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Why 1-on-1s Are Important in the Remote Work Landscape

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
August 17, 2022

Talking to people, listening, and empathizing with them — while still promoting your company’s goals and objectives — is a soft skill that must be mentored in managers and learned rapidly in any company, especially those with remote workers.

In the new era of remote and hybrid work teams, one-on-one meetings are even more difficult to manage. Scheduling, discretion over videoconferencing, and the chance to share career paths now have to be achieved remotely as well as in your physical office.

But you can still make remote one-on-one meetings work — and you should, because remote workers have to build a base of trust and rapport with managers just as much as in-office workers do, or perhaps even more so.

Why one-on-ones are still important

One-on-one meetings help you to build trusting work relationships, receive actionable employee feedback and suggestions, and allow you to have better collaboration among your remote teams. They help to strengthen a company’s dynamic, and they make the employee feel heard, appreciated, and respected. In the remote work world, this is more important than ever. These are the core reasons why remote one-on-one meetings are crucial when you aren't always able to physically meet face-to-face.

They’re private venues to give and receive feedback

While a lot of remote work happens in public forums — like Slack channels, emails, and video calls — and across different time zones, your reports still need a safe space where they can interact with you discreetly. Without privacy and psychological safety, employees and managers may not be honest about their struggles or concerns, which leads to low productivity, mistrust, and low morale.

Here are a few examples of topics that require privacy:

  • Tough feedback: As the famous management maxim says: “Praise in public, criticize in private.” When you need to speak to an employee about something they may have done wrong, that conversation should never happen in a team meeting or on a public channel. A private one-on-one is your chance to dig into hard topics without embarrassing a team member.
  • Check-ins: Finding out how your employee is feeling, or inquiring about their personal lives or situations should always be done privately. When promoting a company culture of a fair work-life balance, one of the first steps is to build empathy with your employees and their work environment.
  • Professional development planning: 75% of managers discuss growth and development at their one-on-one meetings. The reason is simple — with the privacy of a one-on-one meeting, employees feel freer to discuss their hopes and dreams without fear of judgment.

To make sure your remote one-on-one meeting is private, seek out a workspace that is quiet and use headphones, so no one will overhear sensitive remarks. Likewise, silence your phone and eliminate distractions that would make the meeting feel less safe, or less important. (For example, try not to have your cat walk across the keyboard while discussing your employee’s future within the organization.)

They provide valuable “personal” face-time with remote employees

For remote workers who don’t regularly interact in an office setting, having personal time makes employees feel appreciated. You need to get face-to-face time with your report because sentiment can be easily misconstrued over written communication. You also need to read visual cues, facial expressions, and body language — all of which can determine the tone of a meeting. Is your attendee distracted, rolling their eyes, angrily crossing their arms? These may be indications that the meeting is not going well, and you need to get to the root of the problem.

And since distributed teams don’t have the same opportunities for water cooler chats or lunch conversations, the one-on-one is the best opportunity for a private chat. Private chats bring different opinions, insights, and feedback due to their informal nature, and are sometimes real collaborative gems.

One-on-one meetings build trust between managers and employees

One-on-one meetings help to build trust by giving employees and managers a chance to freely discuss challenges and concerns. That trust negates the mentality of “us vs. them” and becomes a conversation centered on “employee vs. obstacles.” Lack of trust in managers can lead to a 29% increase in employee burnout, which is already a risk during the ongoing disruptions, from pandemic lockdowns to navigating a return to work strategy, or hybrid working scenario.

Another way to build trust with one-on-one meetings is by making them less about just confiding problems to managers and more about letting managers earn trust by coming up with solutions to employee concerns. When you ask an employee, “What do you think we could do to improve XYZ situation?” it gives them a feeling of being an actual part of the solution and not a part of the problem. When managers provide positive, constructive feedback, employees are 2.7x more likely to be more engaged with their work.

For managers

Build trust by speaking openly, and maybe discuss your concerns as well. Let your employee speak and finish their discussion, and ask permission to speak when they are done. (“Those are all great points you made. Can I jump so we can discuss them one by one?”) Concur with your employee whenever they make a point that aligns with your objectives.

For employees

Speak clearly and confidently. If an issue begins to affect you, and you feel it may make you too angry or upset to continue, you can always ask, “Can we get back to that at the end of this discussion?” It’s always best practice to really try to listen to the conversation, and not just focus on preparing a response. Never be afraid to ask to have a question or concern repeated.

Maximize the value of a one-on-one meeting with these guidelines

There are some quick and easy steps you can take before and during a meeting that will help to put both the manager and employee at ease. You should also use MURAL’s one-on-one meeting template for more ideas and suggestions on how to bring value to your meeting.

One-on-one tips for managers

You don’t have a lot of time for meetings, and you shouldn't assume your employee does either. Maximize the value of the meeting by doing the following:

Use a well-constructed meeting agenda (with contributions from you and the employee) to go through talking points clearly and concisely. Remote one-on-one meetings should have their agenda set in advance of the meeting — you’re not going to casually bump into an employee at the water cooler and remind them to add agenda items to your meeting.

Make every effort to create a bond between manager and employee. Get them talking about how they’re doing, and watch for stock or simple answers. Remember that each employee may have different styles of communicating, so get to know their style before assuming they are disinterested in talking with you.

Ask smart questions to spark discussion, like:

  • “If you were hiring, what would you look for in an employee?”
  • “What can we do to make your typical workday better?”
  • “What are your professional goals for the next year?“

One-on-one tips for employees

When you get a chance to speak with your manager, you need to make the most of it. It’s your chance to be heard. Give your best elevator pitch about what’s important to you.

Ask if you can contribute to the agenda. That way, you won’t feel as if issues that are important to you are ignored.

As an employee, body language will also be noticed, even on video. Crossing your arms, chewing gum, even running your hands through your hair are all signs that you are not 100% focused on your meeting. Take a minute to imagine what your manager sees when talking to you.

Come with questions to help in your professional growth, like:

  • “What can I do to progress in my role?”
  • “What can I do to make the team/company/myself perform more efficiently?”
  • “What do you count as my strengths in this role?”
Check out our Guide for Effective One-on-ones for more tips.

One-on-one meeting template

The pandemic and the ensuing reorganization of workplace norms (whether your team is distributed, fully remote, or hybrid) has created sizable gaps in communications between employees and managers. That’s no excuse to de-prioritize meeting with employees individually — in fact, it’s a reason to actively prioritize it. Alternate digital communication venues like video conferencing and Slack have opened up the accessibility of meetings globally — so there’s no excuse not to meet with your direct reports. And in this era of remote and hybrid work, the benefits of productive one-on-one meetings far outweigh the time they take up on your calendar.

Still stuck on how to start having effective one-on-one meetings? Take this One-on-One Meeting template for a test drive — it helps save on prep time and makes facilitating an effective one-on-one meeting easy.

A 1-on-1 template

Start getting your one-on-one meeting game down early, and you have the opportunity to build a “trust account” with your team that will keep you connected, even if you never set foot in the same office.

About the author

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.