9

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.

10
  • 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, 2022 at 19:05
  • Related thread workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/173977/… Apr 6, 2022 at 20:01
  • 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, 2022 at 20:44
  • @Job_September_2020 No, we're all in the same timezone. Apr 6, 2022 at 20:58
  • 2
    can't you have multiple windows open, so still watching screen?
    – depperm
    Apr 7, 2022 at 18:27

6 Answers 6

19

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.
3
  • 4
    +1 for "It's really hard to train your supervisors." Apr 6, 2022 at 23:19
  • 4
    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, 2022 at 1:03
  • 1
    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, 2022 at 1:58
8

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)
1
  • +1 for mute the meeting. Love the idea of claiming "connection" problems if called out on it. :) Apr 14, 2022 at 18:57
7

Ask if you can lead one of these regular meetings that go overtime, as a growth opportunity for your own career.

Run it however you like to help it finish on time e.g. remind people of the time, suggest to take certain topics offline, set an agenda beforehand.

People on your team might pick up on this more subtle 'lead by doing' and apply it in other meetings too.

3

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.

2

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.

1
  • 1
    Being entitled to a lunch break doesn't mean you get to decide when to take it. Apr 11, 2022 at 9:34
1

Start by considering the benefits of your manager's preferred ways of working. Clearly these are things he values a great deal, and any approach which ignores that is doomed to failure. On the other hand, if you offer an alternative which gets him all or most of what he wants, while being much more productive, that's a really attractive prospect for him. In this case that appears to be knowledge sharing.

Pairing can be a very effective way to prevent knowledge silos. Depending on the project and the team, there could be important reasons to spread knowledge around ASAP. Perhaps some folks are transferring out, or are considered a flight risk, or the team might be getting downsized soon. This doesn't mean that everyone needs to be in a pairing call, though.

One strategy I've used myself has been to shift the stage where feedback is given to the code review process. Rather than just sharing a link to a merge request, whoever is looking to merge the code will be expected to put a short meeting in (perhaps 15 minutes max) to walk the team through what they did, why, and any particularly interesting or complicated parts of the code. This can be a required step for approval for a code review, or it can be something that only happens on tickets that your manager flags as interesting or complex.

Another strategy is to limit the pairing calls to just a few people, by assigning key tickets to two or three developers working together. This means that for any given piece of code there will be several people who know why it was written that way, and also means more junior developers can be upskilled by the more senior developers. Again, this doesn't need to apply to all tickets.

You need to approach your manager in a spirit of collaboration, though. Make sure you understand what it is he wants from this process, and see if there's a way to give it to him that's less onerous for you. The alternative might still not be your ideal ways of working, but it's not always possible to have that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .