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Our team set a special meeting for developers during work time to discuss less work-related things and keep the conversations not that formal. The idea is to keep all other meetings(we have like 3 a day) clean and more focus.

The issue is that this freer meeting is turning into soap opera. Especially with some of our new team members things are getting out of hand. Some topics that are discussed include:

  • conspiracy theories
  • promotion of pseudoscience
  • people sharing way too much about personal problems and asking for empathy

So far I'm ignoring it but it seems some my colleagues started ignoring me as well. So far it's not a big issue and our manager is not involved.

The question is how do you keep the conversations with your colleagues clean without getting into controversial topics? What is your experience, where do you draw the line?

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    But isn't that the point? It's unmanaged conversation about off-topic topics. What is your goal? Are you responsible for somehow managing this supposedly unmanaged chat?
    – Nelson
    Jun 23 '21 at 3:49
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    So then ignore it. If the conversation is genuine, it WILL be controversial, and even offensive, but that's the nature of opinions. People will have ideas and thoughts that do not mirror your own. The issue is not the existence of differences, but the attempt to remove said differences by force. Don't try to "convert" anyone, be interested and interesting, and you should be fine.
    – Nelson
    Jun 23 '21 at 4:00
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    do you get any dev work done between the 4 meetings a day?
    – Kilisi
    Jun 23 '21 at 4:37
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    Is this meeting mandatory? Can you just leave?
    – Erik
    Jun 23 '21 at 5:14
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    Hit record, upload to YT, profit!
    – Möoz
    Jun 23 '21 at 22:39
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Our team set a special meeting for developers during work time to discuss less work-related things and keep the conversations not that formal.

It seems that you are in a institutionalized version of water cooler chat / lunch table chat designed for remote employees to socialize and help keep the icebreaking in more formal meetings at a minimum.

The solution is to behave exactly as you would in a water cooler / lunch table chat - don't engage in discussion if you don't want to be involved in that conversation and maybe wait for an opening to change the subject to something more innocuous

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    "institutionalized version of water cooler chat" sounds like my personal hell.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 23 '21 at 14:28
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    A noteworthy difference though is you can have several groups talking about different things in the break room. Can't really do that in a single group chat. Jun 23 '21 at 14:36
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    @AmiralPatate Welcome to why remote work sucks and we should go back to the office as soon as possible, rather than permanent remote like some companies are doing. That is, if you want the social aspect of working. If you just want to heads-down, work, get paid, go home, then that's up to you.
    – Ertai87
    Jun 23 '21 at 15:27
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    @ertai87 the problem isn't remote working, it's inflexbile, imposed attempts at socialising like this. Give people choices about what they do and don't do, and don't force them to do stuff they're uncomfortable with Jun 23 '21 at 18:30
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    @mattfreake Nothing in OP's question says that this meeting is inflexible or imposed. My company has this sort of scheduled water cooler meeting and people are free to come and go as they please.
    – Ertai87
    Jun 23 '21 at 18:50
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Our team set a special meeting for developers during work time to discuss less work-related things

The line I draw is I don't involve myself in conversations about topics that I would get annoyed about. Everybody has their own line.

By mandating conversation, people are not able to disengage from the conversation when they feel either they are getting too agitated, or others are. Also, some bad actors will deliberately speak about controversial topics, as they know their listeners are held hostage.

If you are struggling to keep work-related meetings on-topic, that is what you need to fix.

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This isn't a meeting so much as "scheduled water cooler chat", presumably because you're working remotely, presumably because of covid (aside: This is why I hate working remotely and want to get back to the office, so I don't have to "schedule" a water cooler chat, because that's dumb). Which means it gets treated like a water cooler chat: Any topics can be discussed without moderation, and if you want to engage then you can and if you don't then you don't have to.

So, the solution is, if you're the only one who sees the problem, then it's probably not a problem. If you don't like it and you are allowed to remove yourself from the discussion (by not attending the meeting), then just do that. The problem, as mentioned elsewhere, with remote water cooler chat, is that it's single-threaded: if you want to engage in the general social activity without engaging in the particular topic of the discussion, it's very difficult to do so. The solution to this is to wait, and simply look forward to (and proactively push for, if your company does not have a plan already) going back to the office when you can. When you go back to the office, you can solve this problem by simply having a separate conversation with someone else at the water cooler if you don't like the particular conversation going on.

(Brief aside: This is one of the primary reasons why, when I am contacted by a recruiter who advertises how great their job is because it's permanent remote, I tell them I am not interested; because true social interaction is extremely difficult with modern videoconferencing technologies and social interaction at work is valuable to me. If any recruiters are reading this, take note)

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    Not really sure why both in comments as well as off-topic in your answer you feel like you have to go on a crusade against remote work. There are other solutions to OP’s problem, or it isn’t an issue at all. I for one love remote work. Jun 23 '21 at 21:49
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    Remote work is great, if all your care about with work is working and making money. If you actually want to have a social experience at work, then it's much less good.
    – Ertai87
    Jun 23 '21 at 22:22
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    Yes you’ve made your opinion perfectly clear already, but it’s still off-topic. Jun 24 '21 at 1:15
  • @Ertai87: So you don't want some "water cooler" style chat time but you do want to chat around the water cooler... ok.
    – NotMe
    Jun 24 '21 at 21:05
  • @NotMe When did I ever say that I didn't want "water cooler style chat time"? Of course I do, it's incredibly valuable. All I'm saying is that doing a water cooler style chat over teleconferencing leads to problems such as the one OP is experiencing. If OP wants proper water cooler style chat time, then they should encourage their company to do something to enable that to be done without teleconferencing, i.e. reopening the office for physical interaction, as soon as they can (modulo government recommendations/health guidance, etc).
    – Ertai87
    Jun 25 '21 at 22:53

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