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At my job meetings are always impromptu and never scheduled. Frequently coworkers walk up to me and say, "please come with me" with no other context. They do this because they need my help with someone or want to train me on something. I started replying "I'm just in the middle of something; can we go in 10 minutes?". Was this a good way to respond? Should I try to have a more long-term solution like asking them, "Next time could you let me know 30 minutes in advance if it's not an emergency?" This would be valuable as I learn better or am more productive in meetings when I know what the topic is and have some time to think about it.

A long time ago, I had a co-op work term through my school. I was doing coding and my manager would frequently walk up to me, ask a bunch of general questions and poke at the code I was writing. I found this very distracting. When I told this to my co-op supervisor his response was "Sometimes you will get interrupted in the workplace". To what extent is this true and shouldn't be addressed? Especially with things like status updates, wouldn't it be better for everyone if they happened at scheduled intervals?

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    "At my job meetings are always impromptu and never scheduled." Given that you mentioned "coding" in your question, this practice would make me worried. Commented Jan 5 at 6:50
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    Are these coworkers that tell you to follow your peers, more senior or even your superiors?
    – Helena
    Commented Jan 5 at 8:02
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    @Helena I mean, I am new and they have been there for e.g. a year or two. But they are my peers and not management.
    – ClanLatin
    Commented Jan 5 at 8:06
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    Are these meetings generally helpful to you? Or about things you need to know and won't find out about otherwise? Commented Jan 5 at 20:14
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    @Wrzlprmft we speak English in the workplace, but it actually seems to be Vietnamese workers that do this so I'm wondering if it's a cultural thing
    – ClanLatin
    Commented Jan 8 at 23:03

4 Answers 4

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A coworker out of nowhere asking you, "please come with me", seems incredibly weird. Unless this is common where you work it kind of seems like they do not respect you. Even if I went with them right away, I would expect them to explain what they want and where we are going.

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    I agree with this. It sounds as weird as a badly-dialogued movie where the characters are dealing with a sensitive situation and suddenly one of them calls the other on their radio to say "You need to see this!" without any explanation whatsoever.
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 6 at 11:51
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    It makes me wonder whether the coworkers are non-native speakers. Commented Jan 6 at 19:01
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    My children do this and I sometimes respond with "please use your words". Lol, not saying you should say that, but it is kind of childish. Commented Jan 6 at 19:03
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    @Stef It seems like what mall security would say when they catch you shoplifting as they usher you out by the arm Commented Jan 7 at 3:47
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    Under a related situation, my brother recently had to remind his boss (after getting pulled into a quick meeting to discuss an upcoming pay-raise) that walking up to an employee and saying "Can I see you in my office?" will spike the blood pressure of 90% of the workforce. :-D Engineers... Commented Jan 8 at 14:02
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I started replying "I'm just in the middle of something, can we go in 10 minutes?".

Entirely appropriate. If it needs to be immediate, they should explain. Replying this way encourages them to correct their bad habits and start with the explanation.

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    I would personally set an even longer time, like "I'm in the middle of an important task, can you schedule some time with me later today or tomorrow if this isn't urgent?" This would of course depend on the seniority of the person interrupting me, but I'd feel comfortable doing this to anyone I work with up to 1 level above my paygrade. If it happens everywhere in the company you may have to start asking others if this annoys them too... Commented Jan 5 at 19:25
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    @pizoelectric: At a guess, the reason this is happening at all is that the person asking them to come with them has a lot of on-boarding tasks to give them via meetings, or have a variety of tasks to on-boarding them with, and are trying to prioritize bringing them up once they're ready.to train them (i.e. The appropriate credentials have been approved and setup, they have their demo environment ready, someone's about to do a monthly or rarer task, etc.), In that environment, the "Can we go in 10 minutes?" indicator indicates that you're not blocking the on-boarding around a scheduled meeting. Commented Jan 7 at 1:15
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    If course if it's onboarding, that should be a scheduled meeting one could plan around. But organization skills (and skills in the organization) do vary.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 7 at 16:12
  • @keshlam: Yeah - in my experience, something like this happens when you're brought onto the team relatively soon from when your job offer was made, and you end up joining without all the credentials and access stuff handled ahead of time, so the "Scheduled" on-boarding had to be split up between stuff you have access to, and stuff you're going to have access to, or a sudden project coming up and needing to bring people onto a project, even temporarily, to make up for small internal changes in priorities. Commented Jan 8 at 12:50
  • Or perhaps as a TL:DR; If they could schedule a meeting over the matter, they probably would. The details may vary as to why, but they probably can't. Commented Jan 8 at 12:53
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"sometimes you will get interrupted in the workplace"

Whether or not this is a problem to fix rests entirely on the shoulders of your management team and what they value. I've been at places that value focus time a LOT and have dedicated hours of no unplanned interruptions, and I've been at places where it's expected you have an impromptu meeting at a moments notice. Both have their benefits and drawbacks on how the team actually works, but this is not something you personally can change beyond expressing that it's difficult for you to just hop over to a completely new task out of the blue - as well as it always being difficult to refocus on the previous task. If they think it's more valuable to have meetings/training/information flow quickly, that's just how it's going to be.

Especially with things like status updates wouldn't it be better for everyone if they happened at scheduled intervals?

Some teamleads/colleagues will think it's enough to have a planned status meeting every now and then. Some are going to ask 10 times a day about what's going on. There seem to be some hinting at micromanaging and unless you can professionally "prove" to them that you'd perform much better at your job with dedicated focus time, that also doesn't have any negative impact on other people doing their jobs (which might include taking you out of a task), I agree with the statement that "sometimes you will get interrupted in the workplace", and you're going to have to deal with it. Either by sucking it up or looking for a team to work in that has different values.

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  • "Some are going to ask 10 times a day about what's going on." You could suggest that they seek medical help for their memory loss. Commented Jan 6 at 6:55
  • Just to be clear, there's an upper limit of how valid "sometimes you will get interrupted in the workplace" is, right? As an extreme example, if there's a faulty fire alarm, that would be something that needs to get fixed, people wouldn't just say "that's a distraction we need to get used to".
    – ClanLatin
    Commented Jan 6 at 9:49
  • I think fire alarms going off would have a hard time being categorized as a management style... Maybe :D
    – Tony
    Commented Jan 6 at 12:54
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TL;DR - "Sometimes" is spelled, read and understood like "sometimes", not as "always".

Since you mentioned this is a new job, bring this up formally in the immediate next discussion with your manager / supervisor, and present the number of occurrences you were interrupted. Make them understand that all (or almost all) meetings cannot be unplanned, it affects your work, at least.

If they do not pay attention or advise you to ignore and continue with this sort of (mal)practice, time to find a better advisor, please look for another workplace (and supervisor).

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    While it could be that these people are Just Wrong and Need To Be Corrected, there may well be things going on in the situation that the OP does not fully understand, especially given that it's a new job. Coming in with the This Is Just Wrong approach is definitely not the right way to join and influence company culture. That's why I downvoted this question: I don't think the general idea is wrong, but this specific (and rather impolite) approach is not going to make you any friends.
    – cjs
    Commented Jan 6 at 10:37

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