At this point in pandemic-induced remote work, employees might view their virtual check-ins with managers as a waste of time. But by establishing a regular routine and a plan for each meeting, managers can help make them useful again.
When organizations went remote last March, one of the big questions was, “How do we keep coworkers connected?” Establishing regular one-on-one virtual meetings between managers and direct reports was one popular solution.
But since then, studies have shown that many employees are dissatisfied with this arrangement. According to a 15Five study, only 47 percent of employees feel their one-on-ones with their manager are helpful, compared with 74 percent of managers who find them useful.
Where is the disconnect?
“I think across the board there is some video fatigue,” says Laura Viehmyer, principal consultant at PRM Consulting Group, a management consulting firm. On top of that, Viehmyer says it’s easier to be distracted in a virtual meeting, and people are naturally more detached in virtual settings because you miss the nuances you get when meeting face to face.
What can managers do to better connect with direct reports during remote one-on-ones? Consider these four tips for your future meetings.
Come in With a Plan
“Ineffective one-on-ones are those that are basically random in nature,” Viehmyer says.
Take time to determine what you’ll discuss beforehand so that the meeting is efficient and relevant to the employee. Viehmyer says you can even let your direct report dictate what the agenda will be. When employees decide what to talk about, they’ll naturally be more engaged and get what they need from the meeting. Then, if you want to bring up something else, you can do so at the end.
Don’t be afraid to fit some personal time into your agenda. Viehmyer says taking a few minutes to talk about something unrelated to work is a good way to build a rapport, especially in the era of remote work where opportunities to chat casually are limited.
Virtual meetings aren’t a direct substitute for in-person meetings, but using the camera feature on videoconferencing platforms helps mitigate the disconnect between manager and direct report. Using video has been shown to help workers communicate more effectively and build relationships, which will help employees get more out of each meeting.
It might be easy to blow off an internal one-on-one when you’re up against a deadline or have a meeting with a member or someone outside the organization. However, skipping your regular check-in habitually will likely erode the effectiveness of these meetings in the long term.
“You have this unintended message that the one-on-one communication isn’t important,” Viehmyer says.
Conflicts inevitably arise, so instead of canceling your one-on-ones, reschedule them to a different time in the day that works better for both of you.
When determining the frequency of your one-on-one meetings, consider each direct report’s unique situation. Workers who are new and inexperienced will probably benefit from daily meetings. But for workers who are a few years in and humming along, you could probably scale that back to a couple of times a week. The key is to have structure without being too rigid.
“It’s almost like an accordion. You’ve got to push it in, you’ve got to pull it out, and sometimes you’ve got to move it around. And there’s definitely an art to that; it’s far from being a science,” Viehmyer says.
Beyond that, listen to employees. Be willing to adjust the schedule if direct reports express a desire to change the frequency of your meetings. The same goes for meeting length: You should be OK with a direct report occasionally asking to go more in-depth one day or shortening a session, so long as you’re meeting regularly.
While the optimal length depends on the situation, Viehmyer has a rule of thumb: It’s better to schedule longer meetings and give employees time back than to cut a meeting short.
“I don’t want people at the end of the meeting rushing through conversation in order to move on to the next meeting,” she says.