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Remote one-to-ones… are they really any different to a regular one-to-one?

Remote one-to-ones... are they really any different to a regular one-to-one?

Ally Jones

At first glance, you might think not really. Though, in reality, there's a few fundamental things you'll want to consider. From awkward "hellos" to desktop notifications taking your mind away from the conversation you were engaged in...

Then there's COVID-19. A whole other ball game. Enforced remote-working for many, higher levels of stress, anxiety and a mishmash of balancing parenting, teaching and working...

We asked Hanna Smith, Chief People Officer at Futrli, why virtual one-to-ones are so important, given the sudden shift to remote working:

One-to-ones are important to perform on many different levels, given the uniqueness we're in right now and the shift in remote teams. To see someone over video is so important so you can ask "are things ok?", "have you got enough support?", "is anything stopping you from performing your job?". "If so, how can the business adapt to help?" Not being able to see someone's face day to day is going to be difficult, particularly to see if people are struggling or if they're going down the wrong path with something. A quick video call to check in from a top level is really useful.

Whilst one-to-ones are familiar for many of us, how might they change in the wake of COVID-19 and the chaos that it's brought to our lives?

We still need connection
In fact, many would argue that connection is more important than ever and we're having to find creative ways to keep in touch with loved ones (Zoom party, anyone?!). The same applies to our relationships at work too.

Virtual one-to-ones give your team some much needed "face to face" time with you. The reality of a typical working day for your team might be juggling conflicting priorities with children needing entertaining, being at home alone, without any physical interaction with other people, or co-working with their partner in a small, one bedroom flat.

Loneliness, boredom, frustration, anxiety and stress are all feelings that people in your team might be experiencing right now. Social interaction is a great way to promote healthy mental well-being and to reduce levels of stress. Your one-to-ones are also the perfect opportunity to check in with your team.

Given the climate, we're being encouraged to check in on friends, family and elderly neighbours to make sure they're doing OK. We need to be doing the same for our people. No excuses.

Typically, most one-to-ones tend to last for somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes and take place monthly. If you're used to remote working, you might meet fortnightly. However, you've probably noticed even fortnightly catch ups feel too infrequent. Short (15-20 min), weekly check-ins are the way to go as you and your team navigate the Coronavirus pandemic.

Making Time
Despite the many myths about homeworkers, those that regularly work at home are typically more productive. You may even find yourself on a roll at home as you power through work without distraction (though, if you have kids you probably answered that with "yeah, right!").

Either way - the point being that it can be easy to find excuses not to make the time for those regular check-ins. Stop. As a people manager you need to make time.

A good practice to get into is contracting with your team. Contracting being a super formal word for agreeing expectations - or making sure you're on the same page. Contract with individual members of your team to identify the frequency that works for them. Daily? Weekly? The key here is to flex your schedule to suit theirs.

Let's Talk Tech
There are tons of applications you can use to improve communication amongst your remote team: Slack and Microsoft Teams to name a few. But - who knows how long we'll have to work from home, so I get that you might not want to invest in any paid software right now.

Zoom offers video conferencing on their free plan and many messaging apps, such as Slack, have built-in video conferencing software too.

Side note - I expect the number of flexible working requests to rise significantly in the future, so the tech you use is worth exploring...

The only caveat I'm going to add is that if a member of your team is stuck on video calls all day, a phone conversation might be a welcome alternative. But as a rule of thumb, video first.
Finally, it's worth having a back up plan, should the tech fail you. Rather than rescheduling, have a backup plan, whether that's switching to another video conferencing tool, or speaking on the phone.

The Actual Conversation
Your one-to-one can take its usual format and there's no real need for the agenda to significantly shift. However, you may find they feel a little different, particularly if you're opting for shorter, more regular catch-ups.

Your first few remote one-to-ones might feel a bit uncomfortable. Whether that's an awkward "hello" or gauging when to hold the space or trying to work out what someone's body language is telling you, when you can only see their face. As your one-to-ones become more frequent and you both get into a routine, these will become much more comfortable, fluid conversations.

There are two things you want to give adequate time to during a remote one-to-one:

  • How they're doing: the good, the bad and the ugly (life + work)
  • What support they need from you and the rest of the team

The rest of the conversation can be pretty fluid, although if you prefer structure you might want to consider setting an agenda using a shared document, such as Google Docs, so you can both add to it as needed.

Nothing is more frustrating than when you're talking to someone and their eyes dart to the table to read the notification that popped up on your phone. It shouts "what's on my phone is more important than what you've got to say". Despite not being physically in front of one another, it's still pretty obvious if you're checking your phone midway through the conversation.

There's added distractions when meeting with someone virtually - emails, desktop notifications, Slack messages.... The best approach is to close them down and kill the distractions.

We asked Hanna, what practical advice or tips would you give to managers looking to facilitate virtual one-to-ones?

Make space, make time. Don't have Whatsapp and Slack notifications on in the background and ensure your people know and feel like they matter. Ask them what they need and are they ok? Regularly. You won't be expected to 'fix it', but empathy and flexibility needs to be played as a strength here.

If the 121 requires planning, Google Hangout or Sheets are great. As is Mural for planning and drawing out scenarios.

We'd love to hear how you get on with your remote one-to-ones. Drop us a note + let us know how you got on!