I’m stuck in daily three-hour Zoom meetings

A reader writes:

I could use some help trying to figure out how to best navigate the absolutely bonkers amount of meetings that my boss is holding.

I work in public education and obviously we have been very impacted by Covid. I work on a small leadership team for a very large department.

During normal times, our team meets in-person every week for three hours, no laptops allowed (with one 5-10 minute break). This is really long and pretty painful! Since quarantine started, we generally started holding these meetings over Zoom twice per week. And now, over the summer, we have been meeting DAILY on Zoom for three hours because my boss wants to have “input from the brain trust.”

A lot of the meeting content … could have been an email. I should also add that we are expected to have our cameras on the whole time, and we still only get that one 5-10 minute break. We’re not allowed to self-break to run to the bathroom or anything. I tried asking about self-breaks when quarantine began and my boss just said that he’d make sure we had a set break time mid-meeting.

To make matters worse, my boss and the rest of the team don’t seem to remember discussions or details from meeting to meeting, even though we keep detailed minutes. So we have the same discussion multiple times — and often we are working in hypotheticals since we don’t have a full picture of what the fall semester will look like. Sometimes, when a topic comes up over and over, I’ll jump in and say, “Oh, you know, I think I remember us discussing this last week or so! I’m pretty sure we decided on X. I can look back in the minutes if you’d like.” Honestly, I think a big part of the way the meetings run is due to my boss’s anxiety during this really stressful time. He wants to talk through all possible options and hash them out over and over.

Team members also have a hard time keeping track of resources and understanding basic tech, and so there is a lot of time spent trying to make sure everyone is able to find a document that we’re going to reference, or figuring out how to screen share, or accidentally minimizing the Zoom app and not being able to find it again (not sure how that’s possible, but this happens daily!). When I know in advance that I’m going to present something, I send an email to the team beforehand with a link to the Google doc and an explanation of anything that I think is relevant or that people might want to review in advance, to avoid spending time in the meeting walking everyone through a document “cold.” No one else (including my boss) does that, though.

These issues persist when working in small break-out teams, so in addition to these daily three-hour meetings, I often end up in meetings for an additional 2-3 hours working on a project with a couple teammates — again, lots of discussion, not much actual work getting done. I’ve been able to make some headway working with my peers in small groups by sending out documents in advance and suggesting we review and highlight questions/changes for us to maximize our time when we meet, so that has helped a little.

I am at my wit’s end! I know that once the school year starts, we will not be meeting daily anymore, and we’ll hopefully be back to the weekly three-hour meetings. Do I just need to suck this up through the rest of the summer? I am 100% certain that talking to my boss about the lengthy meetings would go over terribly — he thinks they are super productive and helpful.

My skin was crawling by the end of your letter.



And they are totally unnecessary! Maybe there’s some office someplace where this would really be needed (although I am skeptical that any exist), but it’s definitely not yours. You are spending three hours every day chained to your computer, camera on, not allowed to get up until you have permission, discussing the same topics over and over, waiting while people work through the tedium of rudimentary tech problems…

You are in the seventh circle of hell.

If I were in your place, I would gladly trade this for, like, bedbugs and boils.

How are any of you getting anything done?

Anyway, if you’re truly 100% sure that talking to your boss about this would go over badly, then … well, are you really sure? Is there any chance your coworkers are aggravated too and you could push back as a group, pointing out what work isn’t getting done because of these meetings? Even if your boss is sad that no one likes his three-hour torture fests, he might reluctantly adapt if everyone is pushing back.

But if you’re sure that won’t go well, then you don’t have a lot of options. You could try coming at it in a more round-about way, like by telling him you’re falling behind on key projects he cares about and asking if you could opt out of some of the meetings in order to prioritize that work. (You wouldn’t be speaking out against the meetings, just getting him to decide something else is more important for you for a while.) Or you could develop internet bandwidth problems that make it hard for you to keep video on, which would let you work on other things during some of this. You also might have more room to push back on how the additional break-out team meetings are run if your boss isn’t part of those.

Or you could create a life-sized cardboard cut-out of yourself, dress it in your clothes and a wig, and have it take your place on camera while you go outside to scream.

Otherwise though, yeah, you may just need to remember there’s light at the end of the tunnel coming when classes resume.

{ 433 comments… read them below }

    1. I'm that person*

      If I die and go to the bad place – this what I imagine it would be like. Especially with all of the repetition and people not knowing how the technology works.

      1. bluephone*

        Oh god I’m picturing that (having lived through some of it since March) and just….no no no no no no. I’m resurrecting the “NO NO NO” cat because the OP needs to play that before every meeting (I don’t want to tie up moderation but you can search for “no no no cat” on youtube and have a wonderful 5 minutes). Sadly, the No No No cat passed away a few years ago but their defiance lives on <3

      2. Duvie*

        I’m reminded of The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis, in which Hell is depicted as a corporation, complete with memos and meetings.

      3. EC*

        OMG Yes. I’ve thought about it and my personal hell would 100% be an endless meeting where nothing is done and the break for coffee never comes. And whenever it was someone’s turn to present it would take them hours to just get power point/the projector working.

        1. whingedrinking*

          I know Myers-Briggs is basically horse manure, but I remember reading a thing one time that was “your personal hell by M-B type” and I have to admit mine sounded pretty torturous. (It was something like “INTP: You have to do research that mostly involves talking to people who are sure they know what they’re talking about. They don’t.”)

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      My partner is in a similar field to the OP, and overhearing their meetings during work from home almost gives me hives. The meetings are so aimless, and circular, and pointless, and everyone wants a turn to just talk and talk and talk about whatever comes into their head – hopes, dreams, wishes, fears, this morning’s breakfast, a thing they saw on the news… They go for bloody hours. I try hard not to overhear the meetings, partly for reasons of professionalism, but mostly because I get so damned irritated.

      1. Shhhh*

        I’m in higher ed and our meetings are terrible. Small meetings about specific projects are typically fine, but right now we have a weekly department-wide meeting that devolves into the chat going in circles around questions no one can answer about 40 minutes in. Thank goodness those meetings have a firm end time because otherwise I’d never escape.

      2. A is for Amy*

        faculty meetings were already hellish before they were more frequent and on Zoom and every day and I AM SO GLAD I’M NOT IN ACADEMIA ANYMOOOOOOORRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEE!

        I’m still have 3x as many meetings as I was before, but at least they’re not faculty meetings.

    3. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

      I’d quit over this. seriously, if my job market for my work were at all favorable, I would be ready to bail.

  1. Anon for this*

    I clicked on to this site while dying of boredom during an almost 2hr zoom meeting I wasn’t even really needed on. Luckily I was on mute while I choked back sympathetic laughter.

    1. Not a Girl Boss*

      I am now at the point where I have a full 8 hours a day of conference calls, and I too read this while tuning out yet another meeting that could have been an email. At least they’re different meetings, so I can run to the bathroom between them and just claim my last meeting ran over.

      Sometimes I turn off my webcam purely so that I don’t have to put in the effort of keeping the pained expression off my face.

      At my last one-on-one, I told my boss that everything is fine except I CAN’T GET ANYTHING DONE and he suggested I block off my calendar with dedicated working time. Then the very next day he overrode my dedicated working time with a mandatory meeting that could have been an email

      1. On Fire*

        I wouldn’t even try to keep my face neutral. I would make it Very Obvious that I was working on something else because this “meeting” is an utter waste of time.

      2. The Spinning Arrow*

        Ugh, I’m so sorry for you. I’m an admin and folks keep asking me to schedule meetings for them and at least 80% of the folks I’m scheduling meetings for are in eight hours of Zoom meetings a day. Someone wants me to schedule an hour meeting before August 10th and I’m going, “I’m sorry, but that literally won’t happen, nobody has an open hour until at least end of August.”

        I mean, -I- get cranky when I’m on a call for one or two hours, I can’t imagine how these folks are getting anything done. I try to be really respectful of the first and last hours of the day as well as lunch and any “blocked for X work” time, but… there’s only so much I can do when every meeting is “high priority”. x.x At least our managers are fine with us running to the bathroom during calls…

        1. TardyTardis*

          I have found some relief by shrinking the Zoom window and opening other programs (also in a small window) and doing other stuff. (I discovered the trick because I have to take minutes for one, short thank God, meeting and it’s a lot easier for me to type them).

      3. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, same here on the blocking off time. I can’t get anything done because EMERGENCY happens anyway.

    2. I coulda been a lawyer*

      It’s amazing that almost every day I find yet another reason to be so overwhelmingly thrilled that my WFH laptop doesn’t have a camera. I’m sorry OP – your life $@cks and it doesn’t have to be that way.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m a grown ass adult. No one, and I mean no one, tells me when I can and can’t go to the bathroom.

    No. Just no.

    1. Lovecraft Beauty*

      For serious. What’s your boss going to do if you say, “Hey, I need to step away for a few minutes, be back in five!” and just …leave? Fire you?

          1. Sam.*

            I would bet money these are administrators, not instructors. But I feel like educational institutions (or universities, anyway) are often notoriously bureaucratic and it’s shocking when an office manages to get through the paperwork to fire someone, so I doubt they’re going to get fired either way. If they need to go to the bathroom, just go.

            1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


              Just get and go to the bathroom. Don’t ask – tell. “I’m stepping away for a moment.”

              That’s it. Don’t support the absurd rules by going along with them, unless your job is super-tenuous already.

        1. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

          No, they won’t. You’re not going to get fired solely for getting up and going to the bathroom during a call.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          If they fired someone for getting up and going to the bathroom they would have a mass exodus on their hands.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Although I was in a four hour training once with no bathroom break, and a woman ran it. I gently suggested to her that perhaps we could have one the next time at the two hour point? (I don’t see how she held that long myself).

        3. Database Developer Dude*

          That has to be able to be challenged. I’m military (Army Reserve) and if I got up in the middle of a command and staff meeting because I had to go to the bathroom, the Brigade Commander couldn’t keep me from it, and he’s a full bird Colonel, and I’m a Chief Warrant Officer….and those that outrank you in the military have SIGNIFICANTLY more power over you than they do in the civilian world….

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        I do like the “tell, don’t ask” approach. If you ask, then maybe this ridiculous human will think he was actually entitled to an opinion? But if you just send him a BRB chat, what is he going to do? Drive over to your house and take all your beverages away so it can’t happen again?

        Also, I’ve started to take the same approach with webcams. Sometimes, I just… turn them off. If someone say’s something, I’ll say, “oops, don’t know how that happened, let me see if I can get it back on.” (Which is a huge benefit of working with the tech impaired, they totally believe you).
        Or my other go-to excuses are “the bandwidth use was making your voices laggy” (sometimes true) or “Oh I had to move spots and didn’t want to make you all dizzy.”
        Or I just tilt the screen wayyyy up so you can see my forehead and not my looks of immense pain.
        But, honestly, if I wait until the meeting is in full swing, no one ever says anything to me.

        1. Cascadia*

          I’m a teacher and our school required us to require students to have videos on. Can’t tell you how many foreheads I saw on a daily basis. Just a whole lot of hair and forehead and nothing else.

          1. Sunny Upside*

            Like, in grade/high school? Wow. My kids know that they are never obligated to turn their cameras on, and if a teacher tried to force the issue, they’d be hearing from me. It’s invasive and so long as my kids are at home, I’m in charge.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I know people often don’t like to have their cameras on, and I’m sympathetic to that, but it is truly very difficult to teach when you can’t see students’ faces. It also decreases student-to-student engagement because a screen full of coloured squares with white initials on them doesn’t do much to make you feel like part of a group.
              Saying “while they’re at home, I’m in charge” is also understandable, but I’d ask you to recontextualize it. I guarantee your kids’ teachers would prefer to be teaching in the classroom, where expectations are much better defined. They don’t want to invade your home. But while we’re in this situation, your home has also become your children’s learning space and therefore, albeit remotely, their teachers’ work space.
              This doesn’t mean the teachers have absolute authority either – even in a physical learning environment, teachers are supposed to work with the students’ needs and not just do everything by fiat. But if the teacher is saying “I need you to turn your webcam on” and your child is saying “I don’t want to”, the solution is not for the parent to just say “Well then, screw you, teacher, I don’t care if that makes your job impossible”. It’s for everybody to have a conversation about why the expectation is set where it is, why the student is pushing back against it, and what should be done about it.

              1. Advocat*

                Elementary ESL teacher here, and I’m going to have to disagree with you. There is more to having a kid turn on the camera than you might think. Not every kid is proud of their home, and babies and dogs still make noise. I was working over the phone once a week with a third grader whose K sister would scream the entire time in the background. Mom and I agreed it wasn’t working and he got a pass on the work. Distance learning is no one’s first choice, but the students’ homes are not our territory and we have no right to expect them to turn on a webcam. It was awkward enough having to call and do wellness checks and on very few occasions to visit the home (to drop off paper assignments for tech-less households). So long as they are doing the work (or trying, anyway) if they don’t want the webcam on leave it be.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  Right, and that’s why I didn’t say “whatever the teacher says goes”. It may be the case that the webcam stays off, and the teacher, the student and the parent come to another arrangement together. But that arrangement does have to be reached. It can’t just be declared by one party or another.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah I would just quietly get up and return shortly after. It’s a three hour call, I need to pee, unless you want me to take the laptop to the bathroom, I’m walking away.

      Especially right now since I’m 7 months pregnant and have to pee far more frequently.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          “Excuse me? I’m sorry Boss, I’m having contractions, I think I need to go to the hospital….”

          Boss: *heavy sigh* “Can’t it wait for the scheduled break in 90 minutes?”

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            “Oh OK, let me just call my midwife and let her know this is going to be a home birth then. Don’t worry, I won’t turn my camera off.”

            (Some people really do have labors that short! It’s called precipitous labor and it’s pretty intense.)

            1. wittyrepartee*

              A facebook friend of mine (college acquaintance whose life is interesting) described it as “being stabbed in the stomach strapped to the front of a train, and then at the end of it someone hands you a baby”.

      1. Fabulous*

        Ha! 7 months pregnant now too and I have to pee what seems like every 45 minutes. Waiting for 90 minutes *might* be feasible, but topping it off with my IBS… No. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I was in three hour meetings (in person) when I was pregnant and I pretty much just had to quietly get up and scoot out of the room as quietly as possible. Once the door was for some reason set to lock when it closed so I had to knock to get back in. But the further along you get in your pregnancy, the less likely anyone will give you trouble about this stuff.

        2. whingedrinking*

          These rules are created by people who’ve never had chronic UTIs, that’s for sure.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Not pregnant. But I am trying to improve my eating habits and drink more water, and that does have an inevitable effect. Which means…when I need to pee, I need to pee. And really, how productive or tuned into a meeting is anyone going to be if they are primarily thinking about just how badly they need to use the bathroom?!

      3. Database Developer Dude*

        Turquoisecow, I’ve been working in offices since 2001, and the #1 rule is always “Never get between a pregnant woman and the bathroom”.

      4. TardyTardis*

        I took a six hour tax preparer test while 7 1/2 months pregnant. I told the proctor, ‘you can someone follow me all you want’. Given I am a short person and the child turned out to be large, even at that point it looked like I was carrying twins.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Arrgh, *you can have someone follow me all you want*. I still hate real estate swaps, mind you.

