Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Your remote meeting superpower

There’s a party question that some people ask, which goes, “If you could have a superpower, what would you like it to be?” In the last few years I’ve refined my answer as this: “I would like to be able to slip out of any social situation without repercussions.” Ha ha. It usually gets a few knowing nods, especially from other introverts.

But here’s the thing I realised recently: I kind of have this superpower now that I work remotely (or, as Shopify calls it, Digital By Design).

I’d be stupid to overlook or intentionally not use this superpower.

Missing meeting agendas and other problems

The main reason I find myself needing to get out of a social situation — which is probably more accurately described as “group social situation” that I define as a group of more than four people — is that the congregation is not that interesting or valuable to me. Either that or I just find myself unable to add value to the conversation.

One reason we find ourselves in such quagmires is because social situations evolve rapidly and fluidly. There’s just no way you could have anticipated that Bob would ask 10 rudimentary questions during Q&A that could have been googled in a few seconds.

Then there’s the fact that communication is lossy, like a game of Telephone would illustrate. Two people can talk about the same thing in very different ways and therefore communicate those things in different ways. And two people hearing the same thing can also interpret it differently. Somtimes a “Payment processing workshop” is about validating payment gateways for use and not, as you thought, about how to setup your development environment to process test payments. This is especially true if the event organiser was lazy with the event description.

Right, back to the topic. The superpower.

Drop off the call if you need to, damn it

I think it is sillier to stay on a video call where you are not getting or contributing much value than to just hit the red hang-up button and drop off the call.

Why? Because honestly, it wouldn’t make a real difference to the people on the call. You would appear as a small five-second notification on the screen, “X has left the meeting.” So what? Think about how much more courage you would need to do the same thing if you were in the same physical room with the group.

The friction of leaving a group meeting has gone from very high to almost negligible because of remote work.

Another reason to leave is that you’d get your time back, which you can then use to do something else. That something else is very, very likely to be more valuable than staying in the meeting (unless you decided to join another pointless meeting, I guess; in which case, you know what to do).

Caveats

Here are the things that I consider carefully before I leave a remote group meeting:

  • it must be a large-enough group meeting; if there are only three people and you leave, that’s unfortunately still going to be rude (everyone’s minimuim threshold for what constitutes a large-enough group is likely different - mine is around 5 (inclusive of me))
  • is it clear that I can’t contribute here or is it more that I’m being lazy to think ways to contribute? -> if latter, stay and try to contribute
  • did I organise this meeting? If so, I may have an obligation to stay and monitor progress and listen to feedback

That’s it, actually.

Go use your superpower, you lucky remote worker you.


Nick Ang profile picture
Senior software engineer, dad, writer-thinker type. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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