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How to optimize 1-on-1 meetings when managing a remote team

1-on-1 meetings are a dedicated, recurring time block on the calendar that opens up a space for managers and employees to have honest, open-ended conversations. This global pandemic may have challenged interpersonal relationships as we shift to remote work, but even before COVID-19 hit us, 1-on-1s have been considered critical for the professional and personal development of managers and their employees.

In the Manager Tools podcast, host Mark Horstman calls 1-on-1s “the single most powerful thing we know a manager can do to improve their relationship with direct reports and get better results”. These 1-on-1 meetings go beyond an open door policy, this time is for leaders to coach, mentor and build a working relationship with their employees.

Benefits for Managers: Self-Reflection & Growth

We know that 1-on-1 meetings are a great opportunity for managers to talk candidly with their direct reports to strengthen relationships and create a safer work environment. However this is also a great time for their own growth as leaders of a remote team. This is an opportunity for managers to reflect on their own coaching and mentoring skills, their ability to give feedback, and listen to constructive criticism. A Google’s Project Oxygen study showed that 1-on-1 meetings have a direct correlation with manager’s overall performance. Here they concluded the higher-scoring managers were more likely to have frequent 1-on-1 meetings with their team members than lower-scoring managers.

Benefits for Employees: More Engagement

Employees thrive in their work when they receive focused, uninterrupted time from their managers. So when managers create this space for their direct reports to talk honestly about things that impact their work and experience, it gives these employees a chance to truly reflect on how they are feeling about their workload, mental health and team dynamics.

In a study published in HPR, the Microsoft Workplace Analytics took a deep dive inside two Fortune 100 companies and found employees of managers who didn’t have 1:1 meetings were 4 times as likely to be disengaged. Meanwhile those who got twice the number of 1:1s with their manager, than their peers, were 67% less likely to be disengaged. This shows that if employees are given the opportunity to discuss things outside of task status updates or daily to-dos, then managers can expect a higher level of engagement and motivation from their direct reports.

There also appears to be a direct correlation between employees finding 1-on-1 meetings more beneficial vs. group meetings. The New York Times reported in 2019 that the frequency of large group meetings had a negative impact on Microsoft’s employee satisfaction, however frequent 1-on-1 meetings with direct reports were “one of the strongest predictors of success for managers”.

How Can Managers Leverage Their 1-on-1 Meetings

  1. This time is for your employees: It’s most important for the managers to know that these meetings are primarily for the employee and their participation is vital. This is the space where leaders have to hear every team member out, and organize monthly check-ins. This personalized time can have incredible long-term benefits on retention, collaboration and team dynamics.

  2. Don’t choose your favourites: 1-on-1s are for everyone you manage, and not just the top performing or most vocal employees. To boost the team-wide morale, it’s important for each and every member of your team to get your uninterrupted time, whether that’s once every two weeks, or once a month.

  3. Not ‘just’ a conversation: Remember, this meeting isn’t a performance review. A 1-on-1 is time for you to ask questions, listen to your employees, and coach where necessary. Start the meeting with “how’s everything going?” or “how’s it been working on xyz project so far?’.

  4. Collect feedback for growth: Use these meetings as an opportunity for growth and improvisation on your management and leadership skills. As you collect feedback from your team, make notes and find spaces where you can improve as a leader.

  5. Hear them out: If there’s a conflict between team members, or a disagreement, then pause and listen. By showing recognition and respect to your employees’ concern and hearing out their opinion, managers are more likely to build a stronger relationship with their team. It’s simple and effective.

  6. Take notes: In a study published in Psychological Science, they found people who take physical notes in a notebook retained more information than those who typed away on their screens. Also, when someone takes notes in a meeting, it’s an active sign of them taking an interest in what you have to say, especially in a remote setting when it’s easy to be distracted by Slack or other open tabs.

  7. Book a follow-up: In the final five minutes of the meeting, recap the meeting with agreed-upon actions and follow-ups for both manager and employee. Also use this opportunity to set up the next 1-on-1 meeting. A research conducted by Upwork found that 1-on-1 meetings are 6x more effective than group level communication, which is why it’s important to organize these on a recurring basis. Tim Sanders, Upwork’s VP of Customer Insights, recommends scheduling weekly 1:1s on Mondays, and for 15-20 minutes only.

  8. Align these with the company's culture: Ben Horowitz, CEO at A16Z and author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things, strongly believes these meetings need to be “baked into company culture”. While it can feel time-consuming, especially in a remote work environment when discipline is key, the return on investment of 1:1s is significant to develop trust, solidify teams, and better collaboration.

What to cover in your 1-on-1s

Remember, this is a shared space for asking questions, getting feedback and discussing long-term personal goals. Your agenda items should help you get a better understanding of how your team members are collaborating, and how you can assist in the career development of your employee. Here’s some structure for your agenda so you and your employee can come prepared and feel comfortable prior to the meeting:

  1. Weekly and monthly priorities

  2. Checking-in on team and company goals

  3. Identifying any roadblocks or pain points and resolving them

  4. Identifying successes or big wins

  5. What worked well on a recent project? What didn’t work well?

  6. Identifying the biggest time wasters for your employee + finding a solution

  7. Team collaboration: what’s working and what’s not working?

  8. Where are the opportunities for growth and development?

  9. Does your employee feel supported?

  10. Identify any challenges in a remote work environment and find a solution.

Cassiopeia offers a solution that helps managers to lead remote teams effectively with data. Our technology equips leaders with actionable insights to improve team dynamics, collaboration, and work-life wellness.
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