    3. Starfire117*

      As a school teacher, I can only go to the bathroom during specific times of the day :(

      1. The New Wanderer*

        This is awful but at least understandable when the constraints of the job are such that you can’t readily take a few minutes’ time out. It’s kind of like being on a plane, you can’t use the bathroom at certain times (taxi/takeoff, landing) and that is just the way it is in some situations.

        But… this is sitting at your own home in a looooong meeting and not being the only, or even primary, speaker. I wouldn’t be able to tolerate being told I couldn’t go use the bathroom at any time other than my allotted break. As it is, I’m sitting in 4+ daily meetings (not on camera thank goodness!) and I use mute all the time for all sorts of reasons, bathroom breaks being one of them.

        NB – our daily half-day meetings are productive work meetings where everyone participates and there’s no other way to manage this type of work, so it’s nowhere near as frustrating as what the LW describes. At the very least, there’s no way I could maintain a look of benign interest for 3 hours of repetitive droning by a team that is just rehashing the same ol’ stuff.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Thank you for making this distinction.

          This boss is managing bathroom breaks to suit his emotional need for control, not because of some external factor.

          This isn’t Shawshank!

      2. Artemesia*

        When I taught my classrooms were at opposite ends of a sprawling campus and as a newbie I didn’t have my own. I had 4 minutes to gather my stuff and race to the next class and was supposed to be there to greet students coming in. No way I could every go to the bathroom until lunch hour. When I had my period it was a nightmare. Teachers are really treated like crap pretty much most of the time. No place to take a private call (lovely to talk to your gynos secretary standing at the admin’s desk with kids waiting to see the principal), no way to take a break when needed. And precisely the people most in need of support — new teachers, end up with the worst situations like my not having my own classroom and having to gallop all over the building to teach in someone else’s classroom for an hour.

    4. pony tailed wonder*

      Let your boss know that you are on a new medication that has a side effect of making you need to go to the bathroom more often. I was put on Jardience for diabetes and yes, the toilet paper shortage was pretty scary for me for a while if you need to toss out a medication name and disease.

    5. soon to be former fed really*

      I’m with you. When I gotta go, I gotta go. Some people have health conditions that require immediate visiting the facilities also. This is bull.

    6. bluephone*

      Yes, seriously. Like, honey, *I* can’t tell my GI system when and for how long it can be in the bathroom (IBS yay!) despite my and my doctor’s best efforts, so what chance do you think you have??? My GI system (and to a certain extent, my bladder) does what it wants when it wants and the rest of us are just along for the ride :-(

    7. juliebulie*

      They’re actually tempting people to pee into empty Gatorade containers during a meeting. Nice!

      I would not hesitate to get up any time I needed to go to the bathroom. And explain the reason in vivid detail afterwards, if asked.

    8. Meepmeep*

      I mean, is the boss expecting people to pee into a jar on camera? Because I would totally pee into a jar on camera in such a situation.

    9. MusicWithRocksIn*

      If you have a dog or cat or other pet you can always pull the “Oh my gosh, my dog is vomiting! I have to take care of that, I’ll be right back!” and then dart off camera, if you really need five to ten minutes. Signed, someone who’s dog vomited during their production conference call with the big bosses this week.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        No, don’t play games. Don’t support the absurdity with lies or stories.

        If your dog really vomits – then yes. But if not, and you just need to go the bathroom, go to the bathroom.

      2. Ellie*

        Too much information – just type in the chat box, ‘back in a minute’ and then go… maybe you’re in the bathroom, maybe you’re getting a drink, maybe there was a knock on the front door… who cares? They aren’t seriously going to fire you over something like that. If you do it first you’ll probably get others following and the hell you’re in gets a little bit easier.

        For the video chat, I’d start the meeting with video, then when it gets tiring just switch it off… say that your audio was getting choppy and this seems to help with bandwidth. Same with the documents/working out what to share… if people are fussing around, just share the document yourself. You can minimise the time you’re wasting at least. But I’d push back on the length of the meetings at least… say that people’s attention seems to wander, and can you timebox them to 90 minutes, and send out an agenda. Next meeting deals with anything that wasn’t gotten to on the last agenda. Get some structure into it, and set some boundaries. Or have an hour (or 1/2 hour) daily, then a longer weekly catch-up. Push back wherever you can.

    10. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, if you don’t think you can push back on having the meetings at all I’d start with at least just this piece and see if that has any impact on your daily morale. I mean, I wouldn’t think you’d really need to even formally push back. What would happen if you just… went to pee and then came back? Or take two minutes to go get a glass of water.
      How many people are in these meetings, would anyone even notice?

    11. char*

      I know, right? I was baffled when the OP said they’re not ALLOWED to step out for a bathroom break. It’s as if the boss has confused the teachers with the students and thinks he’s managing a team of elementary schoolers.

  3. Julia*

    Holy bananas. This would actually make me seriously contemplate quitting. In this job market, that’s saying something.

    LW, any chance you could simply work during the meetings? These days it’s not hard to look like you’re engaged and paying attention while you actually have other windows up on your screen getting actual work done. I wouldn’t recommend that for meetings that are actually useful, but in this case it seems like the only way you’ll actually get anything done. I’d keep the volume on the video chat low, but high enough that you can hear when you need to step in and say something.

    1. Birds of a Feather*

      I second this– especially if you have an extra monitor so you keep the meeting up on one if you need to look quickly and complete actual work on the other.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This feels very much like a two-monitor problem, yes. So long as your keyboard doesn’t clack.

        1. Accounting Otaku*

          Muting yourself saves you from the sound of keyboards. I do this a lot of the time.

          1. juliebulie*

            No! Then she’ll be expected to take minutes at every meeting.

            Though from the sound of it, no one else pays attention anyway or remembers from one day to the next, so she can just make shit up.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Maybe a tablet or even a smart phone, if you can’t work you can at least play a few games or browse the web.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Or the opposite, if you can swing it. My son got really really good at propping his phone against his computer monitor with the math teacher’s zoom call on it, while having his keyboard or video game controller in his lap out of sight of the teacher on camera. At a glance he looked engaged, but if I walked around to see his monitor before he could click away I could see the ongoing chat with his friends, Minecraft world, or YouTube on the monitor behind the phone running Zoom

    2. Jaybeetee*

      It sounds like these aren’t “sitting there” meetings, but that she’s expected to be part of the discussions. If she works during the meeting, she’ll have to be careful not to get too distracted.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        When I was in high school, everyone took government (aka “civics”). Since everyone took the same class, it wasn’t designed to be challenging. I had it immediately after lunch, which I took at home since I lived across the street from the school. I would bring the newspaper back to school with me and read it during government class. I wasn’t being obnexious about it. I was as discreet as possible, but come on, it was a newspaper. This presented the teacher with a conundrum. If he called on me for anything, I would look up, correctly answer the question, and go back to the newspaper. I was quite adept at dividing my attention that way. And reading a newspaper was considered a Good Thing, especially in a government class. So he wasn’t prepared to tell me to stop, but it just didn’t seem right. He took the coward’s way out. On parent-teacher night he asked my parents to have me stop. So I switched to smaller items of reading material, giving him more plausible deniability.

        So this is what I would do here. The exact form it would take would depend on a lot of specifics, but I would find something to occupy myself during the blather-fest.

        1. Allonge*

          Yes, this! It totally depends on how much one can divide their attention, but what with the repetitiveness and the techical issues, it may be possible to at least answer some emails or do low-key stuff during the meeting. I know we do it, during the daily meetings (at least they only last an hour or so). We can use the chat function of the VC system, clear the emails from the day before etc.

          But yes, three hours is a nightmare…

    3. PeanutButter*

      I have several socks I’ve knit during Zoom meetings. (Below the field of view of the camera.) I tend to fall asleep if I’m looking at a screen (movies, TV shows, it doesn’t matter how much I’m engaged with the subject matter) and doing something with my hands helps. If I get frustrated at the wasted time, I look down at the sock I’m producing and feel much better and more patient.

      1. Keener*

        Virtual meeting have gotten so much better once I realized I could knit and have re-framed them as paid knitting time.

        1. anon here*

          Hallelujah. I’m knitting an enormous sweater that I’d never have time for in ‘real life’ — but with Zoom meetings, all is possible.

        2. The New Wanderer*

          Same – my “quarantine blanket” is a massive project I wouldn’t otherwise have time or patience for, but knitting while on 4+ hour calls is working out pretty well.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That’s me, too. If you put me in a 3-hour Zoom meeting, when I’m already sleep deprived, the inevitable will happen and quickly.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        I had to be part of a week-long full day virtual training for a thing I was already doing, but didn’t have the fancy piece of paper for. After giving it a good go for a day, I 100% knitted (off-screen) the remainder of the week. I couldn’t work on anything because I had to be looking at the damn camera or I would get scolded. I was paying for the training and you’ve spent 3 hours on a very, very basic topic, buddy, I need to be able to answer emails without getting hissed at. >.<

      4. Meepmeep*

        One of the downsides of no longer having long Zoom meetings is that my knitting productivity has ground to a halt. I actually kinda miss the knitting time.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            I weeded my front garden during a department meeting a few weeks ago. It helped that no one I work with expects us to have the video on and, in fact, most meetings start with a request that we mute our mics and turn off the video unless we’re speaking.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This works if they aren’t displayed on the video feed like it sounds they all are.
      Since WFH started, I’ve had 2 meetings that long where I must observe & comment. (Quarterly…we’ve gone into the 2nd quarter of this madness.) I’m not on video so I can drag the exercise bike over to my desk and switch to Bluetooth and get some blood flowing.

    5. Thistle Whistle*

      If you want to work whilst appearing not to you need two screens. The trick is to realise that you don’t have to put the zoom/skype/teams window on the laptop or screen that the camera is attached to.

      For zoom/teams/Skype calls you put the work you want to do on the laptop screen (or whatever monitor the camera is attached to) so you appear to be looking at whomever is talking. Added bonus points if you nod occasionally as you work. And if anyone actually says anything to you about typing or scrolling, just say you are looking up corroborating data.

      Then put the zoom/skype/teams screen on the second monitor which you only glance at occasionally. So it looks like you are only glancing away occasionally. If they are just talking then you don’t actually need to watch.

      Ideal setup is to have the laptop raised up a couple of inches off the desk so you can type on a separate keyboard without anyone seeing…

    6. Ellen Ripley*

      Yeah, just keep your camera on but alt-tab to other windows and do something else while you’re listening. In that sense Zoom meetings are much better than an in-person meeting where you can’t multitask.

      I dunno, 3 hours of meetings per day don’t seem that crazy – I’ve had jobs where I’d have lots more than that every day. What seems flawed is that the meetings aren’t well-organized and don’t actually get much accomplished. And it doesn’t sound like this is a new thing for this organization, so I doubt it’ll change without a big cultural change, which the LW doesn’t have the power to make happen themselves.

      1. Kaaaaaren*

        Three hour long daily video meetings where the same topics are discussed over and over and over and over and no one is allowed to go pee without permission is thiiiis close to being a crime against humanity lol.

        1. SarahKay*

          Yup. Three hours of meetings in a day – okay, I’ve had a number of days like that.
          One three-hour meeting every day, where my boss is holding my bladder captive and we’re just rehashing things over and over – no way, no how!

      2. pamela voorhees*

        My only caveat is that if your camera is on, and you switch to a different colored page, it’ll be obvious that you’re switching tabs because the light will flash on your face. People might not be paying that much close attention, but it’s something to consider.

      3. Alanna*

        One 3-hour meeting seems really different from 3 1-hour meetings or 6 30-minute meetings, though, even if they’re scheduled in a block. My job can get pretty meeting-heavy and I don’t know that I’ve ever had a collaborative meeting longer than 75 minutes (with the exception of special carveout time like a team retreat)!

      4. Armchair Expert*

        It’s not three hours per day, it’s a three-hour-long meeting with one short break. The OP also says she will typically spend another 2-3 hours on other meetings per day. Ridiculous.

    7. Reba*

      A college student I know made a looping video of herself sitting quietly at her desk taking notes… and made the video her Zoom background. This genius thus attended classes while lying down listening to music, unseen.

    8. OhNoYouDidn't*

      Yes. Or even have the meeting open on your phone and get your work done on your computer at the same time. As for going to the bathroom when needed? Screw that. If I need to go, I’m going. If my boss tried to reprimand me for that, we’d be having a come to Jesus meeting. He/She doesn’t get to dictate my bathroom habits. Hell, for that matter, the boss doesn’t get to dictate if I need to get up to get a coffee or water either.

  4. Mainely Professional*

    For what it’s worth: friends who work in management at large tech companies (think the *biggest* ones) tell me they are in video calls for 7 hours a day at a time, for meetings with different people. But it’s all day video meetings.

    1. EBStarr*

      This is very true, but it’s also very different! I work at a large tech company and this is definitely true of my managers, but my impression is that they’ll be in 1-2 hours of meetings that aren’t productive and the rest is like, 10 half-hour meetings that actually each result in progress being made. The manager themself may not get a lot done in terms of individual project work, but each meeting will be unblocking one or more individual contributors (like me) to get more done on their own projects, and the individual contributors tend to be free to attend only the meetings they find useful, at least at my particular company. It’s veeeeery different from an entire organization providing three hours a day of involuntary, unpaid therapy for the boss–those 7 hours are the price of having a large organization that requires a lot of coordination across teams.

      And it’s not like the managers are victims in the situation (for one thing, arguably no one making ~half a million dollars a year can be considered a “victim”). If you work in big tech and don’t want to be in 7 hours of meetings a day, it’s commonly known wisdom that you shouldn’t become a manager — you can get promoted without moving to management so it’s generally a trade-off we are free to make.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah my husband is in tech and manages people. He’s in meetings most of his day, so he started viewing it as him being able to free up time so his reports could get stuff done. If he’s sitting in meetings, it’s to make their jobs easier. Previously he was frustrated about not getting work done, but now he’s realized that this really kind of is his job.

        1. EBStarr*

          Yeah – those meetings have a lot of impact if they are well planned! It’s not the three hours of meetings that is inherently the problem in the letter, it’s that the three hours are soul-crushingly pointless, repetitive, and kind of abusive (I’m never gonna get over the “we can’t get up to go to the bathroom” part). No job works for everyone and maybe most of us wouldn’t want to do 7 hours of meetings a day, but that doesn’t mean the situation itself is broken.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            I think he still sits in a few pointless meetings that could have been emails, but most of them are important and need to happen so work can move forward.

          2. whingedrinking*

            Exactly. It’s like the difference between having three one-hour lectures where the instructor shows up, goes over the homework, takes questions, and assigns the next class’s work, and having to sit in a disorganized tutorial for three hours (without being allowed to go pee!) when you already know the material and would be much better off using that time to actually work on your final paper.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes, this. I have plenty of days with at least three hours of video meetings, but that’s very different from a 3-hour meeting that’s unfocused, repetitive, and unproductive. I get to opt in or out much of the time, I can tell people I need 5 minutes, the topics vary in each meeting, people generally send out agendas and stick to them, etc.

