Q: Every Monday, our small tech company has a general meeting, less than 30 minutes, to introduce new staff and announce status updates, promotions, sales wins, etc.
In the meeting, each department head seems to think it’s necessary to throw out sports references: how the team they root for did over the weekend, which rival team supported by another department head had a rough weekend, ad nauseam. It detracts from the meeting and is, frankly, embarrassing to watch. The other 300 of us are stuck trying to catch the important company messages and waiting for the moment we can disconnect.
Currently, these meetings are conducted online and probably will continue there, given the number of remote team members. We aren’t required to go on camera, which is a relief for those of us who are “multitasking.” But I’m sure attendance is noted and discussion would ensue if several consecutive meetings were missed.
I think we’ve outgrown the Monday meeting and should issue a weekly bulletin for announcements. I have a good relationship with the CEO and my department head, but they are part of the sports talk, as is the HR manager. Is there any way to bring up better use of on-the-clock time without coming off as the grumpy tech nerd?
A: You’ve just illustrated hell for this grumpy word nerd better than any fire-and-brimstone preacher could. But I imagine colleagues without children feel the same about meetings where I and other parents are sucking the air out of the room with our kid drama. One group’s bonding topic is another’s pointless gossip.
Sure, it’s annoying and unfair for a small group of sports enthusiasts to hold everyone else’s time hostage because they don’t have a literal water cooler to gather around. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic forced a broader shift to remote work, many offices have been trying to find ways to minimize Zoom fatigue by scheduling shorter meetings, creating and sticking to agendas, and providing alternative opportunities for remote colleagues to connect on nonwork topics of interest. Microsoft has even issued new settings for Outlook allowing workers to automatically schedule meeting times in shorter blocks.
But not all executives and management teams are as committed to being mindful of employees’ time and energy. And if your company started out small, the founders’ view of themselves as a scrappy start-up may not have caught up with the need for structure necessary to manage a 300-person workforce.
Unfortunately, you may not be in a position to do much about it. Some suggestions here, in varying degrees of assertiveness according to your rank and influence:
Passive resistance. The easy solution is to log in, mute your microphone and camera, and multitask while keeping an ear open for anything important. Management might eventually notice how many participant windows are blank and mute and realize the Monday meeting needs to be replaced with something more streamlined and accessible to its larger workforce. In the meantime, it’s 30 minutes out of the week that you’re getting paid for whether you’re tuned in, eating breakfast or sorting socks.
Proactive problem-solving. If the opportunity arises, you could mention that you’ve noticed a lack of engagement in the Monday meetings, then pitch solutions such as the weekly announcements email bulletin or even recorded playbacks of each meeting, so your increasingly remote workforce can catch up on their own schedule. Bear in mind, however, that making those suggestions may mean taking them on yourself — and, most likely, they’ll join the pile of unread emails and unseen videos many of us never manage to review.
Proactive immersion. In the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” vein, there are resources that can help you learn enough about spectator sports (or playing golf or tasting wines) to join workplace conversations with influential people. The drawback, of course, is that then you’ll become part of the problem — and be stuck engaging in activities you may not enjoy.
Proactive subversion. Log on early and find polite ways to derail the sports junkie train before it gets rolling. “Before we start, I wondered if you’ll be talking about [work-related topic of interest to CEO]?” That can nudge the CEO’s attention onto the right track from the start.