We all know the world is different. Some employees are struggling with the challenges of balancing family and work life in ways they never expected. This is especially true if your employees have children or others for whom they provide care at home. Other employees are fine and will be perfectly happy to work remotely for a long time if not forever. Since many of you no longer see your employees on a daily basis, productive and effective one to one discussions are more important than ever. This post is intended to offer some practical tips to help make your remote discussions more productive.
Start your conversations with attention to your people as individuals. Don’t jump into whatever business matter is at the top of your mind. Some of the discussion starters you can use include:
- How are you?
- How is your family?
- Is everyone safe?
- What, if any, challenges are you facing in doing your job?
- What is working/what is not?
- What help do you need from me/ the company?
These discussion starters are intended to establish and/or reinforce the human connection with your employee. Listen to their answers carefully. Doing so will give you immediate insights and should guide the rest of your discussion. For example, if it is clear the employee is stressed out then try to use your time together to discover the root cause. If it is a business matter, find ways to help. If there is a personal matter that is causing high levels of stress, encourage the employee to seek some professional help. If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, encourage him/her to avail themselves of that resource.
Once you have established that personal connection, it’s time to move on to your business agenda. In more than 30 years of managing remote teams, I have found it is very useful to have a standard agenda for one to one meetings. Especially in these times, predictability is a good thing.
- When possible, send an agenda in advance. Of course, it’s perfectly fine if your employee establishes a regular agenda or that you do so collaboratively.
- Usually, you should try to keep these discussions to a maximum of 45 minutes. That’s about as long as anyone can focus without a break. And that is especially true if there are many or controversial items to discuss. There will certainly be situations where more time and/or a follow up discussion will be appropriate. But as a general rule, 45 minutes works well.
- Use technology. There are many free or inexpensive video conferencing tools available to us. If you have a company video capability, use that. It likely has the security needed to protect your business. If you are using a commercially available videoconference tool, make sure only those you have invited have the access code to attend your meeting.
- Make sure you have adequate lighting. If there is a window behind you, sunlight will wash out your image making it difficult for your employee to read your body language.
- Try to be in a quiet place to minimize the distractions of ambient noises. But if your dog or cat wanders into the video, enjoy it. I have encouraged colleagues to let a child sit on their lap and say hello if the toddler is demanding attention. Be human. Be real.
- Allow time to wrap up, summarize agreements, and confirm next steps including the timing of your next one to one.
This post assumes your employee is a satisfactory or better performer and there are no big business problems. Most leaders have, at times, needed to manage unsatisfactory performance. Conducting effective remote one to one meetings with an employee who is struggling is another matter that we’ll address in the next post.
To speak with me about managing remote one to ones or other people leadership challenges, reach out to me in any of the following ways