room with my laptop and quietly code away until that nugget of usefulness pops up -- it's not a huge time-suck for me.

[5] Where there are gaps of understanding, people jump to the worst possible conclusion -- "he's probably screwing around instead of actually working because this meeting is really important" (just not to what he actually needs to get done).

The problem is that most of the individuals invited to a meeting are not needed, they know they're not needed, and they've got other things that they are needed for.

Agreed. Just because someone HAS to give their input in a conversation for an item to move forward, does not mean they need to be pulled away from their work for 1+ hours. Meetings really should be broken up into two roles: brainstormers, who are truly the people working their way through the item, and "expert witnesses" who can provide key details or contributions as necessary, through slack like you said.

This. All of this.

I’m a big believer in productive meetings. I’ve canceled a ton of meetings when I knew we didn’t need them, and eventually canceled or modified the scheduled meeting if that happens enough.

Everyone left?

> Workers use watches and laptops instead

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