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I am in the USA. My team is completely work from home. My boss likes to "cross train", "collaborate" or "see what you're working on" and frequently demands the team attend unscheduled meetings just for one person to share their screen while they work. Even scheduled meetings with specific agendas are subject to massive scope creep as mundane progress updates turn into "why don't you share your screen and show us what you're working on?"

I would estimate that most of our scheduled meetings are triple their intended length, and we have two or three unscheduled screen shares per day that can last an hour or more. Yesterday, I had five hours of meetings, one hour of showing my work and two hours to work on my own projects. And my boss wanted us to skip lunch because a meeting that should have ended at 10:00 AM sprawled into 1:00 PM!

I have brought this up in the past, but his rebuttal is that we're "getting important work done" to "avoid knowledge silos." I've also tried working on my own thing during these meetings but it's quite difficult with everyone else talking, chewing, typing etc in my ear.

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  • Remind him of the old adage that a meeting's work proceeds according to the inverse square of the number of participants.
    – Chenmunka
    Apr 6 at 19:05
  • When the meeting ends at 1:00 PM, is it about 12:00 PM (noon) in your boss' timezone, and that is when he stops the meeting to go to lunch ? Apr 6 at 20:44
  • @Job_September_2020 No, we're all in the same timezone. Apr 6 at 20:58
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    can't you have multiple windows open, so still watching screen?
    – depperm
    Apr 7 at 18:27

4 Answers 4

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You probably have a few options based on how your manager may respond:

  1. Do less work. When the manager is dividing tasks, explain that you'll have to take on less so you have time to "cross-train or screen-share" with others. Use his own language and make it clear that working in front of others, explaining what you are doing as you go, or watching others work is slower than working alone. Use your judgement of character to do this in a kind and humble manner.
  2. Ask for dedicated "office hours." If your manager is dead-set on paired work, ask if it can be limited to designated hours of the day. 10-12pm every other day is reasonable to knowledge share among team members, if needed.
  3. Look for a better team. Managers are resistant to change. It's really hard to train your supervisors. If you're in a place where you can start looking for new roles in the company, or new companies entirely, this behavior is your giant red flag.
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    +1 for "It's really hard to train your supervisors." Apr 6 at 23:19
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    Eventually all the wasted time (which is what it is) will make projects late. At that point the manager will blame everyone but themselves for the problems. The OP should look to bail as soon as possible as this won't end well IMO. Apr 7 at 1:03
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    In the meantime, always keep pressing "So we've now spent X amount of time doing something unrelated to the project. How is the time deficit paid off? Are we more efficient? How do we concretely measure this?"
    – Nelson
    Apr 13 at 1:58
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Other ideas to suggest:

  • Sprint planning: have only weekly/daily meetings to plan out week/day including future meetings, cross training, tasks; that way you know when you can work
  • Documentation: can help with avoiding knowledge silos
  • Avoid unscheduled meetings: Most meetings should be scheduled in advance. If you take pizoelectric advice for office hours and they are scheduled/blocked in, hopefully meetings can't be scheduled during that time (only schedule meetings if everyone is available)
  • Time meetings: may be slightly more difficult with someone like your manager, but some software has this built in. Have an automatic cutoff or timekeeper to end the meeting.
    • Make note of meetings that go over time, and send weekly reports of wasted time (5 hours not working, instead attending meeting)
  • Speak to Manager's Manager: It is unclear if OP manager has a manager, but sometimes the higher ups need/want to know about issues like these (wasted work hours). Some higher ups, depending on company, have open door policy
  • Mute the Meeting: if you are really not getting anything from these meetings and want to do own work, but have to attend, can't you turn volume down (unless he calls on people)
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  • +1 for mute the meeting. Love the idea of claiming "connection" problems if called out on it. :) Apr 14 at 18:57
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You might be remote, but it's likely that your state laws entitle you to a lunch and break periods. Put them on your calendar, and take them every day. They are perfect excuses for you to drop out of these insanity sessions, and there's likely not much your boss can do to object.

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  • Being entitled to a lunch break doesn't mean you get to decide when to take it. Apr 11 at 9:34
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Start by checking if anyone else in your team feels this way. If they don't, whatever you do, you'll have an uphill struggle because you're going against the interests of everyone else. (Besides, if you're the only one feeling this way, you might want to entertain the idea that you could be... wrong.)

If other people feel this way, collaborate with them! Come up with a set of signals (in video conferencing chat, for example) to indicate that you're veering off the agenda or using more than the allotted time for an agenda item.

Agree with each other that whatever the manager says, if you go off-topic, you steer back; if you exceed the time limit, you move on to the next agenda item.

Your team doesn't need manager permission to do a good job.

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