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Three people in the office. One is wearing headphones, the other is on a phone call and the other is looking at their phone.

Technology plays an invaluable role in helping nonprofits network with donors and connect with a community of like-minded changemakers. Social media, virtual meetings, and organizational online networks all help us bypass geographical barriers to build connections across the globe—regardless of timezone or city.

But as much as these innovations have the ability to increase connectivity, our reliance on screens also has the potential to distract us from face-to-face time with co-workers. As a result, some organizations are beginning to encourage (and even require) screen-free meetings to boost on-the-job relationships, increase task-related focus, and drive in-person dialogue.

Devices that divide

We have gotten so used to connecting across digital platforms that devices can sometimes get in the way of communicating in real life. It’s easy to send an email to a co-worker on the other side of the office, but part of working in a community is interacting one-on-one, in real time.

Getting away from your desk to chat with a colleague about a project not only adds a bit of physical movement to the day, but increases job satisfaction as well. That’s because engaging with people one-on-one has been shown to strengthen relationships, boost mood, and encourage community building in the workspace. 

It turns out toting laptops into staff meetings can create an additional physical barrier to building bonds with those seated in the room. Bringing folks to the same table is meant to encourage conversation and increase engagement, but it can be difficult to talk to someone who’s half-hidden behind a laptop screen. Closing laptops and putting down smartphones encourages meaningful eye contact and free-flowing, obstruction-free conversation.

Writing for retention 

Devices can be handy to have during meetings. Many of us use phone apps to jot down notes or pull out laptops to enter numbers into a chart, update to-do lists, or email follow-up tasks.

While the convenience of technology-related tools is impossible to deny, the science is clear: hand writing information and transcribing notes on paper is actually better for your brain, particularly if you’re trying to remember key details and important facts. Sure, typing 90 words a minute can make sending client emails a breeze, but when the team sits down to talk strategy, picking up a pen is the best way to ensure essential information is retained. Research shows that hand writing notes encourages full engagement of the brain, and a more complete mastery of the subject as a result. 

Writing by hand forces people to slow down and be selective about what information they record. This means employees are actually synthesizing and internalizing material in real time while they keep up with the content being discussed. 

In addition to being better for your brain, using a pen and paper for weekly meetings ensures that you don’t get distracted by laptop pop-up alerts and open browser tabs (though you may still end up doodling!).

Monotask over multitask 

With ever-growing to-do lists, it’s no surprise most changemakers are masters of multitasking. But research has proven that mono-focused workers are more productive than those who attempt numerous things at once. 

Losing the distraction of constant email notifications, text messages, calendar reminders, and web browsers is one of the quickest ways to boost productivity, avoid distraction, and engage with those around you. So close the screen, put down the phone, and tune into your colleagues during staff meetings and conversations. 

Erase unfavorable perceptions

Sure, it can feel good to be busy, particularly in the fast-paced nonprofit world. But studies have shown that supervisors, colleagues, and even friends don’t particularly appreciate when you check email, hop on a call, or start typing away, mid-sentence.

Doing away with technology in staff meetings not only helps everyone stay on task, but also helps you look professional and engaged. It’s easy to hide behind a laptop, but less so behind a pen. Disconnecting from your devices for the duration of a meeting helps to ensure you’re putting your best face—not your screen—forward.

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Jill Nawrocki profile image

Jill Nawrocki

Jill Nawrocki is a Licensed Social Worker and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer living in Brooklyn. She is an ultra runner, freelance writer and social justice warrior with a background in program management, direct practice, mindfulness and advocacy.

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