Topless Meetings

Is the way we do note-taking during meetings killing the meeting itself? Our synchronous times are valuable. Hiding behind a laptop screen during meetings creates a barrier. And typing rather than writing makes us less effective. Time to go (lap-)topless?


When I’m in a meeting and see everyone routinely opening their laptop and hiding behind their screen, it sometimes feels like we’re all settling in the trenches, ready to go to war. 

Calling a meeting most of the time means we’re seeking an open conversation, where we show that openness to our meeting-mates. That feeling of the trenches goes against that. And while all claim it’s about note-taking during meetings, there are huge downsides.

In a meeting, sitting behind the laptop, creates a less open atmosphere.


If you’ve ever been in a meeting with me, you will have met the black notebook that accompanies me wherever I go. As I’m a firm believer in journaling, I prefer note-taking on paper in my journal. 


Lately, I’ve been working with teams where we agreed to ban the laptops from the table. Not because we all have to go back to the stone age, but to achieve better collaboration. First, by creating a feeling around the table of cooperation and not of trench war. Secondly, and even more critically, we found that writing rather than typing helps us have a more focused and productive meeting. 

Meetings with laptops open do distract


In this age of technology, it’s easy to take the act of writing for granted. But there are many good reasons to put pen to paper instead of relying on a keyboard. For one thing, handwriting is slower than typing, which gives you more time to think about what you’re saying. In addition, the physical act of writing can help to improve your memory and focus. And according to some studies, writing by hand can also boost your creativity and mental well-being. 

A study published in Psychological Science provides insight into why this may be the case. One possible explanation is that writing notes by hand requires deeper cognitive processing than typing, making you more likely to understand and remember the material. The study found that students who wrote their notes by hand had a better grasp of the concepts and were likelier to remember them than those who typed their notes. 

Note-taking during meetings or transcribing?

While typing is a fast and convenient way to take notes, it also has its drawbacks. The biggest issue with typing is that it encourages people to transcribe the material verbatim, exactly as the speaker presents. This can lead to less critical thinking and processing of the material, as people transcribe what they hear instead of digesting and analyzing it. This is especially true if you’re trying to type quickly to keep up with the speaker. Even if you’re aware of this issue, it can be challenging to avoid, as it’s natural to want to capture everything being said. 

And that goes against the nature of the meeting, where we try to understand the concepts fast and allow our brain to come up with creative input or feedback rather than becoming a stenographer who’s not contributing to the topics at hand.

Facebook, mail,… 

Another disadvantage of having the computers open and connected is the flood of information that appears. There’s Facebook, email, an urgent payment to make, and a WhatsApp message that comes in. Not only will it distract us, but it is also impolite and disrespectful to waste all participants’ time if you are not present in the meeting but are instead dealing with other tasks.

Our findings

While some felt that removing the laptops (and tablets, phones, …) from the table made for more productive (and shorter) meetings, participants felt more connected. All said they had the impression there was more involvement from their peers. In an asynchronous work setting, we want to make the best of our time together (sync) and found this a good way.

Are you ready to go topless? 

Is it better to take notes by hand or computer?

Studies have shown that taking notes by hand, and writing, improves the participant’s memorization of the core topics. A powerful advantage of taking notes by hand is our deeper and faster understanding of the topic that’s being discussed.

Is it rude to take notes on a laptop during a meeting?

We can be short about this one: yes, talking notes by laptop is considered rude. It shows a lack of understanding of business etiquette.

This post is also available in: Dutch French

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