      3. Alanna*

        Yes, exactly — if you’re Minerva McGonagall it’s one thing to have scheduled 20-minute check-ins with Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Ron individually, 30 minutes with the Potions and Care of Magical Creatures professors to discuss launching a Wolfsbane Potions Project, a hastily called 30-minute meeting with Filch to deal with a Great Hall ceiling crisis, 60 minutes at the weekly retrospective with the other Heads of House, 60 minutes for your own 1:1 with your boss Albus Dumbledore, and 60 minutes at a Hogwarts all-hands that maybe could have been an email. It’s still exhausting and some of it is probably unnecessary, but it’s just kind of what management is some days. (And ideally, at the end of the day, you’ve moved the Quaffle forward on a whole bunch of stuff, individually with your team and collaboratively with other managers.)

        It’s quite another to have one 3-hour faculty meeting with the whole team, with no breaks, discussing the same things you’ve discussed a dozen times before.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Yep. When I worked for ReallyBigGlobalLeaderInItsField Company, conference calls most of, if not all day, were the norm. Try getting on someone’s calendar when they’re already double-booked…during a really hectic yet important initiative, I averaged close to 50 hours’ worth of meetings per week and still had my regular work to manage. These were fairly productive meetings because we HAD to be. Also, they were with different teams for a change of scenery, and no one cared if I needed a bio-break.

      And holy smokes, OP, I feel for you. What you’re describing sounds a vanity project for your boss.

    3. NW Mossy*

      I think that’s pretty much management right now, regardless of sector. I’m experiencing the same thing in financial services – today, I have 1 open 30-minute block between 9:15am and 3:30pm. The job was mostly meetings anyway, and the collapse of meeting norms means we have more of them in a fruitless attempt to capture what we lost in the shift to virtual. But there’s not a way to say as a leader “I am only doing limited meetings” – talking to others is how you manage people, so if you don’t do meetings, you’re literally not doing your job.

      It’s also the reason why I’ll be having a conversation with my boss today about either dropping to a part-time individual contributor role (a long shot – we don’t really do those) or quitting altogether. I can’t do constant meetings and parent and teach all at the same time until fall 2021, which is what my life would be if I try to stay on. I’m practically in tears typing this because I genuinely enjoy my work, but it’s no longer compatible with what I need to keep my physical and mental health.

      1. Two Dog Night*

        I’m so sorry you’re going through that! This is a really horrible time for parents of young-ish children. I don’t know how most of y’all have made it this long.

        1. NW Mossy*

          Speaking solely for myself, the start of the school year is making it very clear that my initial coping strategies aren’t going to hold up for another year-plus. It’s easier when you can tell yourself that Doing It All is temporary, but now we’re having to confront that this is more of a semi-permanent reality.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Me, too – the past couple of weeks have been kind of a meltdown as the school district has rolled out their all-remote plans. I’ve got twins entering first grade, and it’s clear we can’t just keep muddling through, especially because the school district is planning more intensive distance learning for this coming year compared to the spring. We’re lucky enough that hiring at least part-time child care is an option, though not great in terms of virus risk, but we’ve also talked about having grandparents come live with us (far from ideal for many reasons), one of us dropping to part time, etc. We’re about as lucky as it gets and it’s rough, and it’s much worse for people with fewer resources to hire help.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              On the work side, my manager and colleagues have been very understanding that my work output hasn’t been quite up to normal. But realizing that it’s likely to be a full year or more before anything changes, I realize that I need to figure out some way to re-balance so that I can actually do all of my job.

              I’ve seen a lot of talk about how women’s work force participation is taking a real hit from the pandemic, and I can see why – if we couldn’t afford to hire more care, I’d just be working at less than full capacity indefinitely. Even if my manager is understanding, that’s going to have an impact on promotions, accomplishments, and future career trajectory.

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              I just read an article the other day about forming “pandemic pods” as a way to manage risk while also getting the human connection we all so desperately need. It seems like it could be a halfway decent solution to providing childcare and education for children – if the parents rotate who does what, then they could all lighten their load. You’d still have times where you’re not productive at all for work, but you’d also have way more times where you can be totally focused.

              I really want to do it, but I don’t know anyone with kids my daughter’s age who are practicing the same level of precautions as we are. :(

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Yeah, we’re thinking about this, but it’s hard to figure out logistics since we don’t have great information from the school district yet about what distance learning will look like. It also requires being quite closely aligned with one or more other families, which can be tough. It’s a good option for some people, but not without its own stresses.

      2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I’m in a milder form of your situation at the moment. Not even as management but as someone working in many teams in my organization. It’s rough.

        I also do block out non-meeting time on my calendar (we have visible calendars, so people generally do not book me for those time). This is to do non-meeting “creative” or thinking work. Some managers can do it – maybe not in financial services though.

        PS – I’m trying to get a nanny to be at home to help with the child being home. It’s the only way the current situation can be sustainable for me in my current job. If you can afford it, try it.

    4. SomebodyElse*

      I’m not in a tech company and 7+ hours of meetings, being double/triple booked, odd hours was normal pre-Covid.

      Today is pretty light, I have 2 hours not blocked by a meeting (or 2 or 3). If I really wanted to, I could fill my entire work week week with nothing but meetings.

    5. Jam Today*

      This is me. I think I maxed out at 10 consecutive hours of conference calls a few weeks ago, that was probably the most I’ve had in one day, but my average is probably 7. This makes it close to impossible to get anything done, or finish anything in-flight, since I have no time to address all the work that comes out of those meetings, and they are frequently back to back 1/2 hour meetings that require mental context switching so by the time I orient myself to the meeting I’m in, I have to move onto the next one. Its really a horrendous work experience, and I am actively looking for a new job even in this employment climate.

    6. soon to be former fed really*

      Sometimes I think management is nothing but meetings, many of dubious value.

    7. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Yes. But there is a difference between well-run, moderately creative and engaging video calls (hard hard hard but also actually moderately satisfying as WORK) and dumb calls that go on too long and waste time.

      Most big managers in tech or any field would not put up with their time being wasted in bad calls over and over again.

      I’m in 2-5 hours of calls moderately often, but many are truly productive.

      1. Alanna*

        Yeah, there are only a couple of recurring meetings on my calendar that I hate (either because they’re badly organized or because they always could be an email). Collectively it’s maybe 3 hours per month, which is less time than I waste on plenty of other stuff and WAY less time than I spend in productive meetings. And yet when I say that I hate meeting-heavy days it’s ALWAYS those days I’m thinking of.

  5. EBStarr*

    I’m sorry … all of this sounds terrible, but three-hour meetings where you can only go to the bathroom at ONE SET TIME?! That is just deranged. I mean, I’m 8 months pregnant, so this fills me with a special kind of horror, but even not-pregnant I can’t consistently make it 90 minutes without peeing!

    I know this isn’t helpful advice, but I think I would be in open rebellion about that if it happened at my workplace. I mean, what are they going to do, tell you you CAN’T get up to pee? Insubordination or not, no one wants to end up like Tycho Brahe.

      1. EBStarr*

        Since I spend such a large portion of my life having to pee, I think about him all the time. :)

              1. Copenhagen*

                The bladder bursting thing is a myth. He most likely died from a UTI of some sorts. But he did have a moose that no one liked. It met it’s untimely death at some function that Tycho Brahe didn’t want to go to (so he sent the moose instead), where it got drunk and fell down a flight of stairs.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      SAAAAAAAME. Only five months for me, but yeah. And when you factor in trying to drink 80 ounces of water a day while pregnant…definitely impossible.

      1. EBStarr*


        BTW, at five months I thought no way could my bladder capacity get any worse, but that turned out not to be true, *and* I somehow became even thirstier in my third trimester. So, have fun with that!

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          So much to look forward to! Congrats to you as well, and good luck with your delivery.

    2. Pretzelgirl*

      I’ve had 3 babies and my bladder is not the same as it used to be. I also drink a bunch of water. Sometimes I pee twice an hour. I often attend long meetings at work, but nobody cares if you get up to use the restroom, stretch your legs or grab a refill of coffee. Heck sometimes people take calls.

      Nope, nope, nope from me.

      Did I say nope?

      1. TardyTardis*

        Wait till you’re older and go on diuretics for blood pressure! I made it through some really large ebooks one toilet stall at a time.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Seven months here, and I’m supposed to be staying hydrated, so I’d probably be drinking throughout the meeting, too. Nope, not gonna make it through one hour never mind three.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I have heavy periods and drink a lot of liquids (tea, water, coffee). No one, not even my first manager back in my first job in a call center, even dared to police my toilet breaks. I’d be MAD.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        OMG! If I were your grand-manager, and your manager was trying to police your toilet breaks, that’d be a fireable offense….. I’d tell him (and it would have to be a him, women don’t do that crap) to pack his things and get out.

        Alison even had a letter about it one time. Teenage girl cashier denied a bathroom break by her supervisor until she told him she was “riding the crimson wave”. She got written up for it, but that writeup was later removed and the supervisor got demoted back to cashier, then quit.

    5. EddieSherbert*

      The amount of coffee I’d need to survive/participate in those meetings means I’d need frequent bathroom breaks! Haha… but seriously. How all-around ridiculous!

    6. Environmental Compliance*

      I’m not even pregnant, never had kids, and it makes my UTI-prone self very, very twitchy.

      Even in high school I could just get up and use the bathroom like a flippin’ adult.

  6. Carbondale*

    If you need to use the bathroom or stretch your legs during the calls, just do it. Don’t ask for permission. Asking permission gives him an opportunity to say no. It’s also just really infantilizing.

      1. Elenia25*

        Yeah. I am 44 years old. No one tells me when I can or can’t go to the bathroom. This is ridiculous.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, I’d just quietly step away. If someone asks when I get back I’ll just explain.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Exactly. Even if I use the bathroom right before a meeting, there’s no way I could sit for 3 hours without having to go again. And I’m constantly getting up and stretching my legs because with not going many places outside of my house, my hips and legs are paying the price. The boss is treating everyone like children.

      1. Aquawoman*

        I believe the standard for breaks is actually something like 10 minutes for every 45 minutes.

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          It’s the thinking behind class periods beingno more than 50 minutes.

        2. lemon*

          Yeah, even when I worked at a call center where we had to account for every single minute of our time, we were still allowed a six-minute bathroom break every hour.

    3. Anne Elliot*

      I mean . . . that’s what I already do in live meetings that last for more than an hour, if I’m not the host and not directly needed for the topic under discussion.. If I have to go to the toilet, I juts quietly leave the room and then rejoin three minutes later. I can and have handled videoconference meetings the same way withoug giving it a thought. Don’t we all know what an empty chair on a Zoom call means? I frankly can’t imagine the basis upon which a manager could say that was not permitted.

    4. Flawed by Design*

      Alternative solution: bring the laptop with you and act as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to be relieving yourself on a Zoom call. Bonus points if you make a point to contribute to the discussion while you do so. If anyone says anything, talk about how incredible it is that technology has provided a way for you to never have to miss a single word of these meetings, AND your focus is better than ever because you don’t feel like your bladder is going to explode.

      I’m going to guess that it’s probably not a form of harassment as long as it’s only your head and upper torso in the video, but IANAL. Also can’t guarantee that it won’t cause other problems or result in you being fired anyway, but at least you won’t have to sit through 3 hour Zoom meetings anymore.

      1. juliebulie*

        Be sure to leave the mic on so that they can hear what you’re doing. You don’t want them to think you’re goofing off.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yep, I was in back to back meetings all morning and I just…put my phone on mute and went to the bathroom. I recognize it’s different with video, but even those I just…go.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I find virtual backgrounds make this even less obtrusive, because people kind of flicker in and out anyway as they go grab a pencil or whatever. It’s somehow less obvious that you’re gone.

        Wireless headphones are also great – double-check you’re on mute and then go get a drink or go to the bathroom and you won’t miss the conversation. You can’t chime in until you’re back, but it makes quickly stepping away less disruptive to others.

        1. Environmental Compliance*


          I have a bluetooth headset because I need to be able to get up and move or go to the bathroom or go get a drink. I spend 99% of virtual meetings muted anyway to reduce background noise, and I very much doubt many people notice for more than a blip if I step away for a couple minutes.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          The video conferencing my company uses doesn’t allow virtual backgrounds (boooo), but I have the distinct pleasure of working with people who are generally reasonable human beings.

  7. Blisskrieg*

    This is honestly one of the worst work situations I remember reading about on this site. Oh my. 7th circle of hell is accurate.

  8. I’m screaming inside too!*

    If your boss really won’t agree to curtail the meetings, I think Alison’s suggestion that you develop bandwidth problems that mean you can’t have video on is your only option.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        It also brought to mind an anecdote I read somewhere on the internet recently where a parent relayed that they came across their child playing in their room while their Google Class was taking place. When the parent asked their kid if the teacher was missing them while they were on the floor, the child explained that they took a screenshot of themselves looking interested and made that their display and in a virtual classroom with thumbnails of 30 kids the teacher was never going to be able to tell the difference. OP, I would like to suggest this as another creative option. :) (Assuming your team is big enough)

        My boss is having our leadership team do calls 3x a week but they never go more than an hour and we can opt out when we need to. It still feels excessive to me but it’s way more manageable than this hellish scenario. You have my sympathies!

    1. Combinatorialist*

      This is particularly easy right now because Comcast is refusing to send anyone out to fix Internet problems unless you have no connection at all (ask me how I know). So if you were to develop bandwidth problems, there is a 0% chance you could get it fixed right now.

          1. nonegiven*

            Oh, that might have been my roommate nuking his burrito. The microwave always interferes with the wifi in here.

    2. Beth*

      Yes. I’m a grad student, which in normal circumstances comes with at least a couple 3-4 hour seminars each week…and while most of my professors have been very flexible in the pandemic, a couple have been very stubborn about 1. using the full normal class time and 2. asking everyone to have cameras on the whole time.

      We’re collectively dealing with it by having occasional ‘bandwidth issues’. Sometimes they’re actually bandwidth issues, which is what makes it believable! Everyone’s using internet so heavily these days, of course it’s a problem on occasion. But sometimes it’s that we didn’t want to deal with bedhead, or had sore eyes from staring at a screen looking focused for hours and wanted to be able to listen with our eyes closed for a while, or wanted to be able to run to the bathroom/have a snack/stretch without looking unfocused, or our space is a mess (we’re grad students, it’s not like most of us can afford houses with a dedicated office) and we didn’t want to tidy it all up just for class. Your boss can deal.

  9. Cobol*

    Can you multitask? If people don’t understand technology, are they able to monitor that you don’t have Zoom as the primary window?

    1. Cobol*

      Also the bathroom rule is especially ridiculous. I would be tempted to slowly empty a 2 liter bottle of water into a bucket just outside of the camera view.

      1. Morticia*

        I laughed. That’s brilliant. I think this would be brilliant. Also, possibly career-limiting, but brilliant.

      2. Remote HealthWorker*

        Story time. I was on a call with a vendor and I was presenting. My feverish husband stumbled out of bed from his nap, and took a whiz with the door open. Even though I was a room over the mic picked it up! It was so awkward but I just barreled on.

