Whether your company is entirely remote, or your team just enjoys a work-from-home day once in a while, it’s important for every manager to know how to nail a remote meeting.
And of all the remote meetings a manager needs to master, the remote one-on-one is the most important.
Why? Because remote or not, the one-on-one is the most crucial meeting a manager has each week. Where else do they learn what’s really going on with their employees? Where else do they see red flags before they become huge roadblocks? And that’s the whole purpose of one-on-one meetings, after all: to listen to your employees and figure out what you need to do to help them to thrive.
Not that it’s easy. It becomes a lot harder to connect when you’re not sitting face-to-face with your employee. Luckily, we have tips and tricks (and our go-to remote one-on-one agenda template!) to help you get the most out of your remote one-on-ones.
There are few things that separate the standard employee one-on-one from the virtual meeting. For one thing, there’s the logistics. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019, one of the top three biggest struggles of working remotely is collaborating and communication. Building a relationship across a computer screen takes a lot of additional planning and organization, from juggling time zones to dealing with tech issues.
Remote one-on-ones can also be more action-packed than an in-house one-on-one – primarily because you and your employee have less time to talk than you would in a traditional office. A weekly remote one-on-one agenda will likely end up being longer than a non-remote one, which means you’ll likely want to schedule more time for them (we recommend 60 minutes).
One final way that remote meetings differ from regular one-on-ones? They’re even more important. Kara McNair, Buffer’s former Engineer Manager, put it best: “In a remote team, where you can’t just chat waiting while the coffee machine has blue-screened and is rebooting, it’s really important to maintain these communication/relationship channels on a regular basis.”
Managing remote teams in general can be challenging – but nailing those crucial remote one-on-ones is another challenge altogether. Here are a few tips to help you along.
Set clear expectations
Remote meetings can go off the rails really quickly. That’s why it’s so important to lay out clear ground rules to keep things running smoothly. For example: according to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019, 84% of remote workers are home-based, but their second most common location to work from is a coffee shop. It’s worth making sure it’s clear that one-on-ones should take place in a quiet environment.
Have a plan B for tech issues
Do this legwork ahead of time so you don’t need to eat into your scheduled time in the moment: what will you do if your WiFi is out? What if your video conferencing tool is broken? Have a plan B (and C, and D…) ready to go ahead of time. This could be as simple as switching to a phone call – whatever you need to do to avoid cancelling the one-on-one altogether.
When you’re face-to-face with an employee, you’re more aware of sticking to the standard one-on-one etiquette: don’t check your phone, avoid eating, etc. It can be easy to forget these rules when you’re sitting in front of a computer screen. But trust us: your employee will definitely notice if you’re checking your phone off-screen.
Use an agenda…
Yes, we say this about any meeting, but it’s still worth repeating: use 👏 an 👏 agenda! And ditch the word doc – when you’re in different locales, it becomes all the more important to use a shared online agenda that you can both access easily and add to as needed.
…and take shared meeting notes
It’s crucial that you have a clear record of what you talked about in your one-on-one: decisions made, follow-up required, etc. And like your agenda, you’ll want to keep your notes in a shared place that both you and your employee can refer back to whenever you need. (Our app does that too!)
Allow lots of time for rapport-building
We always recommend that the first one-on-one question on your meeting agenda is an ice breaker, but when it comes to remote one-on-ones, you’ll want to designate even more time to non-work topics. Ask about their hobbies, their interests. Over time, you’ll find things you have in common that can become recurring check-ins (like maybe books you’ve read, or restaurants you’ve tried). This will help you to build your relationship over time, which is all the more challenging for remote teams.
Avoid status updates
When your employee can’t just swing around in their chair once in a while to update you on the project they’re working on, they’re going to want to give you all those updates in your one-on-one. Try to save the status updates for your team meeting – or designate one specific part of your one-on-one to go through the updates. Either way, don’t let it take over your whole time together. All the more reason to use an agenda to stay on track!
Save precious time sorting out time zones by using a tool like Timezone.io, which displays the local time for all members of your team.
For video conferencing…
You’ll want a solid video and screen-sharing tool like Zoom to make your meetings as seamless (and as face-to-face!) as possible.
For sharing an online agenda…
Uh, we recommend SoapBox, of course! Our easy-to-use agenda tool makes it easy to create agendas, take meeting minutes and lots more.
You might not need a tool like this for every one-on-one, but it can be useful to have an online whiteboard tool, like Miro, at the ready.
As we already said, a remote one-on-one meeting agenda is unique. You’ll want to cover more ground, and spend more time on rapport-building off the top. Here are the one-on-one questions we recommend including:
Click here to jump to see the SoapBox remote one-on-one meeting template in action!
- How are things going?
- What’s something you’re really jazzed about outside of work?
- What have you been working on this week?
- What has been the work highlight/lowlight from the past week?
- What are you working on next week?
- Where do you need help?
- Are you happy with our level of communication? How would you change it?
- What’s top of mind right now that we haven’t talked about yet?
🎁 Bonus Questions:
Want to personalize your remote one-on-one meeting template? Here are few more tried-and-true winners we recommend:
- What do you want to learn about the company?
- Do you have any questions about what other team members are working on?
- What do you need? What could make your day-to-day easier?