37

We are a small company of around 14 employees that provides 3rd party support for software that is made by other companies. I work in the support team.

My colleagues and I have noticed a common occurrence surrounding meetings in our work place. All of the departments have their meetings involving their whole team in work hours, apart from the support team.

The support team instead has the meetings involving the whole department outside of work hours. The company justifies this by raising the point that if we did it inside of work hours there would be no one available for that time to man the phones and handle any issues that occur in that time.

Is there any solution that could be tried? My initial thought would be to pull half of the team out for the meeting and then do the other half afterwards.

  • 33
    Are you paid for the time you spend in these meetings? How often do they take place? – brhans Nov 1 '18 at 12:25
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    We are not paid for the time we spend in the meetings. On average this can be once a month or longer between each meeting – Olides Nov 1 '18 at 12:36
  • 14
    Which country are you in @Olides? Many countries have legislation on this issue. – Wilson Nov 1 '18 at 15:22
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    I know you said you aren't paid for the time spent in these meetings; but can you elaborate slightly? I take that to mean you are an hourly employee and are paid for other specific hours, and not those meetings....is that right? Or are you a salaried employee who makes $x per month and when they introduced these meetings they continued to pay you the same $x per month? – Rob P. Nov 1 '18 at 15:24
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    Are phones banned in meetings? I don't understand why being in a meeting means you cannot be reached for support issues that arise. If there is no link set up between the support number and the support team's mobile phones, that's already weird, but not hard to fix - just set up a redirect. Or have the support team's meeting, like, in the support team's office? Where the phones already are? – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 1 '18 at 15:39

10 Answers 10

101

If you're not being paid for these "off hours" meetings, that needs to stop immediately.

Unless your support team is supporting things that are literally life-and-death situations (in which case, these "off hours" meetings wouldn't be happening because you'd have to be staffed 24/7), the organization can sustain an hour every few weeks for an all-hands meeting unless your SLAs demand otherwise.

You just have to message it properly. Advise high-profile customers in advance that support will be unavailable for Hour X on Day Y, and put a notification on the outgoing message that plays when people call in that the support staff is offline and will return at whatever time the meeting concludes.

Provide an emergency number as well which goes to a supervisor-level person for the team in case the customer cannot wait and help truly is needed that instant.

Other ideas:

  • Review your call metrics to determine the historically quietest hour of the day, and quietest day of the week/month. Schedule the meeting then.
  • Schedule the meeting during lunch. People probably call for support less often during lunch, because it's their lunch as well.
  • Schedule first thing in the morning or at the end of the day
  • As you suggested, split the meeting in half
  • Host the meeting "virtually" through desktop video/chat technology so that people can staff the phones while also being in the meeting
  • Contract with a "virtual assistant" type company to provide first-level assistance ("did you try turning it off and back on again?") and ticket logging.
  • 8
    Support will be "unavailable" or support will be "limited" ? – vikingsteve Nov 1 '18 at 14:43
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    @vikingsteve If you're going with "limited", you should explain what's limited. Don't just say "support is limited" and then drop people into an hour-long waitlist (because the support staff comes back in an hour); say something like "support staff are unavailable for another [N] minutes, but all other functions are still fully usable." – Nic Hartley Nov 1 '18 at 17:13
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    A better solution would be (1) one hour mandatory meeting outside of work hours (2) everyone gets one hour of comp time to be taken at some random time during the week. Thus the team meets without interrupting customer service while nobody works extra time. – arp Nov 1 '18 at 21:44
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    Maybe just patch the phones through to the meeting room for an hour, and have someone sit next to it? If the meeting is set during a quiet period, it might be enough for some workplaces. – Roland Heath Nov 2 '18 at 2:48
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    Or keep a skeleton crew manning the phones while the rest is in the meeting. Rotate who has to be in the skeleton crew every meeting. – ratchet freak Nov 2 '18 at 9:12
78

Meetings are work. Therefore they happen within working hours. They may not happen during the time you are providing support, but they are your working hours.