    2. Threeve*

      That is almost certainly what other coworkers are doing.

      Three hour meetings + generally not remembering what was covered in previous meetings? I guarantee: other people are listening with half an ear while they do something else on the computer (doing their real work, taking Buzzfeed quizzes, etc.)

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      I assumed they do know how zoom works, need to take a break, and are using “hmmm, technology, amirite?” As cover

    4. Beth*

      I don’t think zoom has a mechanism to monitor if it’s the primary window (I’ve heard rumors that they did originally, but removed it? regardless, I don’t think it’s possible now). OP, I would bet everyone is doing this–hence the poor memories, maybe!–and you should feel free to do the same.

      1. Cobol*

        I thought there was something for teachers specifically, maybe a different license, so they could make sure students weren’t cheating on tests.

  10. Brob*

    Even once a week 3 hr meetings are ridiculous! I work for a huge company, and our once a week zoom mtgs for 60 people never last more than an hour, and usually not that long! THREE HOURS????

    1. Cobol*

      My team does this every other week. It’s pointless, but it sure makes my c-level manager feel like we’re doing something. I have the feeling OP is in the same boat.

    2. Mimmy*

      Oh god yes! We do weekly video meetings and I’m twitching at about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how dragged out a topic is getting or if there’s a lot of extraneous noises.

  11. WellRed*

    If I need to “self-break” (a new phrase to hate) I’m going to self-break. Is he going to call out to you over Zoom to get back to your computer? Will he fire you? I’m guessing it’s a hard no to either, but if he does the phrases “explosive diarreah” or “leaky tampon” come to mind. Or a query to HR.

    Seriously, this is such a waste of time and energy resources and frankly, I question the boss’ abilities in normal times.

    1. Dumpster Fire*

      Ugh. Send your boss some Sugar-free Haribo Bears to have as a snack during the meetings. Your meetings will probably end quite abruptly. (Google the reviews if you have a strong stomach.)

      1. willow for now*

        OMG, I remember those! The one on Amazon, where the guy was trying to have a date?

    2. Fabulous*

      My old boss called it a “bio break” and I cringed hard every time, though “self break” is pretty bad in and of itself too…

      1. Amy*

        My partner’s work calls them ‘comfort breaks’. I don’t hate that. It works for toilet reasons, but also cup of tea or stretch or anything else too.

      2. we're basically gods*

        Oof, I would definitely cringe if someone used that in the real world. I’ve only ever heard “bio break” (or even just “bio”) used in the context of video games, when someone’s doing stuff with a group and has to run for a moment. (Also used occasionally are “pet aggro” or “baby aggro”, to indicate that the pet or baby needs to be dealt with before the group ventures on.)

    3. Persephone Underground*

      I’ve never said more than “BRB” in meetings, and usually that’s all I say in person too. You’re an adult, everyone knows where you’re most likely going, no need to come up with euphemisms.

      Just tell them the info that they actually could use, which is how long you’ll be away (not long), not why, if you feel the need to say anything at all.

  12. Burn it all down*

    dear lord, my eye started to twitch while reading this. Sorry I have no advice just my sympathy

  13. I Herd the Cats*

    I’ve spent the morning dealing with petty office problems and hating it, and you just made me feel so much better about my job. So thanks?

  14. Sales Geek*

    Daily three hour calls? Sheesh. I understand the requirement for internal communication but it’s the worst, least effective way to do it.

    If you’re talking to management I’d suggest moving this to a Slack channel instead. That will allow full participation, a record of the discussion and hopefully give everyone back a large measure of the daily three-hour calls…

    (Am I the only one that immediately went to the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island”? Except instead of “a three hour tour the lyrics are “a three hour call”)

    1. Drew*

      Her bladder started getting rough
      The Zoom call was a loss
      If not for the timing of the half-way break
      Her drawers she would have tossed

        1. Want to face the couch*

          The screen was shrunk
          Details forgot
          Nothing was getting done
          If not for the commentariat
          There would be no fun

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Slight edit for scansion:

            The screen was shrunk; details were lost
            No tasks were getting done
            If not for the witty commentariat
            The day would not be fun

            ….still needs work, but hey!

    2. Mimmy*

      My husband is a few feet away on a work call and it’s taking every ounce of energy to stifle my laughter! That’s why I love coming to this site – you all are so clever!

      Actually one advice for the OP: If all else fails, you just have to laugh at the ridiculousness (while looking for a new job!)

  15. Kimmybear*

    Unfortunately, I think you will find this more common than you would like to think. Do you really need to be paying 100% attention? If you have 2 monitors, put the document you are working on on the screen with the camera so you are facing it. Then put the meeting on the other screen so you can see it from the corner of your eye and listen. Then you can get some work done while listening as well as your coworkers seem to be. Of course I’ve *never* done this during my twice weekly report outs :).

    1. Quill*

      If you work in higher ed you’ve definitely seen someone doing homework for another class during a lecture…

    2. Secretary*

      If you have airpods, you can listen to a podcast or watch a movie and just pretend you’re using them for the zoom audio during times when you don’t need to know what’s going on.

  16. Person from the Resume*

    I vote talk to him even if it doesn’t go over well because this does sound like hell. It’s worth it to burn capital to try to get these to end.

    In the same vein of stop wasting 2 hours and 45 minutes of my life everyday I would get explicit that “we already discussed and decided this,” “there’s too much uncertainty to make it worth our while to keep discussing hypotheticals.”

    Seriously I’m overly polite and reluctant to be this explicit normally, but 3 HOURS A DAY EVERY DAY calls for it.

    But if you that doesn’t work or you can’t bring yourself to do that go with create a life-sized cardboard cut-out of yourself, dress it in your clothes and a wig, and have it take your place on camera while you do other stuff.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Since Zoom allows custom backgrounds, have you considered using your webcam to take a picture of yourself at your workstation, and using that as your background image? (Only about 80% joking here)

    2. Jaybeetee*

      ‘In the same vein of stop wasting 2 hours and 45 minutes of my life everyday I would get explicit that “we already discussed and decided this,” “there’s too much uncertainty to make it worth our while to keep discussing hypotheticals.”’

      This. Rehashing the same topics over and over sounds to me like anxiety looping (actually, the whole situation sounds like some kind of anxiety to me, but ofc I can’t know that). At any rate, continually indulging the loop doesn’t help anyone.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        ^ Yes, I think it’s completely acceptable to very explicitly call out the things that are getting repeated or totally unrealistic hypothetical situations to be discussing *this* indepth. Just make sure to keep a friendly polite tone while expressing a “hard stop” on a conversation!

      2. snoopythedog*


        Or you could try – ‘we already discussed this on X date, unless something has changed and we need to rethink our decisions, can we put a pin in this? Perhaps if we all review the meeting notes on this topic and feel there is a need for further discussion, we can add it to the agenda for next time.”

        This absolutely sounds like an anxiety loop. I had a boss stuck in one of those. It helped to consistently, nicely, and firmly identify that we had already been over the issue and to politely asked if something had changed which required further discussion. If it hadn’t, I’ve just reply with “ok, noted that this issue is continuing on but there’s nothing new to discuss”.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        This is a boss that can’t/won’t lead. Additionally, I read the lack of breaks as him being really, really afraid.

        I don’t know how I would be able to go back to work and face this person who has colossally wasted everyone’s time. Wait, I haven’t even gotten around to the brain drain and the burn out that follows the brain drain. I’d fully expect everyone to be screaming at each other by the time they return to the physical work place. When employees feel that they have been forcibly glued to each other, behaviors can get weird.

        I think the worst part for me is that I would have zero confidence in this boss and I would never be able to move away from that zero rating.

        OP, are you unionized? If yes, what would happen if you told the union you were not being allowed to use the bathroom or get a fresh drink of water?

      4. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah. Maybe instead of talking to your boss about getting rid of the meetings at first, you can start a bit more incrementally. Point out to your boss outside these marathons that you’ve noticed that a lot of discussions get repeated multiple times and that you would like to start sending out the previous meeting minutes before the meeting starts so everyone can know when something has already been discussed and decided without taking time to search. Maybe even a more master document with the main topics and decisions that have already been reviewed.

        Normally I would not suggest making more work for yourself or volunteering for this kind of administrative task if it isn’t your JD, but in this specific case, it may be worth a little extra headache on your part taking on that task to minimize the time spent rehashing everything over and over. The once you can get the rehashing down a bit, then you can broach possibly shortening the meeting a bit since you guys really don’t need that much time on a daily basis. Isn’t that great?! (Positive voices!)

        Then, keep doing what you’re doing with your breakout groups. If you can start good habits there, you could probably start incorporating some of them into the bigger meeting.

        Then if all else fails? Bluetooth headphones and a screen shot of you looking intently at the camera so at minimum you can stand up and walk around the room. If anyone notices, “oh, my video must have frozen! Just give it a sec…”

    3. Sacred Ground*

      I’d leave off describing the time wastage as time out of my life.

      I’d point out that the org is paying for 40 hours of my time every week but only getting 25 hours of work from me, choosing to use 15 hours a week, 40% of the time it has paid for, on these meetings. Reiterate here the content of these meetings: nothing useful, rehashing the same info, and plain old gossip.

      I would calculate my hourly pay rate, multiply that by 15, and point out that this is the real dollar cost of these meetings just to have me there. Now add up the same number for all the others required to attend and show them how many thousands of dollars of the org’s money these meetings are costing the school district. You say you’re in public education so I’m guessing the salary/compensation of your coworkers is public info.

      This is probably going to look like thousands of dollars a week in district funds being flushed away for no useful purpose. (The actual purpose of these meetings seems to be to placate one supervisor’s ego and anxiety, but you don’t want to go there.)

      Then when that doesn’t work, when your boss decides these meetings are worth the cost (because it’s not her money and she enjoys having her ego stroked and anxiety relieved), send the same info in an email to the district superintendent or the school board or whoever your boss answers to, especially in terms of budget.

      Don’t describe it as a waste of your time (they don’t care) but as a waste of their money.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Oh, forgot to add: for a week or so, take copious and detailed notes of each meeting. Include everything discussed, especially the irrelevant. You want to document what’s happening in these meetings to make it obvious that they are in fact a time waster. If it really is just rehashing the same info every day and spending a lot of time on personal or non-work topics, your notes will show that. Show, don’t tell, that in 3 hours you spent however many minutes on a topic that’s both new and work-related. Every day.

        I guess I’m saying that if you want to confront anyone about this, your boss or their boss, you need two things: lots of documentation (meeting minutes and the above cost calculations) and to frame the problem entirely on what it means to the organization, not to you personally. If anyone asks or comments, then there might be room to mention that this alone would be a good reason for good employees to seek other jobs elsewhere, but I’d be really gentle about that part.

  17. anonybear*

    re: breaks

    This is absurd and punitive. You can’t go pee??? This is a classic “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Just start taking breaks to get water, go pee, scream outside. Don’t ask permission, and if someone says something, you can look at them with the head-cocked confused -puppy look: “I had to use the restroom!”

    1. Silly Janet*

      Seriously. I was going through something similar at the start of the pandemic (comment below) and while we were never told we needed “permission” to use the bathroom (!), I would sometimes just turn off my camera and mic and rant and stomp around the room.

    2. Dumpster Fire*

      Or, leave your camera on, close your eyes for a little bit and present a peaceful, relieved look: “No, I don’t need the restroom anymore….”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      They are all waiting for someone to be the first person to do this. Once one person does it, everyone else will follow suit.

  18. voyager1*

    I think if you want this to get better you need to talk to your team members. I am betting the reason why you have to cover the same content over and over is people are zoning out. But AAM is right sucking it up is probably what is going to happen.

    On a personal note if I had 3 hours on a Zoom meeting daily, I imagine at about 90 mins in if I could use a milk jug to pee in and if anyone would notice.

  19. Silly Janet*

    Ugh, I feel your pain, OP! I was in this almost exact situation at the start of the pandemic. I also work in education (not public) and we were all working from home, having daily 2-3 hour long zoom meetings trying to figure out how to best serve our community, which is of course important. But after a while it began to feel like we were talking around and around about the same thing! They also wanted our cameras on. I did eventually get out of them, and this is how. I had lots of work to do on top of the daily meetings, and then I was asked to take on another project. I professionally, but directly, said I would not be able to do it because the meetings took up too much time. I wasn’t invited to another meeting for three weeks! And from talking to others, I think the meetings in general dropped off. If you have other projects you are working on, I would explain that the meetings cut too much into the day, not to mention they are so exhausting. I have also flat out lied saying that I didn’t have enough bandwidth to use my camera. What they are putting you through is nuts- do not feel bad about asking for the meetings to be greatly reduced!

  20. Herding Butterflies*

    OP, you have my sympathy. I am in the same hell but our daily meetings are only an hour but we go over the same things. Every. Single. Day.

    We all hate these meetings but my boss loves them. And, like you, telling him does not go well. We have tried. And I am not in academia so we see no end in sight…..*sigh*

    If anyone has ANY suggestions, for our poor OP, please post! I could use the advice too.

      1. Sarah*

        This is me – daily hours-long Zooms. I have my camera off and I’ve been crocheting blankets.

  21. Mazzy*

    I’m waiting for someone in higher ed to chime in. Maybe this is more normal in that industry? I’m kind of reminded of the covid update press briefings of late, they were long and there was alot of repeated information because alot of it did need to get repeated a couple times to sink in and to paint a complete “this is the way things are now” picture.

    Maybe the OP is in this type of job where they’re supposed to be having these “this is the way things are, and this is how we want things to be” type general conversations, and they hate them because they were in roles where they did actual work with specific measurables up to date, and now feel like the talk is cheap and isn’t real work?

    Just an idea. Doesn’t change everything, especially the weird bathroom comment. Just get up and go and ignore anyone who asks where you’re going!

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      NOOOOOOO. At least, not in my section of higher ed (fundraising). A three-hour meeting is a quarterly event for me, not a daily one. Not even a weekly one. And it demands snacks and coffee, at least one break, and permission to get up if you need to regardless of whether a break is occurring.

    2. OrigCassandra*

      I suspect this is K-12 or K-12 administration (like, a state government ed agency or a district) rather than higher ed.

      Faculty would RAMPAGE if somebody tried to three-hour-meeting them more than, like, once a year. (The department I’m in does a daylong retreat once a year to churn through as much administrivia as possible, then once-a-semester 90-minute plenaries.) No WAY does that fly.

    3. PhysicsTeacher*

      I’m almost positive this is K-12 (where there is a general feeling of panic right now on every level because state governments are regularly issuing orders that seem to change EVERYTHING so it’s hard to feel like anything is done for real).

      It’s also probably almost certainly central admin, not teachers, given that these meetings are mandatory and any bosses feel like they can forbid bathroom breaks (and OP feels like she can’t just get up to take a break anyway). Teachers are currently off their contract time and this would not fly.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      I’m in higher ed.

      This is bullshit any where. I can see it happening — not with tenured faculty, because they don’t have to put up with this kind of bullshit if they don’t want to. But with other staff, non tenured faculty, adjuncts, it could happen.

