Running One on Ones with Your Remote Employees

You don’t have to look too far to see the benefits of one on one meetings between managers and their direct reports being touted across leadership blogs, twitter threads and studies looking into the workforce.

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Gallup’s State of the American Manager report reveals that employees who have regular meetings with their managers are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees who don’t. A Forbes article shared that “one-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager.” And Wavelength dubbed it, “the most important meeting.”

The benefits don’t change when our teams are distributed. In fact, they may even increase as it could be one of the only regular times you’ll see your team face to face (that is, through video chat, of course!)

Of course, taking a one on one online isn’t as simple as downloading Zoom and sending a calendar invite. 

To help make the transition a smooth one, we asked Marcus Wermuth, an engineering manager at Buffer, to share his advice. Earlier this year, Marcus wrote a guide on his blog covering this topic and as a manager of a distributed team spanning various time zones from Taiwan to the West Coast of the US he has a fair few experiences to draw from. 

Logistics of Running a Virtual One on One

The main difference between in-person one on ones and their virtual counterparts is, of course, the fact you won’t be meeting in the same location. One or both of you may be taking the call from home or some other casual setting, and you are relying on technology and tools to facilitate your connection. 

But just because you don’t have to book a meeting room ahead of time or scout out a coffee shop offsite, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still think about the location of your virtual call too (even if it’s just initially). 

“I know I’m a bit extreme with having lights and having a mic and all that but having a good set up even if it’s just good headphones is really important,” Marcus says. 

For your one on one meetings to go smoothly, you want to create a safe and welcoming environment that fosters trust and vulnerability. Everything from lighting to background noise and whether you’re interrupted or not all contribute to how comfortable you and your report will feel during the meeting. So, it’s essential to get these right. 

Consider taking these meetings in the same location, or at least one that’s easily controlled. You’ll want a reliable internet, a way to switch up the lighting depending on the time of day (and weather) and possibly to mute your notifications to avoid distractions. 

“Not having a thousand windows open, not having your phone and continuously checking it [all help],” Marcus says. “While that sometimes happens in person, in a video call, it’s even more obvious when you do that.”

It may seem like there’s more to think about when taking these meetings online, and that may be true in the beginning. However, like all skills — once you learn how to do it and it becomes second nature, it won’t feel like effort at more

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Go to the profile of Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

Director, Shield GEO Services Ltd

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