If you have to provide support from nine to five, monday to friday, 40 hours a week, then your company is right that you can't have meetings from nine to five. However, you can have your meeting from 8am to 9am, or from 5pm to 6pm on some day, and now you are working 41 hours a week, and you should get paid 41 hours a week.

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    Unless OP is on salary, in which case they probably are being paid for 41 hours a week (I'm salary and I don't have an hour limit on my work). – Hosch250 Nov 2 '18 at 19:02
  • @Hosch250 That depends on the contract. My contract stipulates how many hours I'm normally expected to work. If my employer wanted to increase that, it would be expected that they offer something in return. Occasionally working longer is fine, but normally working longer would be a change in working conditions. – David Richerby Nov 4 '18 at 19:54
13

It's common in a support or engineering maintenance role that people are 'on call' at all times during working hours or even in engineering support roles out of the building altogether.

Meetings therefore tend to be either brief or after hours if everyone needs to attend.

If after hours is not an option then:-

Most places where I have been in this situation handle it either by calling the meeting ad hoc during a non busy period and having it in situ if everyone is in the same room rather than using a meeting room for the purpose. This works well for small teams that are all in one place.

Or

Larger groups would usually designate a skeleton staff while the rest attend the meeting, often mostly juniors. These can then easily be brought up to speed either in another much smaller meeting or just given the salient points they would need to know.

More formal meetings are handled in much the same way with the bare minimum of skeleton staff not attending.

If your people actually go onsite to support, then it's potentially disruptive to clients if they need to attend a meeting or rush a job to get back in time for one. So after hours is the best choice by far.

11

Is there any solution that could be tried? My initial thought would be to pull half of the team out for the meeting and then do the other half afterwards.

The standard way to do this is to determine the slowest hour in the month (or week if this must be a weekly meeting) and hold the meetings at that time.

The phones would be manned by a skeleton crew - usually far less than half the department is needed. And folks on the team take turns being part of that crew. With such a small company, I'm guessing there are slow times where just 1 or 2 people could handle the calls for an hour.

The other way I've seen this done is to have the meetings after hours (or before hours), but giving everyone comp time to make up for the hour. The comp time would be spread out among the slowest hours over several days so that not everyone is out at the same time.

Finally, in one small company where I worked, folks from other departments filled in on the phones whenever the support team needed to meet as a team. I myself was a fill in many times.

This simply isn't a big deal in most companies.

  • +1 for the 'folks from other departments filled in on the phones'. – Willeke Nov 3 '18 at 14:10
9

Is there any solution that could be tried?

Yes, plenty of them.

I'll pitch this one which has no overtime:

  1. Assuming support is 9-5
  2. Have the meeting Tuesday night from 5-6
  3. Half the attendees only work 7 hours on Wednesday
    The rest work only 7 hours on Thursday
  4. 40 hours each... no overtime (except maybe California), no unpaid work.

You can split the comp time up further to give better phone coverage... but you said the whole company is 14 people so I kept it simple.

Your risk in suggesting this is being regarded as not a team player.
Carefully consider this in a (very) small company like yours.

5

Meetings need to be done during work hours. That's the bottom line.

Now, the question is, "work hours" can be defined in many ways:

1) Let's say your company supports customers from 9-5. Your "work hours" can be 9-6, and the extra hour can be used for meetings. You will work a 45-hour week (and be paid for that!).

2) Let's say your company supports customers from 9-5. You can change your "active hours" to be 9-4, then the hour 4-5 would be for meetings. Your "work hours" are still 9-5, but the customer only sees you as working 9-4.

3) Let's say your company supports customers from 9-5, and let's say your team is 5 people (to make the numbers easier). Then, if you have a meeting from 5-6, every member of the team picks a different day of the week and that person's "work hours" is 10-5 on their chosen day. So you will be understaffed for 1 hour every morning of the week, but the work will still get done with minimal (customer-facing) SLA issue, and everyone still works a 40-hour week.