      As I said below, what would happen if you just got up and did what you needed to do when you need to do it? What would happen if you turned off your camera? What would happen if you just muted it? Those are real questions — if the answer is, I will get fired, then you have to suck it up. If it’s not getting fired, F your boss and do what you need to do. What a freakin tyrant.

    5. PeanutButter*

      I’m in an academic lab, and we have 2.5-3 hour weekly meetings, but the first 15 minutes are lab news, and the rest is journal club – ie, we have all read an academic journal article relevant to our field and someone has put together a presentation on it, and we all discuss it. The meeting ends when nobody has anymore questions or comments, so it only goes as long as there’s interest in the subject.

  22. AndersonDarling*

    Losing the Zoom window-> This happened to me so often when I started regularly using zoom. You can always go back to your zoom ap and it has a button for “Show meeting.” I keep zoom pinned to my taskbar so I can always click it in a panic, bring up the ap and click on the button to bring the meeting back to the surface.

    1. Liane*

      When I read people were repeatedly losing the Zoom app and not being able to find it again, I immediately thought, “Those coworkers are doing it on purpose! To survive!”
      My sympathy, OP.

      1. Phony Genius*

        It reminds me of the recent SNL sketch where two women working for a company are completely hopeless when it comes to technology. They eventually get excused from it.

        1. Gumby*

          Yes, the “If you have to dry the dishes” solution. Doesn’t always work, but occasionally worth a try…

  23. OrigCassandra*

    Make a screenshot of Alison’s response your Zoom background?

    (I mean, don’t. But wow, I would be tempted.)

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          Points for Sharknado reference. The whole series is one of my guilty pleasures. Just so over-the-top silly, but I love sharks! And disaster movies! So, the combo is irresitible.

    1. Artemesia*

      It works better to do that other work on the same computer you are meeting on because you will be on camera and looking at the screen and it won’t be obvious you are doing something else — if you use another monitor it would be.

  24. Megabeth*

    Ok, first, this is crazypants bonkers awful. If there is no way to get rid of these meetings, maybe (hopefully?) there are things to try to help with the pain. You’re already doing the Lord’s work by sending out documents ahead of time. I wonder if there an agenda prepared beforehand, and does your team adhere to it? That might help with the zombie topics. Maybe you could go back to your boss and ask her to revisit the decision against taking bio breaks as needed. Honestly, that rankles me more than anything, that grown people need permission to go to the bathroom! I am so mad at your boss on behalf of your poor bladder!

  25. Pretzelgirl*

    I would probably pretend something happened to my camera and couldn’t fix it. Attend the zoom via sound only and do other stuff.

    wow just wow.

    1. PromotionalKittenBasket*

      “I downloaded an update and my camera’s been fussy since then” is an excellent idea.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      Start taking your calls outside under the patio so you’re backlit so badly that no one can see you beyond a vague outline.

    3. Nobby Nobbs*

      What do you mean you can’t see me? Is it working now? How about now? Hold on, I’m gonna try something… (It’s definitely not the piece of paper taped over the camera, I swear!)

  26. Three Flowers*

    OP, I 1000% sympathize. I am in video conferences on average 12-15 hours a week right now. (I work in higher ed teaching and learning support–this is also not a fun time for us–and my team plus a few stalwarts from elsewhere in the college are meeting 1-3 times with every single faculty member this summer to help them prep for fall.) Most of those meetings are an hour, though. If I had 3-hour meetings every day, I’d through my router out the window and claim catastrophic internet failure such that I would only be communicating through carrier pigeon.

    I don’t have any advice–I just want to say you’re not alone.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Bless you for what you do. I had a (genuinely necessary on both sides) meeting earlier this week with a couple of the campus accessibility folks, and they looked so exhausted. I tried to keep it brief!

      1. Three Flowers*

        Bless you for taking the time to ask your campus accessibility folks! So much is being asked of faculty right now, while they are (like all humans) under enormous stress. People who are being proactive about fall are nothing short of heroic.

      1. Three Flowers*

        OMG, I needed that today. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a wikipedia article in the tone of a satirical white paper. :D

    2. Three Flowers*

      Also! This is actual advice! Some ISPs quietly cap your data, and after a certain point they drastically lower your bandwidth and/or speed. “Sorry, I got a message from my ISP saying I’ve hit my max at high speed for this month and they’re cutting my bandwidth for the rest of the billing cycle, so I need to turn my camera off if I want to be able to stay connected. It’s never happened before! I guess videoconferencing really does use a lot of data.”

      (Advice courtesy of that time I found out there are consequences for high cell phone data use even on an unlimited plan because I used my phone as a hotspot after the apartment internet got so unstable I was losing videoconference connection every ten minutes–aka, I think I maxed out *two* data caps by videoconferencing. Ah, Covid times.)

      1. Three Flowers*

        And! “I also got a window/portable air conditioner and it’s so loud I need to stay muted unless I’m speaking” (source: Covid times plus the third or fourth New England heat wave of this summer). Those things are unbelievably noisy.

  27. PromotionalKittenBasket*

    1. Absolutely just get up and leave when you need to break for your legs, bio needs, or sanity. Just do it, they’ll live.
    2. Do you craft at all? I find that being able to craft with my hands out of view is extremely helpful, like big crochet that I can easily rip out afterwards (if there’s mistakes) goes a looooong way towards easing the stress and boredom of meetings like that.

    Also, I’m so impressed with your ability to cope. That would drive me out of my damn mind.

  28. Artemesia*

    I am sorry but my internet is acting up. I am really sorry but my computer is down so I will need to skip the meeting tomorrow, I am trying to get an appointment with the repair shop.

    OMG. This is horrific.

    FWIW. If you put something up else on your screen, even cat videos or a novel on kindle or your own lesson planning, you can be nodding and on screen and it will not be obvious you are not ‘in’ the meeting as the sound is on. Just make sure you are muted so the noise of another program doesn’t intrude. You have to listen but you can multi task. I play boggle sometimes in book club meetings that are dragging.

    Any chance you could say something like. ‘I am needing more time for lesson planning for the fall and would like to suggest that we: send information out ahead for our presentations here, review the minutes of the last meeting before coming on line for the meeting, plan to cut these meetings shorter or do them twice a week rather than daily. There is so much work to do before we start classes.’

    This is nightmarish. I would certainly get up and go to the bathroom without hesitation. Hope you can get a revolution going with peers.

  29. Too Much!*

    Awful. I would do the math how much each meeting cost (# of participants x their hourly rate x 3 hours). Let’s see if it’s really worth it to your boss.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      If the boss is doing it to meet an emotional need, not a business need, then I doubt he’s going to be swayed by that – if the reasoning behind some decision isn’t logical, logic usually won’t solve it. Although god, it’d be really nice if it could.

    2. Sacred Ground*

      It is obviously worth it to the boss, but it might not be obvious exactly how much it’s costing without hard numbers to look at. It would be useful info for the boss’s boss though.

  30. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Lots of folks have already focused on the length, bathroom breaks, and working during the meeting, but I wanted to address the repetition of things you’ve talked about over and over. Is there any possibility of keeping a running list of key decisions and action items from past meetings open *during* the meeting? You say there are detailed meeting notes, which is possibly part of the problem: lots of documentation, but enough that most people aren’t going to go back and read any of it. This would be good to review at the start of the meeting so that everyone stops wasting everyone else’s time.

    1. Essess*

      Can you ask the boss for an agenda for each morning’s call ahead of time? Tell boss that it’s for “better meeting preparation” or some other helpful excuse.

      1. Dave*

        This would be my focus. Ask for an agenda and routinely cut in and reference meeting minutes or just keep linking to them in the chat window.
        After a few days /weeks of that I would have the conversation about the meetings covering the same material repeatedly and people aren’t prepared /reading the materials previously discussed. I had a weekly meeting that was a loop of this eventually I got to be excused while the boss would re-review all the info with the employee not paying attention (that really needed fired). After about an hour and half of each meeting I would try to have a deadline or another meeting for an excuse. That may or may not work for you but worth trying.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Agendas will not help. I have agendas for my board meetings. Just getting some of the more “seasoned” members to follow the agenda and only talk about the item we are on with the agenda is hard enough. Then the items get discussed to death. I’ve gotten really good at saying “okay, we’ve talked about some ideas, so and so, can you explore these and report back? thanks.” But it takes the person running the meeting to be willing to do this. If the boss is not willing to rein in the discussion and is in fact the driving force behind the endless rounds of What If? nothing is going to change, not matter how good an agenda you put out.

      2. AliciaB*

        Yes, I agree that you should try to at least make the meetings more productive. Maybe if they start accomplishing something it will help ease your boss’ anxiety and they will be either shorter or less frequent? If that doesn’t work I would take a picture of myself and make that my image so I don’t have to actively be on camera. If anyone asks why you’re not moving say your video is frozen.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Our board has an action calendar.
      The first column is the name of the person doing the action. The second column is what the action is. The third column is the follow ups as they unfold with a date for each entry.

      Once the action is finished, the conclusion goes in the minutes and the action item is taken off the action calendar.

  31. booger*

    Agree with everyone saying this is horrifying– and in some cases probably verges on discriminatory if you’re not allowed to stand up or pee!
    One thing I’ve found is that having a Bluetooth earpiece makes it easy to pause the video when necessary to get a glass of water, stretch, etc (probably not pee, though) while still being able to participate in the conversation without feeling like you’re yelling at the computer across the room. I was surprised by how freeing it felt not to be tethered by headphones!

  32. Jostling*

    I feel so rude doing this and therefore am hesitant to suggest it, but if your participation in a given meeting is low, perhaps you could do other work at your computer while on the call? I was suffering through long, ramble-y “meetings” and I started leaving my camera on but muting myself and pulling up work on top of the video conference window. What I found was that when I looked less engaged (while still being visible), people were less likely to engage with me and I was actually able to get work done during the meetings. The sweet spot, of course, is not to look like you’re being disrespectful while still allowing your body language to show that the meeting may not be a valuable use of your time. Obviously, there’s a lot of risk associated with this, but your non-verbal cues need to be “loud” to be picked up on video chat, and that has been the most effective way I have found so far to represent “not being engaged” via video chat in a way that would usually come across in a conference room as a signal to wrap it up or move on. Working on something else also prevents me from engaging in conversation just because I’m bored, which can drag out meetings even longer. I’m usually a very front-row, hand-up, Hermione Granger type, but meetings like you describe that are clearly to quell your boss’s anxiety pretty much just require you to show up in the back and “answer the clicker questions.” It’s been difficult to implement for myself since it’s so counter to my usual behavior, but I think it’s an effective “managing up” technique that you otherwise would perform more naturally in person.

    1. Summer Anon*

      I learned that while using zoom on a device (phone or iPad), if I brought something else up in the background zoom stopped displaying my video and only showed my zoom profile picture. So to combat this I would usually have 2 devices going. It maybe only an issue on devices with apps and not computers. Something to investigate though :)

      1. e*

        This is not an issue on a laptop! Even when I’m paying full attention, I have another window open and active for notes. My video/audio go the whole time.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Also, creative lighting, either too much or too little, to obscure those visuals.

  33. Lady Heather*

    OP, in case the life-sized cardboard cut out doesn’t cut it:

    print out your paystub poster-sized and hang it on the wall behind the camera, so that any time you feel the urge to engage in violence and other kinds of unseemly behaviour, you can remind yourself what you’re doing all this for.

    Even if you can’t find an affordable poster-printer, remind yourself what you are doing this for.
    ‘I am not here to enjoy myself. I am here to earn money. I am not here to have fun. I am here to follow orders. I am not here to be useful. I am here to spend my time in the way my boss has decided I should spend my time.’
    Over, and over, like a mantra.
    I found it helpful when I was in retail.. and basically one day one assistant manager had me colour-coordinate all products and the next day I had to alphabetize them and just about when I’d finished that I had to sort them by package size.
    I was not there to be useful. I was there to earn money by following orders.
    It helped.

  34. inthemiddle*

    I work in K-12 education, and I keep thinking that what you are describing is similar to what many students are about to be experiencing in remote learning. (Which I think is the right choice for schools, but some empathy for students who are going to be on Zoom all day is appropriate. Teachers get breaks for planning, but kids are generally expected to be “on” all day.)

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I have a rising Kindergartener and our school district has provided a sample schedule for elementary school — school is from 8:20 to 1:30, with a “movement break” from 10:30 – 10:45. Bless the teachers who are desperately figuring out how to keep the attention of 16+ 5 year olds via zoom all day…

      (And I’m with you — it’s the right decision for safety, but it can still suck because this is 2020)

  35. Prof Ma'am*

    I feel like maybe you work at my institution because I would 100% believe that my leadership is in 3 hour meetings a day talking in circles and making zero progress on how we’re actually going to pull off the hybrid Fall semester.

    Also I agree that you should turn your camera off and blame bandwidth. If others have daily(!) tech issues then no one should bat an eye if you say “Oh jeez, looks like you all keep freezing, I think I need to turn off my camera to save bandwidth!”.

  36. Ross*

    Three hour meetings are intolerable as it is, but made significantly worse by the need to have cameras on. I’m thankful that we only tend to use cameras at my company for occasional team meetings and most calls are audio only. That allows me to multitask a bit, although having to pay attention to an ongoing meeting means that I can’t concentrate sufficiently to do many tasks.

    In some cases, I’ve put a bluetooth headset on and done work around the house (laundry, dishes, etc) then used the time saved to catch up on work requiring concentration in the evenings. Thankfully I don’t have to attend too many unproductive meetings.

    If there’s any way to get out of the camera requirement, that could lighten the burden a bit.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Is there any kind of head-mounted camera than can face toward yourself? Then you could do things and still meet the camera requirement.

  37. BookLady*

    “He wants to talk through all possible options and hash them out over and over.”

    This reminds me of a job I used to have where meetings functioned exactly like this. We would spend hours and hours discussing something only to meet again the next day and rehash EV. ER. Y. THING. There was nothing we could do about it–that’s just the way our boss thought through things and how she had been running her business for over a decade.

    I don’t have much advice, but I do have lots of empathy!

    1. Essess*

      When that happens in our status calls each day, when it turns into a long explanation or problem-solving that really only should involve one or two people we get really pushy about saying “lets take this offline and I’ll schedule a meeting right after this one that includes only the people that need to be involved”. Then keep repeating if they continue to talk about that topic in the first call.

    2. Sarah*

      Same, same, same – my current boss crowdsources every single decision that she should truly be making independently and it leads to HOURS-long meetings daily.

  38. Essess*

    Being told you cannot ‘self-break’ to go to the bathroom is an OSHA violation. You are protected to be allowed access to use bathrooms when you need them. https://www.oshaeducationcenter.com/articles/restroom-breaks/#:~:text=Employers%20may%20not%20impose%20unreasonable,temperature%2C%20medical%20conditions%20and%20medications.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Oooh, that is a very good point. I’d be interested in Alison’s take.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure. And if it’s at the point where the manager is threatening to discipline people who leave for the bathroom, you can raise that — but it would be premature at this point, based on what’s in the letter. The OP and her coworkers should just start taking the bathroom breaks they need, and if they get pushback, they can confusedly say, “I need the bathroom, it’s not an option to wait.” But you don’t generally need to jump straight to OSHA.

