In a recent webinar on Best Practices for Managing a Remote Workforce, the need was stressed for consistent, scheduled communication across and among teams working from home. One example of this communication is the one-on-one meetings between managers and each of their remote reports. This piece takes a deeper dive into some additional best practices that our team has found very helpful in keeping these meetings dynamic, efficient, and productive.
The value of virtual “face-to-face” meetings whenever possible cannot be understated. Leveraging a video chat platform (like Zoom or Skype) will go a long way towards helping managers and their reports get the most out of these interactions. However, if this is not currently an option for your meetings, there are other practices you can put in place to optimize the time you have on these one-on-ones and the continuity and forward progress between meetings.
Your remote employees will be looking to you to set priorities for the team, as well as the immediate goals of your organization as we transition during these disruptive times. Hence, the importance you place on their individual one-on-one meetings will shape the attention they give them as well.
Best Practices for Managing Remote Employees
Most of us working in brick-and-mortar office settings are accustomed to a schedule of individual meetings with our reports. Sometimes these meetings get pushed aside or postponed because of changes in our days and other more pressing business needs that arise at the last minute. In a virtual office environment, there may be times when one-on-ones also need to be rescheduled for the same reasons–but managing a work-from-home team is different, and the need for this consistent communication will take on much greater importance. Below are 6 tips to successful one-on-ones with a remote workforce:
1. PRIORITIZE THE REMOTE MEETINGS
Whenever you can, keep these meetings as scheduled. If you have to move them, be sure to communicate the need to move before the meeting begins and reschedule the meeting immediately. This will send a message to your employee that your time with them is a priority for you.
2. BE ON TIME
Being on time is often easier said than done, and there are days when we are on back-to-back calls and late for practically every one of them. It happens. However, texting or sending a chat to your direct report, who is anticipating the start of the call, to share that you may be a little late or rescheduling for a more convenient time goes a long way. As many of us are sharing homes with loved ones, roommates, children, pets, etc., it’s important to be mindful of each other’s schedules and realize that people may have taken steps to ensure they could attend the meetings without disruption or moved other obligations around.
3. BLOCK ENOUGH TIME
Block the meetings for a little more time than you think you will really need, at least at the outset. As people adapt to their new “work” surroundings, they may have more to share with you than usual and you may need the padded time. If not, you can always end early. Ideally the meetings should not feel rushed and should have time built in for some creative brainstorming and discussions outside of the usual business check.
4. BE PRESENT DURING THE REMOTE ONE-ON-ONE MEETING
Before all of this began, when I wasn’t traveling, I worked remotely 90% of the time. On days when someone in my family also needed to be home—day off, sick day, etc.—I would sometimes take these calls out in my car (yes, it was a minivan) parked in front of my house to ensure there were no distractions in my house or with my email that would tempt me to multitask or not give the calls 100% of my attention. Now, more than ever, your teams will need your undivided attention and presence and shutting down everything else during these meetings, to the extent possible, is the ideal situation.
5. AGENDA SETTING & ONE-ON-ONE NOTE SHARING WITH A REMOTE WORKFORCE
One of our best practices for all virtual meetings is to send out an agenda beforehand—to ensure that all the relevant, necessary points get tackled, to help people be prepared and organized, and to garner buy-in and participation in the meeting by making them as efficient and productive as possible. Individual one-on-ones with your reports are no different.
When I managed a team of salespeople who did not sit in my geography, many of whom had a significant flex schedule and where a third of the people worked from home, I created a one-page form that my reports would fill out prior to our one-on-one. They would update the form with notes and action items after the meeting and share that completed form with me to make sure we were on the same page post-call and we both knew what was expected from us in the week to come.
Below is a sample of the type of bullet points I included in this form:
- Action items completed/outstanding from last week’s meeting:
- Employee’s topics for today’s meeting (the “Must” Discuss List)
- Manager’s topics for today’s meeting (the “Must” Discuss List):
- Business check: Discussion of KPIs, meetings, proposals (employee’s report from our CRM sent prior to call)
- Any obstacles:
- Any wins:
- QTD, YTD goal achievement status:
- Action Items for Manager’s Report:
- Action Items for Manager:
This tool had many benefits: one, it gave predictable structure to our meetings and made sure that the “must” discusses on both of our lists were not forgotten or missed. Two, because the manager received the form before the meeting, they were better prepared to discuss the list of obstacles and could often come to the call after gathering any relevant information or reaching out to the right experts for support. Three, these forms served as a history of conversations and their progression and aided in holding the employee accountable for their traction. Four, these forms also held me accountable for the items I had promised to investigate on their behalf.
6. DON’T FORGET THE HUMAN TOUCH WHEN MANAGING REMOTE TEAMS
In addition to the business agenda you set, in a remote setting, you will want to make sure to schedule a little time for the social conversations that would otherwise happen naturally in an office environment. Through these social discussions, we learn more about our employees as people and strengthen our relationship with them. Sharing something personal but timely and relevant about yourself may help kick this conversation off and asking them specific questions to see if they have a similar story or are in a similar position will likely help this type of valuable “small talk” becomes a part of your one-on-ones.
Supporting Remote Workers to Maintain a Successful Team
The relationship that managers and supervisors build with their direct reports is one of the critical ingredients of a successful team. When trust, transparency, and a sense of “team” are the foundations of these relationships, we find employees who come to work each day striving to be their best selves. The commitment to one-on-one meetings will surely impact the relationships managers have built with staff who now work remotely and may find themselves feeling isolated or unsupported without this valuable, consistent interaction. I hope the tips I’ve included here today help managers continue to develop and foster the very relationships with their teams that have brought your companies historical success.