It's no surprise that when a meeting is in place there are a select few that cannot seem to take their eyes off of their phone. I find that this distracts not only that one person, but it also distracts the members around them.

The questions is, as a project manager, whether or not I should collect all of the cell phones before the meeting or single out the few that constantly are distracted by them.

I don't want to punish everyone just because a few people can't pay attention, and I also understand the need for them in emergency situations.

  • If you take my phone, please can I have your car keys? Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 14:00
  • it would be less abrasive to enforce a "no cell phone in the conference room" rule. However, that will not last long once you experience a production system outage during a meeting and no one can be reached. Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 21:22
  • you should not do meetings in the first place, see: yegor256.com/2015/07/13/meetings-are-legalized-robbery.html
    – yegor256
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:52

9 Answers 9


No, don't even think about taking someone's phone. If they're looking at their Facebook account or personal Twitter account during a meeting, then you have a bigger problem, and the solution most likely would involve possibly trying to recruit and hire the right kind of people; ideally, those who are capable of acting like adults.

However, one thing I've noticed is that we tend to think we're more important than anything else that could possibly be going on in the organization, and that's not always the case. For instance, maybe one of the members in this meeting is part of your IT department, and she was checking her phone to make sure the alert she got didn't involve one of the production servers going down, or maybe the alert was to tell the construction manager that the shipment of concrete arrived and needs to be dealt with.

In short, you should ideally have people on your team who you trust, so that when they do pick up their phone, you can be reasonably certain that they're indeed looking at something work related, and not pictures of kittens.

One strategy you might use is to mention in the meeting invite that meeting attendees should make sure their responsibilities are covered by another colleague, so that they may focus on the important issues you wish to discuss. This will make it clear you would like to be able to focus, while also giving people the opportunity to set things up so that they can focus.

The benefit of this approach is that your team member whose wife is about to have a baby can check in with her before the meeting and let her know to contact only in an emergency. In short, people can also take care of any personal issues in preparation for the meeting.


that's a very pertinent question! I'd rephrase it in a slightly different way:

Why people don't pay enough attention to meetings?

The usage of mobiles (or any other gadgets) just for distraction (at least in the meetings I've been to) is mainly because people don't believe the meeting is useful.

So, instead of trying to solve the consequence, I'd suggest you to focus on the root cause.

  • Are these meetings REALLY required?
  • Is the attendance of everyone invited really needed?
  • Is there in place a proper schedule?
  • Are the times being respected?

I'd guess if someone isn't paying enough attention, is because one or more of the above is a problem.

So, get in touch with the peers that aren't paying enough attention, asking them if there's anything wrong with these meetings from their perspective and then balance their opinion with yours. Be sincere, and keep things private. The answers might surprise you.

  • +1 for the the raised question Why people don't pay enough attention to meetings? and the check list, especially Are these meetings really required?
    – John K. N.
    Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 10:22

Command-and-Control vs. Self-Organizing Teams

Should I collect all the phones before a meeting? ...I don't want to punish everyone just because a few people can't pay attention[.]

It depends. Are you facilitating a meeting between adults, or babysitting kids? If you treat adults like kids, then you abandon all hope of creating teams where people step up to the plate to accept responsibility or extend themselves beyond the bare minimum dictated by C&C.

In addition to the fine points raised by other answers, the very question indicates that you are already in a situation where:

  1. You feel that it's your job to manage (rather than facilitate) the flow of information in a centralized way. Attention deficits are usually a project smell for when someone is talking at people rather than eliciting their active participation.
  2. You feel that you can't trust your team. If you trusted them to get their jobs done, work around distractions, or communicate effectively with one another, then you wouldn't have to strip-search people before a meeting to find contraband smart-phones.
  3. You feel that you are herding cats. If everyone is doing their own thing, then they are a conglomeration of people rather than a cohesive team.
  4. You are projecting your own priorities and concerns onto the team. Has anyone but you actually said anything about individuals on the team distracting them during meetings? If not, why don't you trust them to speak for themselves? If they have, why are you trying to solve the problem single-handedly instead of empowering the team to solve their own problems?

Trust must be earned over time on all sides, and both trust and organizational culture are built one interaction at a time. Treat people like responsible adults, and they will usually act responsibly. If the organization is populated by mediocre people who aren't deemed trustworthy to deliver value without babysitting, then there are hiring decisions (including decisions to hire executives who make poor hiring decisions or engender distrust throughout the organization through their management style) that should be carefully reviewed.