  39. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I wonder if the continual repetition is an indication that nobody is really listening, everyone but boss is discreetly doing other work on a second monitor, and LW should feel no guilt following suit.

    There’s only one person’s behaviour you can actually change.

    1. Prof Ma'am*

      Oh this is a great theory! I do think it’s suspicious that only the LW is pointing out the repetition… there’s no way everyone else on that call is paying 100% attention.

    2. Bostonian*

      I was thinking the same thing! I was waiting for OP to say that people are probably having a hard time retaining all the information because the meetings are so long and that’s why the same topics come up over and over.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      They are stuck continuously listening. It sounds to me like the boss cannot make a decision, if someone presents a solution, he will throw up as many barriers as possible. So why bother deciding or offering solid suggestions? All of them realize they have to just sit there until it’s over. sigh.

    4. juliebulie*

      Yes. These meetings are wasting everyone’s time, in order to soothe your boss’s anxiety. Do whatever you can to make this time tolerable and productive and non-stabby.

  40. HailRobonia*

    Three hours?!?! WEEKLY!?!? My heart goes out to you. My office has a monthly meeting that is normally 2+ hours and it is excruciating, it’s just listening to the program heads give updates that include minutiae that is irrelevant to the other programs and congratulating themselves and kissing up to TheBig Boss.

    Luckily we heard it through the grapevine that The Big Boss hates to see people’s real-life backgrounds because they are “messy” (sorry I don’t have a curated selection of books on a picturesque shelf behind me) and our computers aren’t good enough to do Zoom backgrounds without green screens, so we can get away with not using video and just keep listening to the meeting and doing real work instead of listening to someone rattle off a list of 25 companies that took part in an event, etc.

    1. virago*

      So tempted.

      SeluciaMD related the following anecdote upthread:

      “I read somewhere on the internet recently where a parent relayed that they came across their child playing in their room while their Google Class was taking place. When the parent asked their kid if the teacher was missing them while they were on the floor, the child explained that they took a screenshot of themselves looking interested and made that their display and in a virtual classroom with thumbnails of 30 kids the teacher was never going to be able to tell the difference.”

  41. Nonprofit Nancy*

    Can you resign from the brain trust? This may be time for radical honesty: you’re not finding these meetings helpful (perhaps others are) it’s preventing you from getting X and Y done, you need to get out of the inner circle of advisors. I might even start playing pretty dumb but my career is second to my sanity.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Or, could you start strategically declining meetings? Not all of them, but what would happen if once a week or so, you just decline with “Sorry, I need to focus on the llama grooming deadline today.” If your boss pushes back, that gives you the opening to say you’re having trouble getting X, Y, Z real work done (don’t say the “real work” part out loud!) and ask for his help prioritizing.

      Depending on your relationship with your coworkers, you might even encourage some of them to start declining meetings as well. It’s a bit passive aggressive for sure, but if you really can’t get the boss to talk about it directly – well, he gets what he gets. Please send an update when you have one, because this is absolutely bonkers!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “I can’t see where I am making any actually contribution and I feel duty bound to leave my brain trust position. I will continue with my other activities.”

  42. Saby*

    Yiiiiiiikes. You have my sympathies, OP. I work in a university library so I know how much uncertainty there is right now in the education world and I’m sure that is exacerbating everything.

    Is there any way you could volunteer to take over the chairing of these meetings? That way you would have a bit more authority to set agendas, ensure you stick to the agenda and not rehash the previous meeting’s conversations, allow people to have breaks (!), ask people to provide documents in advance, etc.

    If your boss’s anxiety is driving this, having someone else confidently chair these meetings might help them feel a bit better about the work situation. And for everyone else, if they’re not too resistant to change hopefully after a few weeks they will get used to providing/reviewing documents in advance, keeping to the agenda, etc…

  43. Aggretsuko*

    I would kill for only three hours of Zoom meeting. I had 4 to 6 hours of Zoom training a day for months, and I’m going to have to start it ALL OVER AGAIN FROM SCRATCH any day now.

  44. Artemesia*

    It works better to do that other work on the same computer you are meeting on because you will be on camera and looking at the screen and it won’t be obvious you are doing something else — if you use another monitor it would be.

  45. Summer Anon*

    This is utterly ridiculous. I would be inclined to ask if they would reimburse me for the chamber pot.

    But anyways. One thing in your letter I can relate to. We have suffered through talking about the same thing over and over for years in team meetings. I put an end to it. I created a document (PowerPoint) separate from our meeting minutes that lists one question/issue per slide and then the documented decision. That way we don’t have to keep asking the same question or talking about the same issue over and over. We can pull this up and it is searchable. It has stopped A LOT of nonsense and wasted time. It became such a great resource it is now part of our training for new hires.

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      This is what I was thinking. It sucks that every one else is either checked out or spiraling.

      But it sounds like LW has been able to cut out some nonsense by being organized. Just own it. Be the most organized person ever seen. Go back through the notes and make the definitive, centralized document with “open questions and options” and “decisions” sections. These will probably have to break down into “if scenario A, then…” and “if scenario B, then…” Share the document link with everyone and reference it during the meetings.

      Add to this some of the suggestions from above about saying, “We need time to do our actual classroom planning,” and these meetings might go back down to once or twice a week.

  46. Also A Teacher*

    Just chiming in here to say that I’m getting K-12 public education vibes. If you are a 10 month employee and you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart because you want what’s best for your students and school – quit it unless you’re getting paid! If you aren’t getting paid for sitting in these meetings, I would stop doing them. Teachers (which I’m getting from the “when the school year starts these meetings will be weekly” thing) do WAY too much work for free. I know we all do it, but this is WAY above and beyond and quite frankly is too much even if you are getting paid some measly stipend. I would absolutely push back on this if quitting this leadership team is not an option. Don’t burn yourself out before the school year starts!

    1. Lost Oregonian*

      I was coming to say something similar. Assuming OP is on a 12 month contract, I would suggest taking some vacation. I work in K-12 (on a 12 month contract) and I think a lot of us are feeling guilty about taking vacation because there is so much to think about and plan for, but I also think it is imperative that we take some vacation, because it’s not going to get better when school starts, it’s just going to get different.

      But, OP, if you’re on a 10 month contract, stop working (or, more realistically, limit work to lesson planning).

    2. New to School*

      I got the same vibes! I’ve only been working in K-12 for about a year or so, but so far long + unproductive meetings have definitely been a theme. My theory (which is very unscientific!) is that a) many people in these settings haven’t worked in a corporate job, so they don’t have experience of what level of efficiency might be “normal” in a more profit-driven setting and b) everyone prioritizes being caring and letting others feel heard, which is very helpful in some ways but also leads to repetitive coversations about things that we have no power to change. I’m definitely worried about being stuck in these types of meetings for the rest of my career, so if anyone out there with more experience has advice about how to change this pattern or how to avoid joining districts with this pattern, please let me know!

      1. Bears Beets Battlestar*

        School administrators are notorious for not running meetings well. Maybe it’s the education culture that you work as many hours as you have to, so they’re not worried about meetings running long because it’s not taking time away from other things. A lot of them have also been in education since they were 22 and never figured out work norms in other places.

  47. Pam*

    At least my 3 hour Zooms are for new student orientation. I present, answer questions and then help students register.

    1. WellRed*

      Those poor students. If it takes three hours to do a new student orientation, it’s not being done right.

  48. Jaybeetee*

    Okay, but seriously, go to the bathroom or refill your coffee or whatever you gotta do. You’re not a child, you don’t need permission to pee. If your boss wants that kind of authority over adults, make him say it out loud.

    I agree with the above comments to interrupt the loops when they happen -“We covered this last time” or “we can’t decide on this until we know XYZ” or whatever. Indulging the conversation loops doesn’t help anything, and probably a few other people are aware of it too, but not sure how to handle when it happens.

    With that, are these meetings scheduled for three hours, or do they just take that long because of all the repetition and delays? If there’s no set time, looking for ways to trim the fat is advantageous. If your boss just wants a three-hour meeting every day, I recommend the crochet/other work/sanity distraction methods others have suggested.

  49. AMT*

    Can you work on another project in a different window? Say, a writing project or self-paced online class, just to keep your sanity?

  50. Jaybeetee*

    Also, I’m so grateful I’ve landed in a team of meeting-haters (including my manager).

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Ditto. In my 1×1 with my manager yesterday, I was literally asked “I want to cut down on the number of departmental meetings we’re having — what meetings do you think aren’t adding value?”

  51. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I have tons of meetings each week, generally from 12-5 since I work with people on the opposite coast. But these are different meetings with different purposes that are needed to get stuff done (and we don’t use video). If I have back to back to back to back meetings, at the end of one I say “give me an extra minute, I need to use the bathroom” and nobody tells me no because it’s not a question and I work with reasonable people. Sorry I don’t have any advice, but you do have my sympathy.

  52. Anxiety In A Pandemic*

    If you have a group of sympathetic coworkers, it may be worth it to organize a rota to distract your boss. My coworkers and I have a truly terrible manager who is exhibiting lots of signs of anxiety in quarantine (we have been remote since early March and are likely to get another stay home order this week). It’s helped to dedicate some time to chatting with him in other meetings and one-in-one phone calls – gives anxiety brain something to do. If you’re confident these meetings are your boss’s way of managing his anxiety, fitting in ten or twenty minutes of personal chat may help. You can even say “I’m finding it really hard to be remote for social interaction – my kids/partner/roommate/dog isn’t as good a conversationalist as I thought! How are you doing?”

    People discount the amount of social time you get in an office because it’s a distraction there. It helps my anxiety to actually just take a few minutes on calls and talk to my coworkers, and we’ve set aside an hour for a weekly check-in that’s always just life updates and no work. It helps my boss, especially if you can do something like say you’re thinking of getting a guitar and you know he plays, so does he have recommendations or other social-problem-solving like that. He doesn’t seem to know we’re all managing him but it’s working for us.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Okay, I legit read “organize a rota to distract your boss” as “organize a RIOT to distract your boss”.

      I was all, “Seems a little extreme, but if needs must . . . “

  53. Happy Pineapple*

    I work in a company where it isn’t unusual for certain level executives to be in meetings from 9am to 5pm, and that has continued via Zoom now that we are all working remotely. But there’s a huge difference between having multiple short meetings back to back instead of being in the same one for THREE HOURS. And not being able to get up and take a break?! That’s insanity. Your entire office needs to push back on this.

  54. Harvey JobGetter*

    You’re in luck. Zoom has a solution for the video part of this problem. You can create a Zoom background that is a live image of you on a loop. Get on the call live, turn on the background, then get out of the picture. Now, you don’t have to be on camera and the meeting will effectively be audio-only for you. Turn the video off briefly and slide back in with the background off to be back on video. Nobody will wonder why your video went down for five second. (Make sure to wear the same clothes!)

    I know multiple people who do this, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it without being aware of it at all.

  55. Luke*

    Here’s a potential solution- propose some better meeting organization practices.

    It’s clear the OPs boss is married to long meetings and will not consider ending them, so that’s a nonstarter. But instead of spending 3 hours rambling, perhaps implement structured sub-topics where the first hour is recapping and deciding on previous items, the second hour is introducing new items, and the third hour is opening the floor for feedback & questions. Then repeat for the next marathon meeting.

    After the boss is comfortable, perhaps the OP should suggest ending these meetings early if the sub topics are covered enough to not take up a full hour each.

  56. Jane Doe*

    I read something a while ago about a teenage boy who made his Zoom background a video of him looking at the camera like he was paying attention so he could get away with skipping class. It might be a good idea for meetings where you don’t have to present.

  57. Drew*

    This is a time that I think “approach the problem as a group” is the right answer. There have GOT to be more people who are as fed up with the daily time-waste as you are. Do some surreptitious asking around, see who’s also on board with “this is a waste of time,” and get as many people on the “please stop killing more than 10 hours a week of time we need to get our other work done” train to approach your boss. Bonus points if some of those people are higher level management than you. EXTRA bonus points if all of boss’s underlings are united. One complains may piss off the boss; the entire time complaining will definitely piss him off but also may force him to change his approach.

    Also, I’m totally on team “I’m at home on a three hour meeting, so I’m damn way going to grab a snack and go pee when I need to.” That’s not even something I’d negotiate about. It just happens, and if it’s inconvenient, well, too bad.

  58. Sophie Hatter*

    I feel you, OP. I work with adult education students (not in a teacher role) and they are holding classes on Zoom. 3.5 hour classes every day, because the district mandates synchronous instruction. My eyes gloss over about 1/2 hour in, but I can’t focus very well on anything else while on the calls. I don’t know how the teachers maintain their enthusiasm!

  59. Senor Montoya*

    Need to use the toilet? Get up and use the toilet.
    Need to get something to eat or drink? Get up and get something to eat or drink.
    Need a break from the horror of these meetings? Get up, go outside, scream.

    What’s your boss going to do, drive over and make you sit down in front of your freakin computer? Shout at you? (That’s why the good lord invented “mute” settings) Fire you? (probably not, right?)

    Need to turn off the video? do it. Claim tech problems if you must.

    I was just in a one hour meeting that did not need to be an hour long. I muted it, picked up my note pad, worked on other stuff. IT LOOKED LIKE I WAS PAYING ATTENTION.

    Your boss is satan incarnate.

    1. Perpal*

      Yes perhaps just start behaving like a reasonable person. Go take bathroom breaks, say you will only zoom once a week, and if he tries to fire you go to the union or board or anything else. I bet they won’t, though.

  60. Buttons*

    Someone is taking minutes and sending them out every single day?? Gah! I would have them open and then copy and paste into the chat window as soon as someone starts talking about something we already made a decision on. Would it be helpful if someone extracted just the action items from the minutes and sent that out? I am trying to figure out a way to make it clear to everyone that they are wasting time and nothing is getting done.
    Good luck LW!

  61. Alex*

    No advice, just commiseration for having a boss whose knee-jerk response to stress and anxiety is to schedule endless, pointless meetings.

  62. Perpal*

    These meetings sound like some terrible form of self-soothing by your boss; I’d say even a “pathological” form, even, considering it probably not just impairs your bosses functioning but the functioning of everyone they manage! Perhaps dysfunctional self soothing is a better word.
    Put the breaks on it somehow or… what would happen if you just said “I prefer not to” and didn’t? Bartleby style, hahaha. (that last is not a real suggestion though part of me can’t help but think if the worst possible consequence is you are fired then… maybe that is still better? Is there a teachers union or something you can appeal to in the scenario there is disciplinary action for refusing to engage in this uselessness anymore?)

    1. Prosaic*

      Re: self-soothing, I was thinking the same thing! I’ve definitely had co-workers who seem to measure their productivity by the amount of time they spend in meetings and little else.

      1. Nandor the Relentless*

        It sounds A LOT like when Colin Robinson, energy vampire, got promoted, and promptly sucked the energy out of everyone to the degree that the whole place collapsed because no one had any energy and nothing got done.

