With the outbreak of COVID-19, employees and teams are transitioning to remote work. To help organizations prepare for the coronavirus pandemic, we talked to remote-work veterans to learn their tips and tricks for having great remote one-on-one meetings.
Employee and team dynamics are complicated, even when you can meet in person. But when you're working remotely, manager-employee relationships can suffer and may call for a new approach. Even some of our most common one-on-one meeting advice may not have the same effect when working remotely.
In this blog, we’ll share what we learned to help you conduct a successful remote one on one meeting.
A face-to-face connection can be extremely beneficial when employees can’t walk down the hall or peek around corners to connect with their managers. Body language often contributes more than 50% of effective communication. Put simply, there are a variety of physical cues that you can't pick up on over a phone call. Video likely won’t help you interpret every interaction but it can help.
You can also practice active listening to make your employee feels heard. Similar to in-person meetings, it’s important to lean in and give micro-feedback as employees are talking. A simple head nod or vocal recognition can help offer cues you’re engaged in the conversation. Having regular 1-on-1s makes it easier to pick up on those nonverbal cues that lead to deeper conversations and stronger relationships.
With these unforeseen circumstances, many employees have been left with not only having to adapt to a new remote environment but teaching their kids long division and handling household matters in the midst of regular work priorities. While meeting in a quiet place is ideal it’s important to be understanding, given the circumstances, that interruptions will likely happen.
Even outside of this new normal, a coffee shop might be a great place for work but is a hub of distractions for one on ones. Finding a private space can be helpful for times when you need to deliver or receive critical feedback.
Still, it’s important to minimize the distractions you can control, that can steal focus from your employees. Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. Set an expectation of no multitasking and live up to those standards. Eliminate all other windows including email and Slack, except your agenda and notes, and maybe your video chat.
Consider increasing your normal cadence while your employees are remote. If you currently meet monthly, try biweekly. If you currently meet biweekly, try weekly. Even if you cut your meeting time in half, checking in more frequently can help you address employee concerns earlier and connect on goals and performance to see where they need support.
Especially in a remote team, it’s easy for all kinds of things to be left unsaid because the communication tax is higher. Blocking off time for your reports on a regular basis keeps your “office door” open. Part of your job as a people manager is to build a relationship where your employees feel comfortable enough to come to you and share those details. But this doesn’t happen overnight.
Having more frequent one-on-ones can reduce the overhead for quality communication and gives you insight into how your reports are doing. This applies to positive and negative feedback. What might be uncomfortable or awkward to bring up over Slack can be easily detectable via facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
Every employee’s remote work environment may look or sound a little different than the next. But the rules of one on one meetings shouldn’t be forgotten just because you’re not in the same place. Consider these rules for an effective 1-on-1:
Michael Isman, Associate Director at Wayfair and remote one-on-one veteran, puts it this way:
"It's important you still respect the time of the meeting, even though nobody is kicking you out of your conference room."
The chances for miscommunication over video chat are higher because you’re not always getting the whole picture. To avoid only getting bits and pieces from conversations in the future, make it a point to keep shared notes during your 1-1s.
Contributing to a shared agenda where both participants can add questions or topics to discuss before the meeting helps both parties prepare. Notes from the meeting should also go to that same place. While one-on-one software can help you create smart agendas and conversation boosters, a shared Google doc or Evernote can work for a little while.
Collaborating on meeting notes is especially important when delivering critical feedback, setting goals, or any other exchange where an action item is communicated. It also initiates the opportunity for an instant peer review. If your employee writes something that isn’t what you thought was agreed on, it’s easy to spot and correct it before a week goes by.
Working remotely means less water cooler or hallway conversations that occur naturally in an office setting. Keeping that in mind, it can be helpful to check in with employees on a personal level before the regularly scheduled 1-on-1 begins. Include a bit more time for your meeting to start the conversation focused on something other than work.
Now more than ever, your teammates are likely struggling emotionally. The psychological toll of 24/7 pandemic news or seeing their retirement savings slashed can be debilitating. Even if you're a social butterfly, it can help to keep a few prompts up your sleeve so you're not just starting every meeting with "How are you doing?" Try these conversation starters to energize your next 1-on-1:
If red's "exhausted", yellow's "tired", and green's "energized" how are you feeling? Why?
One-on-ones can be tricky, especially when one or both employees are remote. For more information on how you can use and improve 1-on-1s during the coronavirus pandemic, explore our Crisis Management Resource Hub.