1-on-1s in remote teams should so important because employees will often lack face-to-face time with their manager when in a fully remote setting. Face-to-face time is often limited to meetings in groups, and the only other way to get a private talk is by requesting one through Slack – this may feel forced and as a manager, you'll likely only hear about issues when it's already too late.
Managers and executives at famous remote companies, including Amir Salihefendić, founder of Doist, are conducting 1-on-1 meetings with their direct reports religiously. For this guide, we've sat down with him to get a second view too.
What is a 1-on-1?
The name might already suggest it – 1-on-1 meetings are a private, often confidental conversation between two people. In this case, the two people are usually a manager and a direct report, but could also be two employees, two executives, an executive and an employee.
These meetings are often the only opportunity to discuss things that are not related to the output of the work. It's a safe environment to talk about worries, future plans, more higher-level ideas, than how they'd occur in a standup or team meeting.
These meetings should be highly operational. If they are work- or engineering-related, it should be about high-level ideas and future directions. 1-on-1s are often seen as a time waste, because they tend to be used for updates, that could easily be done over other ways of communications. That's not what 1-on-1s are for.
The case for 1-on-1s
In remote teams specifically, collaboration and communication outside of highly transactional environments ("does anybody know where we have the doc for...") can sometimes lack. While in co-located teams, there's usually an option to discuss issues with peers or pull in a manager in a quick meetings, that's not so easy in remote teams.
As a manager, you should create an environment where employees can make use of their full expertise, and bring up problems if they can't for some reason. A good environment to do so is a personal and regularly scheduled 1-on-1 sessions, where people can bring up issues, but where you also have the opportunity to ask people for their future career goals, personal plans, and future role in the company.
1-on-1s can become a central part of your strategy when used to help your direct reports to build their careers, and get a feeling on how their mind stands, and therefore help to increase employee retention and satisfaction.
How to plan a 1-on-1 & the caveats
1-on-1s are a huge time investment. To schedule a 15-20 minute talk for each of your direct reports every month can be a huge time consumer. Amir tells me, that in order to make this productive, every manager at Doist has eight direct reports at max. 1-on-1s need to be planned out, and Doist uses the Red, Yellow, Green method to do so beforehand and get a more productive outcome. If there is nothing to discuss, the meeting is getting cancelled.
Still, if even 6 of 8 direct reports have someting to discuss in a 20 minute session, you're spending two additional hours per month or even week in meetings. In this case, it's important to, again, plan out the content of a meetings, keep to that plan, and do a shorter session if not the whole time is needed. Flexibility is a keyword here, strict planning too.
The benefits of regular 1-on-1s
Let's get to the good part: Why should you do this? What are the benefits? We mentioned a few of the things in the rest of the article, but let's go over them briefly:
- 1-on-1s provide a safe environment for employees to bring up concerns early
- As a manager, you'll stay in the loop on how employees feel
- You also know what the private career goals of employees are, how they change, and whether the work they're doing is misaligned with their goals
- This leads to more satisfaction and hopefully improved retention
- It's crucial for improving your team chemistry – talking to eachother is healthy
1-on-1s are not standard in the industry, and therefore also not in remote teams. If you're leading a remote team, it may be time to implement regular 1-on-1s though. We'd be happy to help.