There are lots of ways to solve this problem; this list is not exhaustive, and you can probably think of something more creative to add to it.

One thing to be aware of, though, is, especially in a support role, and especially especially in a small company, being strict about "the rules" might be frowned upon. Before doing anything, you should decide whether you want to be seen as "that guy", because you will.

5

I had this problem once. I pointed out to management that it was illegal in my state. "What are you going to do about it?" was his response.

So very quietly, I drafted a letter to the State. I had every single one of us sign it. I pointed out to them that retaliation for such sending the state is illegal - big-time illegal. We sent the letter. A couple of days later, the State contacted the manager. The whole team and the manager had a meeting to discuss the letter. I brought up that he and I had had a discussion and at this discussion, he had asked: "What are you going to do about it?" Well, this is what I did about it. He said: "You're fired". I was prepared for that, so I had a copy of the law that says he can't do that. Then I had with me another letter, this time addressed to the State and a copy of HR. HR moved remarkably quickly - she fired the manager. Then they asked me why we had contacted the State instead of her, and our response was that she had a history of ignoring us. We felt this was the only option.

A bunch of us quit shortly thereafter.

  • Where was that? To the best of my knowledge most state laws for private company retaliation is really weak, less than a 1k per violation, and it doesn’t get you your job back. – jmoreno Nov 4 '18 at 16:59
  • In most US states the government will not step in to help over such a small matter. – arp Feb 8 at 4:22
3

The other answers already address the obvious elephant in the room that of course, anything mandatory related to work is work hours, end of discussion. Simple litmus test: Are you free to not appear to those meetings, or to show up and leave whenever you feel like it? If not, it is work hours.

I want to focus on another point:

The company justifies this by raising the point that if we did it inside of work hours there would be no one available for that time to man the phones and handle any issues that occur in that time.

The company bullshits you into suffering the consequences of a management failure.

Yes, it is true that someone needs to man the phones. Somewhere in your company is a manager whose job it is to organize this. To solve this problem. To ensure that phones are manned. If the meeting conflicts with this, it is his job to resolve this conflict.

This manager took the easy way out and instead of resolving the conflict as would have been his job simply shifted the burden on you.

What are your support times? Are they identical with your work hours? In such case, your manager isn't doing his job. There is always some work in addition to support that you need to do, even if it's just paperwork. I've been in this situation and I have negotiated on behalf of a large team that work hours start 15 minutes before the official "on-duty" time, because that's the time everyone needs to start up their machines, check in to the system and be ready for work.

You need to do the same. You need to seperate work hours from support hours. If the company wants work done in addition to support (and a company meeting is work), then work hours need to be larger than support hours. This can be 15 minutes every morning, or it could be one hour on one day in the week.

2

I don't know what country you're in. In the US, if the employees are hourly, requiring them to work extra hours and then not paying them for the time is illegal.

If the employees are salaried, it's legal, but it's still problematic. Requiring people to put in extra time in a non-emergency situation tends to hurt morale.

Is it really necessary for all the employees to attend these meetings at the same time? Why not hold them i shifts, half the employees today and half tomorrow or some such?

1

Combine

  • one hour mandatory meeting outside of core work hours

  • everyone gets one hour of comp time to be taken at some random time during the week.

Thus the team meets without interrupting customer service while nobody works extra time.

(Similar to several existing answers but adds the idea of comp time and staggering absences throughout the week so any given hour has only one or two people gone; I was asked to turn this comment into an answer.)

I should also note that in international organizations it is common to have meetings that span multiple time zones where it is not possible to schedule within everyone's normal working day. Such meetings are generally scheduled to be as convenient as feasible for the most important or least flexible attendees.

In my experience hourly (or billable) employees are expected to either file false time sheets and/or work unpaid overtime to make up for off-hours meetings, and exempt employees are expected to happily donate their personal time to the company; asking your boss for an hour off to make up for these off-hours meetings may or may not go over well. Pointing out the discrepancy with the way other departments are treated might help.

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