Tone at the Top

Tone at the top is essential to defining organizational culture. As a project manager, you are likely to be a product of your organizational environment (both good and bad). Nature vs. nurture is an ongoing debate, but you certainly have the opportunity to nurture and protect your team from a toxic culture.

If the overall organizational culture is bad, you have the responsibility to make your team as effective as possible despite a poor culture...but don't be too surprised if you can't overcome company-wide inertia or disincentives single-handedly. Even if you wear a cape, that doesn't make you a super-hero.


there are a select few that cannot seem to take their eyes off of their phone

imho, it's quite common for creative people to get bored during all those endless meetings

perhaps you could change the way you run meetings? I've seen too many project managers who just loved all kinds of meetings and couldn't understand why developers would find these wonderful long meeting "boring" or "exhausting"


Treat the symptoms or kill the disease. Taking the cell phones away will certainly cure the distraction problems. I'd hate to think what the side effects might be.

A high performing team doing work with which everyone agrees will not be distracted. It is simple as that. Like others have stated, take a long, hard look at your meeting and ask the right questions: why are we meeting, what is the desired outcome, who needs to attend, do we have to meet, do we need another type of communication exchange, etc.


I don't recommend to do that. People are really attached to their phones and they don't like others touching or taking them away. Additionally, even it is a company phone it is their property and their responsibility, which you cannot just take away (it might be a felony as well).

If you have problems only with certain people, you should talk to them face to face and don't punish the whole group. Talk to them and ask them to stop using their phones during the meeting. If it still happens, stop the meeting and ask them if the information they are getting from their phone is important to them, or is it relevant to the meeting. If the answer is not a definite yes, you ask them to put it away, and you wait until it happens. Be determined, but polite and professional.

Mind the emphasis on the face to face discussion and on the targeted communication. If you address the issue to the whole group, your message won't be taken that seriously, and they may not even get your point.


I'm going to add my voice to the consensus; I'm not sure how much new I have to add, but I want to reinforce the consensus that this is an extremely bad idea.

  • Do you want to advertise that your meeting is so boring that the only way to enforce participation is through acts of petty tyranny and theft?
  • Do you want the attendees to focus on their rage and resentment of you rather than the agenda of the meeting?
  • Personally, if the meeting organizer tried to collect my phone, I'd walk out there, because I am assured that there is something I can do that is more valuable than stroking someone elses ego.

How is checking their phone different from doodling on the notepaper? Quite frankly, I can play games on my phone and still have enough attention left over to participate fully in most meetings. Sometimes it helps - playing a game on the phone prevents me from uttering the first thought that comes into my head; it forces me to mull over my comments for a moment and contribute something that is valuable, rather than something that is trivial.

As others have said, you'll get the meeting you request. If you treat the attendees like children or criminals, then you'll get children and criminals. If the focus of the meeting is on what needs to be done and who is accountable, then you'll get people who will help you get things done and be accountable for them.

Ultimately, the people who are on their phones don't have a problem with the meeting you do. And it is up to you to solve the problem. There is plenty of practical, pragmatic advice on how to run a meeting that engages and involves people. Demonstrate the responsibility and accountability that you're not getting from the attendees. Set an example and hold yourself accountable for conducting a meeting that deserves attention. The only alternative is to reveal just how poor your meeting management skills are.


Avoiding distractions is a great way to stay focus on tasks. In my opinion there’s no need for you to have collect or confiscate their mobile phone during meeting. Instead, strictly establish “Airplane Mode” it is a mode that needs you to turn all your gadgets off like your mobile phone. This way you won’t easily get distracted by messages, phone calls, emails and etc. If they won’t agree to with it another thing to do is make sure they “Silent” their mobile phone during meeting and only allow phone call for emergency use.


From Prince 2 Manage by exception principle. This eliminates a lot of meetings and micromanagement. This creates a more efficient project and reduces the amount of overhead involved in the execution and management of a project. it enables the team, project manager,project board and executive to know the stages of each project by daily documentation of each stage boundary. The use of mobile gadgets is distracting to a resourceful meeting. However, taking their phones might not be a good idea because most times these meetings might be too long and exhausting, which could cause less assimilation of everything that would be spoken about. Alternatively, if you are more interested in holding meetings you can send a Mail across the teams about the consequences of distracting meetings with mobile gadgets and how you want everyone to be attentive and engaged in the meeting to avoid receiving a query, because discipline is very important in any organization.

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