        1. Werewolves, not Swearwolves*

          I was pretty impressed with him for that. Vampires kill people, but how many can say they killed an entire business?

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Have his contact info handy? I might have a few jobs for him to interview for…

  63. Chronic Overthinker*

    Three hour video meetings daily? What kind of company do you work in where productivity is not that important? Is everyone that is involved in the meetings salaried? I cannot imagine hourly staff having to set aside three hours DAILY to be included in meetings. This boggles my mind. Especially since many of the talking points are returned to in subsequent meetings. If possible, you might want an admin/secretary to write up the minutes and send emails immediately after the meetings and to include instructions to print out the materials prior to meetings!

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Oh, the joys of working in the public sector! I’ve never worked in public education, but I have worked in all three levels of government, as well as some NGOs. Basically, we (in a very broad sense, as a sector) tend to value collaboration over productivity – it’s important that everyone’s voice is heard, and decisions over (usually taxpayer) dollars are *very carefully* considered.

      Which is fine in theory, but it can often be taken to ridiculous extremes as in the OPs example. Or my favourite from my own experience – a series of meetings on the topic of whether or not to insert a separator page between print jobs. This series of meetings included five managers (Privacy, IT, Facilities, and two program managers) plus me; and it dragged on for more than 10 hours (1 hour biweekly.) And it never did get decided, or at least not before my contract mercifully ended and I got the heck out of there. For all I know, they’re still sitting there discussing ALL THE POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS of that damn separator page. But at least everyone is being heard!

  64. Txag18*

    Since most of work and school went to Zoom meetings in March I’ve seen quite a few clever ways that people (mostly students) have opt-out of being on camera all day.

    One way I’ve seen is to use your webcam to record a 2-3 minute video of yourself sitting quietly at your computer, shifting in your seat once or twice, then loop that video and set it as your zoom background. That way it looks like you’re sitting there, breathing, blinking, etc. without you actually having to be present.

    A passive aggressive tactic would be to follow one girl’s example where her professor wouldn’t allow cameras off or “self-breaks”. So, she picked up her laptop, carried it across the house into the bathroom, set the laptop on the floor, and dropped her pants. Her professor told her she could turn her video off after that.

    You have my sympathies.

  65. cheeky*

    Shame on any meeting leader who doesn’t “allow” people to take natural bio-breaks. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with schools, though, since we also expect kids to hold it until they’re allowed to use the toilet.

    1. A Teacher*

      Not in any of the schools I attended as a child or teen! Policies differed depending on the age and the teacher, but we were always allowed to go to the toilet when we had to!

  66. Cheesehead*

    What would happen if, when you send something out for people to review ahead of time and they don’t, simply refuse to walk them through it. “Oh, if you haven’t reviewed it yet, let’s table this discussion for tomorrow/later this week so that everyone can have a chance to review the materials. Our meetings are so long and I don’t want to make them longer by rehashing everything in the documents that I already sent when you can probably review them more quickly by yourselves, and make a list of questions before the meeting.” Basically, refuse to engage unless they’ve done their part. And then, maybe say “Since we now have some time free that I was going to discuss the platinum teapots, I’m going to hop off and use that to work on the alternate spout project. I’ll see everyone at our 2:00 meeting!”

    Not sure if that would work, but I just thought maybe a small pushback and deviation from the norm might jar some people into thinking about 1) doing their prep work (I mean, it’s like doing homework, right? Which should be a familiar concept if you’re in education!) and 2) hey, if she’s going to hop off the call, then I want to hop off the call and work on some stuff too!

  67. miro*

    This is genuinely nightmarish. I don’t have any advice, just wanted to say I’m so, so sorry OP

  68. Lauren*

    I believe these two lines have replaced the AAM – ‘your boss is jerk’. LOL. I can’t stop laughing …

    – You are in the seventh circle of hell.
    – If I were in your place, I would gladly trade this for, like, bedbugs and boils.

  69. Anna*

    Part of the problem specific to schools is that during the summer, you aren’t likely to have projects that the boss cares about that you are falling behind on. The summer for K-12 teachers is time to spend with your family and do your own thing. Most teachers spend some time on their own planning, but there typically isn’t much formal planning. I wonder because of this, if you are “just” a classroom teacher who volunteered to help when it was 1 meeting a week if you could say something like “I’ve been happy to help so far, but for personal or family reasons, I’m going to need to tap out until date” and just not go to the meetings?

  70. Prosaic*

    If there was ever a use for Zoom virtual backgrounds, this is it. I would have seriously considered setting up a virtual background that consisted of a video loop of me just sitting there.

  71. LT*

    {Insert vomit emoji}

    Seriously though, OP, you sound like the most savvy of the bunch. Could you offer to facilitate the meetings? Or at least the document-sharing? It would be one less thing to want to poke your eye out about.

  72. Ali G*

    A lot of good suggestions so far and I would go with doing other work. As others have said, work on the monitor where the camera is (even if you have to go buy one to use your bigger monitor if you have one), so it looks like you are paying attention. Keep yourself on mute unless you are speaking (which is common courtesy anyway).
    Here’s the additional thing I would do. I would not participate at all. If you are spoken to directly, respond. Stop trying to make these meetings productive, they aren’t and they aren’t going to be. Don’t try to get Boss back on track. If he wants to ramble on about what-if’s etc., let him. Unless these meetings actually have deliverables for you tied to them (and then you pay attention to those only), you don’t need to engage or try to fix them. You’ll feel better if you just develop some ways to plow through and hopefully this will get better in the fall.

  73. Admin on Duty*

    If it’s Zoom, take a note from the teenagers out there and screen shot yourself for the day at your computer and use it as your background. They see you sitting there, so you must be there. At the very least it gives you a chance to get up and go the restroom like an adult.

    Short of that, have you considered gently directing your boss by way of suggesting an agenda be created the day before the meeting that you could help facilitate to try to pair down the amount of time needed and allow for lead time on documents?

  74. Southern Academic*

    I mean honestly, the weekly three hour no laptops meetings sounded horrendous too. I’ve gotten work done in almost every meeting I’ve ever been in.

    This is just awful.

    1. Should I be ashamed?*

      Let’s see. Things we used to do in the olden days during endless in-person faculty meetings K-8. Make knitting needles out of dowels, roll yarn, grade papers, file worksheets, on-line reference, substitute lesson plans, make name tags, update attendance logs, pass notes, sudoku, cartoons of administrators, check email, on-line shopping, current event research (AKA reading the NY Times) doodle, pass notes, update student records, schedule appointments.

  75. staceyizme*

    You should have a policy for how topics of discussion are brought up, entertained and resolved. You’re operating without real governance. Maybe you could bring that up? See if you can get buy-in from a couple of other people and push for the clarification of a process that will serve you. First of all, what is the work product that you are expected to produce? What outcomes are you actually expected to achieve? Who would be impacted by your failure to achieve this? That should identify the pain points, the leverage that you have individually or as a group and create a sense of focus and urgency around getting going. At the moment, you are collectively screaming into the void. Don’t “discuss” what should be done. Work towards collaboration. Even if you’re absolutely stuck with the status quo, a real case could be made for the moral imperative to be the “resistance” to the madness. Thank you for your efforts to date. (And PLEASE congratulate yourself for what you’ve done so far!) Even assigning roles to members of your team could help you get some clarity. If everybody is doing everything about anything that could possibly be entertained as a problem and possible solution, it’s just a soupy mass of nothing that gets done. Coach, LW! Coach them!

  76. A Teacher*

    High school teacher: 12 years teaching. THIS IS NUTS, even by typical education standards with too many meetings. Holy crap.

  77. Robin Ellacott*

    I agree with everyone that this is TRULY HORRIFYING. My government contacts tell me they are in meetings all day, most days, but those are various shorter meetings which would be less crazy-making. I get sulky if I have three hours of meetings on ANY day, let alone every day.

    Personally I think you could have a conversation with your boss about the sheer time… assuming you work 7.5 or 8 our days you are spending almost half your time in meetings! If you tell him that, and say that you are obviously having trouble getting necessary work done in less time, it’s hard to see how he could fail to see that’s an issue.

    (He might come back with “it’s ok if you’re less productive – there’s a pandemic!” but you can always say that thanks for your understanding, but I think I can get my essential tasks done with a little more time to work on them.) Then ask if you can prioritize tasks over meetings sometimes, or participate in only the meetings most relevant to you, and then read the minutes afterwards to be sure you’re up to speed. If he says no, you’re no worse off!

    Ugh, this whole thing drives me nuts. The minutes nobody looks at! Gotta love Write-Only Documents. It would be so much better to email out a point form short summary of what was decided then all of this rehashing. UGH!

    1. this day is bananas*

      my workplace is incredibly meeting heavy, always has been. Most weeks I have 12-16 hours of meeting scheduled by colleagues, and that is before I add the ones I need to schedule myself (like projects I manage, 1-1 with direct reports, etc.).
      It is bananas. Some of those are “working meetings” but most of them require as much time to “get the work done”… the worse downside is that we have a strange glorification of business (i.e. you are so important if you are in so many meetings), so some people tend to overschedule to hype themselves up, and between that and the “protective scheduling” (where ppl block out times where you can’t schedule anything), it is impossible to have any impromptu conversation about anything, because no one seems to ever be available, and I have a standing meeting on fridays at 4pm for the entire summer.

  78. ugh*

    Is there a reason not to just take the laptop with you to pee? Probably the reason I work for myself…… but I’m guessing that might end the stupidity of not being able to use the restroom for hours on end. My employees would bury me out back if I ever made them sit through a 3 hours meeting.

    1. ugh*

      Oh, just realized no laptop. A cart and extenson cord…. My college students vote for a video loop background for you.

  79. Mimmy*

    Or you could create a life-sized cardboard cut-out of yourself, dress it in your clothes and a wig, and have it take your place on camera while you go outside to scream.

    You win the internets today Alison!! *insert laughing hysterically emoji*

    1. PhysicsTeacher*

      I would love it if the process of creating the cardboard cut-out also happened on camera.

  80. Archaeopteryx*

    This is ridiculous. You were an adult; go to the bathroom when you need to go to the bathroom and get up to grab a snack when you need to get up to grab a snack. Don’t let them stop you and if they try to point out how absolutely bonkers that is.

  81. Anonymous at a University*

    OP, it might still be worth asking anyway, if nobody has. It’s possible that your co-workers are just waiting for one person to be fed up with this enough to question the status quo. It turned out this way for me in a (weekly, not daily) Zoom meeting with other faculty where one faculty member was making it drag on and on because she was constantly rehashing coronavirus conspiracy theories, like the idea that the droplets last in the air for three years instead of three hours. I said in the middle of one of these, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think talking about this is helping us plan for fall, especially since most of us [like the faculty member who kept bringing up the conspiracies] will be 100% remote.” Suddenly I had an avalanche of agreement and even the person who had the conspiracy theories seemed to agree that, “Oh, yeah, you’re right, I haven’t thought about it that way.” Those meetings are now much shorter.

    You could discuss this with your co-workers first, of course! I brought it up out of the blue because I was so damn fed-up, but that’s not the best way to do it.

  82. Jennifer Juniper*

    Yeah. I would develop internet bandwidth problems that, mysteriously, can’t be resolved.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes! And also, a bunch of mysterious plumbing, electrical, and roofing problems, and it’s SO WEIRD that the contractors can only come during this exact time slot, don’t you think?

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Hahahaha, my building has been being washed and painted for the last few weeks and I’ve had plenty of racket going on behind me during work hours.

  83. one more amazed reader*

    I can’t figure out the why of it all … OP, is your boss an extreme extrovert who needs the constant contact, or overly stressed out by the pandemic/WFH situation, or just always in a mental muddle that is being exacerbated by current circumstances?

    Nothing about these zoom meetings is normal or, I imagine, very helpful.

    I wish you luck!

  84. Calanthea*

    I wouldn’t trade this for bedbugs, but I would accidentally turn my wifi off and not be able to join. Or email saying that you can’t attend because you have other work. Or say in the meeting “This is bollocks, we’re not saying anything new, I’m leaving.” I’d risk the telling off over the certainty of having to do this for another month until September!

  85. Almost Empty Nester*

    As a matter of rule, ANY 3 hour meeting is generally not going to be productive unless you have a tight agenda and hold to it pretty rigidly. So really, is the normal 3 hour in person meeting during the school year actually necessary and useful? That’s where I’d start. The zoom meeting is just an extra painful extension of an already questionable meeting. And bless your heart.

  86. Bomboom*

    The reason this happens is because your boss doesn’t feel like he has an idea of what’s going on and he’s probably not particularly productive or a good manager. So he needs everybody to be in these meetings because that way he thinks that something is happening and people are working. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t do any work other than these meetings. If it feels too bold to say that you have bandwidth problems with your internet camera maybe try a more passive aggressive approach and just smear Vaseline very thick over the lens and claim that you have no idea what’s going on or how to undo it. That way the camera is still on and they can sort of see a figure sitting there but not really. You’ll have more autonomy to multitask

    1. Bomboom*

      If you want to see internet bandwidth problems on Zoom the way to do it is to just constantly disconnect from zoom at random intervals and then have to reconnect an after it happens a few times, specifically while you are speaking so it’s annoying for them. then you can say that “maybe it’s a bandwidth problem I want to try turning off my camera to see if it resolves it.” And then it magically resolves it. If that seems too dishonest for you then you can actually create internet problems and instead of hanging up on zoom while you’re speaking, you can actually just disconnect from the internet while you’re speaking and get the same effect with more honesty. Then you can honestly say “I think it’s a problem with the internet. If it happens again I’ll try reconnecting without video to see if that fixes it”

  87. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    This sounds like an absolute nightmare! I don’t know what it is with some people and their meetings. They seem to live for meetings. While I acknowledge that some meetings can be necessary, a lot of them can be an email. And it sounds like yours are completely unnecessary. It doesn’t help that you’re pretty much held hostage at your desk without being able to even get up to use the bathroom- something an adult should be able to decide for themselves. During a three-hour meeting that happens everyday.

    Even if these were weekly, that would be too much. Nobody should have to endure three-hour meetings. And I thought the regular two-hour meetings off-camera I used to have to deal with (while by ex-boss got her knitting done while she made me take notes- and I wasn’t an assistant) were bad.

    I agree that maybe you could have ‘technical issues’ and not always be able to turn your camera on or even join the meeting. I recently had a client who said her camera was broken during a call (which was fine, whether it really was or not), so maybe you can use that excuse as well. But I agree that three-hour meetings are overkill.

  88. Academic Librarian too*

    I had Zoom meeting scheduled by our dept. of education and it was SIX hours! And when I pushed back for a more specific agenda. (Perhaps they didn’t need me the whole time) A vague agenda and it turned out this was how they rolled EVERYDAY! Hell. Seriously. Hell.

  89. Choggy*

    We have daily 10 minute meeting which I think are too much, but 3 hour daily Zoom meetings? I would put in a request for a 3-D life-size model of myself, that nods every now and again, and place it in front of the camera while I actually did *REAL* work. I think Covid has seriously messed with people’s brains in that they just cannot fathom the same things that were done in the office can be done. in. the. same. manner. even when working remotely. How can anyone be productive if almost half of your day is spent rehashing things?

