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Why This ‘Mobile-First’ CEO Holds Device-Free Meetings

Benioff Chairman and CEO of speaks during session at World Economic Forum in DavosBenioff Chairman and CEO of speaks during session at World Economic Forum in Davos
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at World Economic Forum 2014. Ruben Sprich — Reuters

How great is this? Marc Benioff, the Salesforce chief executive who’s long plugged a mobile-first worldview of software development, strips his executives of their mobile phones and tablets before meetings.

Well, “strips” is too strong a word, but for important executive confabs and off-site meetings, attendees put their cell phones in a basket that then sits beyond reach, several sources said.

A company spokeswoman characterized this a bit differently but essentially confirmed that tidbit.

Benioff does not “take anyone’s phone,” she noted. “But mindfulness is part of our culture, whether it’s in meetings or day to day in the office. Not using phones is a common practice at our major off-sites and important meetings to enable people to be more present.” And she included a link to this Huffington Post item on that part of Salesforce’s culture.

Salesforce (CRM) is even building “mindfulness sections” into its new facilities around the world, Benioff told the publication. That includes the company’s gigantic new Salesforce Tower on San Francisco’s Market Street.

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Last year Benioff spoke of the importance of mindfulness to The New York Times: “It’s an anxious era. The antidote to anxiety is mindfulness.”

Many people are addicted to constant connection. Some feel compelled to share their experiences in real time via Twitter (TWTR), Instagram, or Facebook (FB), which is another reason to lock up devices during confidential meetings. Some continually check their devices driven by fear of missing out (FOMO) on what’s going on in the world.

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All of that means distraction, which is not helpful when it comes to discussing important topics.

Given all that, phone-free meetings seem like a pretty good idea. I wonder why more companies aren’t following Benioff’s lead.