  90. AdAgencyChick*

    I know we vote for worst bosses at the end of every year, but I would also propose a general horror story vote for 2020, too. This would be WAY up there.

  91. Dawn*

    LW, Alison often talks about how norms can be warped by workplace dysfunction, so here’s a reality check: I am also a public school teacher. I am also on my school’s leadership team. We have been meeting every other week for two hours to work on the kinds of issues you describe.

    My first question is if you are a year-round employee. If you’re not, are you unionized? If so, how does this fit into your contract? If it’s out-of-contract, are you being paid a stipend for this work? If you are unionized, this is not part of your contract, and you are not being paid for it, then that’s your easy out. Call your union rep and ask that this be reined in.

    My team gets done in two hours what it seems it is taking your team twenty-plus (!!) hours to do by having clear goals at the outset for our meeting. For example, we met yesterday, and our goal was to establish a “floor” of expectations for online learning, in the likely event that we return to a distance model. My principal came to the meeting with questions and areas where he wanted our input and that’s what we spent our two hours working on. We came out of it with a draft proposal to present for feedback to the rest of the staff.

    I realize that your supervisor (principal, I assume?) is much of the problem here, but I’m wondering if pushing (maybe as a group?) for a clearer agenda for meetings might help. Like Alison said, especially as we near the start of the school year, surely this is not the only priority, and citing the need to get other work done might help too.

    Is your district offering PD on the tech platforms that are challenging your colleagues? I mean … at this point, we’ve been doing this for four months, and learning Zoom is not asking them to learn to code software in PHP. If they haven’t figured it out on their own right now, asking them to seek professional learning so that they’re not taking up everyone else’s time with, “Can you hear me? Can you see me? Is my presentation on?” ad nauseum is not a huge ask in a professional environment–and one that inherently values learning at that!

    But yeah … making covid-related decisions for schools even a month out from reopening feels like a crapshoot. There is very little clarity right now, and we’re openly making decisions under certain assumptions and with full knowledge that we might have to change our plans at any time, based on the whims of the virus and government leaders. I often say that success in education requires “flying by the seat of your pants with grace and ease,” but this is pushing that to its limits!

  92. FormerFirstTimer*

    And I thought my boss was bad for insisting on daily 30-45 minute video meetings!

  93. Harriet*

    I agree with Dawn – this is not normal nor is it acceptable. Is this within the terms of your contract? Are you providing free labor?
    Years of work as grievance chair for the union has taught me that teachers are often too compliant. We tend to follow rules even when we should not and don’t speak up when we should.
    At minimum, this violates basic health guidelines. When we’re in the classroom we might have to work for hours without a bathroom break, but there’s no reason for that in this situation.
    What would happen if you did leave the meeting for 5 minutes? Would you be fired? Dropped from this committee from hell?
    You can utilize any of the many excuses and avoidance techniques provided by other commentators, but ask yourself what is the worse case scenario if you are honest?
    I’m listening to a rambling interviewee on Zoom right now – reading AAM helps!

    1. virago*

      “When we’re in the classroom we might have to work for hours without a bathroom break, but there’s no reason for that in this situation.”

      And there are health consequences! Not peeing when you have to gives bacteria a chance to grow. Which is why teachers, nurses and truck drivers* are among the people most likely to develop urinary tract infections (UTIs) — they have less on-the-job bathroom access than people in other jobs do. (I don’t work in any of these fields, but I’ve had frequent UTIs because I tend to hyperfocus and ignore my body’s signals.)

      Daily 3-hour Zoom meetings = Awful

      Daily 3-hour Zoom meetings +A UTI (or high UTI risk) = Awful x ∞

      * Google “9 Types of People Who Get UTIs The Most,” from Prevention Magazine. I would link it, but that would hang up this comment in moderation.

  94. Rosalind Montague*

    Fellow public educator here working on reopening teams and … I’m so sorry. This is not a good use of your team’s time. At the beginning of the closure our leadership team started and ended each day on zoom. It made sense when we were in such uncharted territories and really needed to stay in communication. Then, it tapered off. Now there is an exec team meeting 1x week, an expanded exec team later in the week (2 hrs) and work group report meetings (1 hour, very regimented) once a week.

    Depending on your relationship with your boss, perhaps you could point out, gently, that what he’s actually doing is exhausting the brain trust. Share some articles on Zoom fatigue. Ask if there could be adaptations to a 30 minute check in with optional longer work group meetings. Assign action items and check in on them at the top of the next meeting.

    And that bathroom thing. BONKERS. are you not allowed to go to the bathroom when you meet in person? What about those of you at home with kids or pets? You are adults and should be able to take a bathroom break during a 3 hour meeting if you need one.

    1. Rosalind Montague*

      Just to add–what would happen if you just shut off your camera for 2 minutes to run to the restroom? If Boss said “where were you, OP” you could share, “I needed a bio break. Glad to be back and able to focus.”

  95. OP*

    OP here! Thank you to Alison and everyone who validated that this is WILD. In response to a couple things that came up:

    I am in higher ed, so I work year-round and these aren’t optional summer meetings that I can un-volunteer for.

    I do try to work on other things during the meetings! I am pretty subtle about it and keep the meeting open on my second monitor, or minimize so that just the speaker’s video is floating in the corner. If I didn’t do this, I would never get my work done. As others suggested, I don’t think my co-workers or boss are savvy enough to realize that I’m working on something else.

    Some people suggested that my boss must not be getting any other work done – he is up in the middle of the night sending emails! (Like, 2am). Clearly the daily meetings are not working for him, but he’s just oblivious to it.

    The lack of breaks are the worst part and I am going to take everyone’s advice and just briefly break when I need to. Loved the idea of putting in earbuds when I step away so that I can listen in, in case the conversation directs back to me.

    I also will take the suggestion of talking with my boss about how to prioritize my other work due to the meetings – I think that might work in relieving me from some meetings, or maybe cutting my participation to an hour or so.

    My boss and the entire office are pretty resistant to change – it is amazing that we are even at a point where everyone is aware of Google Drive and is trying to use it. So, I’ve been trying to subtly encourage changes, but it is not even just about the use of basic tech to make the meetings run faster (or to make them unnecessary), it’s about my boss’s management style and what he sees as valuable work. There is only so much about that which can be “managed up.”

    Thank you again! I am going to hang in there for the next 3 weeks before our campus re-opens.

    1. virago*

      “Some people suggested that my boss must not be getting any other work done – he is up in the middle of the night sending emails! (Like, 2am). Clearly the daily meetings are not working for him, but he’s just oblivious to it.”

      (Sound of jaw hitting floor.)

      I have some thoughts about why your boss is doing what he’s doing, but I erased them because a) Armchair diagnosis is discouraged at AAM and b) It doesn’t matter. I support your decision to avoid “managing up” and to speak to your boss about reining in your own meeting obligations. This is one of those situations where it’s abundantly clear that other people are gonna do what they’re gonna do and that each of us is in charge only of ourselves.

      Take care.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      OP, does your boss listen to $$$? See my notes about “costs of meeting time” below.

    3. cassbot*

      Thanks for this update! I’m on a ton of zoom calls with folks in countries without high-speed internet connectivity, and they often have to turn off their video to be able to actually hear what people are saying. I suggest pretending that you’re having connectivity issues — keep exiting out of the meeting, run a bunch of videos so your screen freezes out, and say you’re getting messages that your internet is unstable so you need to keep your screen off. Doesn’t address the underlying issues but at least you can disengage and do other things

  96. Tin Can Baby*

    I know Alison was joking with the cardboard cutout but… you can set custom Zoom backgrounds. Which means you can take a picture of yourself looking attentive and make it your background and just… not attend? I would never normally advocate for looney toons tactics like that but my god, daily 3 hour zoom meetings! With one break?! I don’t know how much input you give during these meetings so it obviously won’t work if you speak up a lot, unfortunately (?!)

    1. TheWeaselHasLanded*

      Came here to say this. Odds are if they’re so technically inept, they won’t even notice. And if they do, “Oh sorry, my webcam froze. I’m still listening!” Should suffice.

  97. Sarah*

    There is no way you’re the only one that hates this. This would be a good time to find the person who also has to attend these meetings that you’re the closest to and suss things out. Like, maybe mention how you wish the meeting on day X had been shorter so you could finish accomplishment Y. See what happens.

    You could also try waiting until a meeting is clearly not being used for anything productive and announce you have to drop off the call.

    If you have to get up, don’t announce it. Make sure you’re on mute when you aren’t speaking in general. Then just turn off your video or even leave it on and step away from your desk. When you return, act like nothing happened. Act confused if someone tries to chew you out.

  98. Software Engineer*

    I think your webcam should suffer a mysterious problem and no longer function.

  99. I Need That Pen*

    I dont get a bathroom break during a 3 hour meeting, well then the laptop is taking a trip when that cup of coffee hits. Oh em gee…

    I would say give me a break but if I worked for the OP’s place I wouldn’t get one.

    Just when I think some employers can’t get any worse…

  100. Jennifer Thneed*

    OP, maybe remind your boss of how expensive the meetings are? Here’s the formula:

    (# of people) x (# of hours) x $100 = meeting cost.

    So, 10 people for 3 hours? That meeting costs $3,000 just for the time involved. Every day. $15,000 every week. Surely there’s a budget or treasurer or something???

  101. Veryanon*

    OMG NO. JUST NO. I was in a 3 hour training session this morning via Webex and we were encouraged (but not required) keep our cameras on. Even that was a lot; I had to get up every few minutes and walk around or stretch. This….just sounds horrible.

  102. Silly Goose*

    Did you know that you can add animated Zoom backgrounds? Record yourself once for a reasonable period of time (say, 1 hr) looking thoughtfully in the direction of your screen and then play it on a loop during meetings. Make sure you record from the neck up, or else your coworkers will start wondering why you wear the same clothes every day!

    1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      ohhhh this is genius! i’ll do this for my next hours-long training

  103. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

    i am tempted to contact Zoom to permanently ban LW’s boss out of mercy. it’ll me my one good deed for the year.

  104. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I’m pretty good with tech, and twice I’ve accidentally minimized my zoom and couldn’t find it.
    The second time I realized it was because I clicked on a link in the chat while someone was screen sharing. Zoom automatically minimized itself and took me to my internet window to view the link I’d clicked on. It doesn’t do this when no one is screen sharing, so it was quite a surprise!
    I think I figured out how to get it back… there was a little Zoom icon in the taskbar. When I clicked on that it brought the full window back. I hope that works next time – if there is a next time. I’m going to try not to click on links while screen sharing is going on.

  105. Yikes*

    You guys are actually in hell. Zoom hell. Gnashing of the teeth is next. I am so sorry OP.

  106. Hills To Cry On*

    Sorry if this was addressed earlier (TLDR). The other thing that strikes me is that this is during your summer. Is it just assumed because you are in education and have an open summer that it leaves your boss the ability to takeover and schedule these meetings? Maybe you’re not a teacher so it doesn’t apply but that was one thing that I was wondering. If it’s like “oh this is our slow season” or “oh classes aren’t in session now, I know what we can do” that then thats an egregious power play by your boss. I too would just get up and leave and if there’s and issue you can go so far as saying “sorry, would you like me to pee in my chair??”. I think labor laws have that you must take a 15min break every four hours so you can also work with that. Also what happens if you “accidentally” miss a meeting or come late to a meeting? If you boss doesn’t follow up with you then they don’t think it’s important either. Or leave early, if it starts going in circles like “ok, seems like things are wrapped up, and this doesn’t apply to me and I’ve got stuff to do, talk to you later.”. I think a group pushback is a good way to go, there’s not way everyone else is okay with this.

  107. Brain the Brian*

    Develop the Internet bandwidth problems. Seriously. People who lose the Zoom app daily will just be impressed by the fact that you seem to know what this new-fangled thing called “bandwidth” is.

    And it’s also a real problem. Any manager who requires video for meetings — especially ones this long! — but won’t pay for a bandwidth upgrade for all employees is discriminating against people without the means to purchase fast Internet connections.

  108. Matt*

    If it was me, I’d introduce something like Miro or Mural to visually map all the scenarios and options, with a supporting master document or two split I to chapters and themes. Even if people didn’t get onboard to start with, you’d actually have a body of options and ideas that you could send people links too mid discussion. Strategic decision making is complicated and difficult to represent in minutes because people’s heads can’t hold all the variables needed. In Miro you can also embed any documents needed. Whilst the meetings sound painful, I think it sounds more like a symptom of poor knowledge management, a lack of proper scenario planning and conditional decision making. Help your boss solve that, you might solve the meetings.

  109. Vermont Green*

    Try typing ongoing notes about the meeting into the chat area. For the first or second meetings, do this for yourself only, so you can document exactly what is going on, and figure out some strategies. For example you could write ‘Problem: Reports of tangled llama fur’, and then ‘Proposed solutions: a) conditioner, b) try new breed’ etc., and then ‘Next steps or conclusion’. You realize that due to the overall lack of focus, the last category may end up being empty.
    So you have a very logical format going. Then, as every meeting is proceeding, make your notes visible in real time to all on chat, so they can read them doing the Zoom. “I decided to share my notes with the group, if you’re interested.”
    Because of the circuitous nature of the meetings, you will be making notes like “return to subject of llama fur.” Then you can either return to your previous notes on the subject, or cut and paste your previous notes and add new comments and proposed solutions. In a while people may see just what is (and isn’t) being achieved. Bonus: by doing this writing you will be less bored!

  110. jamberoo*

    Wait. These aren’t more normal? :(

    My global team has forged ahead with our quarterly all-hands, only in lieu of week-long in-person gatherings they are three hour Zoom marathons — three days in a row.

    Oh, they also start at 6am for my timezone. So. Yeah.

  111. Snickerdoodle*


    . . . THREE HOURS? What could anyone possibly have to say that would take that much time? How is anything getting done? (Hint: It’s not.) My workplace, thank God, gets that meetings only need to be as long as to cover the basic agenda, not to stretch out in order to fill the allotted time. The latter is part of why I left my last job.

    This is precisely why my laptop “mysteriously” doesn’t have a working mic or webcam, and/or my Internet connection goes out conveniently. During the meetings I do have to call in to, when they inevitably get to the dragged-out question and answer bit, I just turn the volume down and work on something else.

  112. TeapotNinja*

    Oh, shoot, my webcam just stopped working. What a sad coincidence. Sorry, boss.

    Then spend the entire time doing actual work, or play mobile games, if not actual work available.

  113. Cake Sniffer*

    Jeez, I would die. Isn’t there an assistant or secretary or something who can:
    – gather and distribute materials before the meeting
    – capture decisions and action items, and document them in a way that makes it easy to keep everyone updated (daily emails, network drive, MS Team site, etc)
    – make an agenda (with real breaks!) and be a timekeeper for each topic.
    – work with the boss to schedule reasonable meetings, like twice weekly one hour meetings or something like that, and maintain a topic matrix that can track when it’s appropriate to discuss a topic in the meeting

  114. John Payton*

    Record yourself at one meeting and play it back for all subsequent meetings. This is a colossal waste of time.

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