3 Best Practices for Remote One-on-One Meetings

If you have remote workers, it’s crucial to support them with regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. Follow these best practices.

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A lot has changed since early 2020. Masks have become a necessary accessory, social distancing a term we’re all too familiar with, and hand sanitizer a holy grail. Many companies shifted to work-from-home models to safeguard public health, whether they wanted to or not.

Even now, nearly 2 years later, some businesses have instituted permanent or hybrid remote work options — and for a good reason. This forced work-from-home “experiment” has brought forth benefits to employees and employers alike. Employees enjoy the flexibility of remote work while companies experience increased productivity and fewer sick days for their workers.

However, with more of us working from home than ever before, companies must maintain company culture and support employee engagement with regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. Here are 3 best practices for remote worker check-ins.

Best practices for remote worker check-ins

One-on-one meetings typically consist of a manager and a direct report meeting, weekly, biweekly, or monthly, to discuss their duties, goals, and priorities. Employers and employees should also have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. The top 3 best practices for conducting remote worker check-ins include maintaining regularly scheduled meetings, asking open-ended questions, and using the “sandwich” method for providing feedback.

Maintain regularly scheduled meetings

While pushing off a one-on-one here and there is fine, managers should make it a rule rather than an exception.

Anyone who has worked in the corporate world can tell you that one-on-one meetings are usually one of the first things to get moved or canceled when a manager needs to make space in their day. While pushing off a one-on-one here and there is fine, managers should make it a rule rather than an exception. To put it simply, if companies want one-on-ones to work for their remote workers, they need to prioritize them. It is essential that managers schedule them on their calendar as a repeating event with a teleconferencing link so that everyone can prepare ahead of time.

Ask open-ended questions

To get the most out of one-on-one meetings, managers should focus on asking open-ended questions, i.e., questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” These types of questions are more likely to elicit thoughtful responses that can lead to powerful insights.

Some open-ended questions that managers should consider for their remote workers include: 

  • What kinds of challenges are you facing working from home that you did not face in the office? 
  • What questions do you have on your priorities and goals?
  • How can I better support you?
  • How can we [as a company] support company culture for our remote workers? 
  • What kinds of tools or technology do you wish you had to perform your job? 
  • How are you keeping a work/life balance? How can I help you with that? 

Use the “sandwich” method

Lastly, to keep remote worker check-ins positive, use the “sandwich method” for providing feedback. But, what exactly is the “sandwich method?” We promise you, it doesn’t involve any pastrami — just a simple framework: Positive | Critical | Positive

The “sandwich” method involves starting a one-on-one meeting with positive feedback that makes an employee feel valued right from the get-go. Then you insert “critical” feedback. Finally, you finish off the meeting with another positive sentiment.

Say something positive: “Your sales are up 5% this week. That’s fantastic!” 

Say something critical: “I noticed that your customer service rating has fallen, though. Let’s work on that together.”

Say something positive: “You’ve got an incredible work ethic, and it inspires many of your coworkers.” 

It’s important to keep critical feedback constructive and appreciate the unique challenges that remote workers face. For example, consider the employee’s family situation in addition to their work responsibilities. Some workers may have young children, pets, or spouses at home while they work, which can cause distractions. Instead of scolding them, put a problem-solving lens on your critical feedback. Ask, “How can I help you reduce distractions?”

The “sandwich” method involves starting a one-on-one meeting with positive feedback that makes an employee feel valued right from the get-go. Then you insert “critical” feedback. Finally, you finish off the meeting with another positive sentiment.

The importance of one-on-ones

For those managing a remote workforce, having regular quality communication is critical to ensuring workers are engaged, happy, and productive in their roles. One of the best ways to keep communication flowing is with standing one-on-one meetings. These meetings are valuable when they are prioritized, open-ended questions are asked, and feedback is appropriately doled out in a respectful and actionable way.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training, told Harvard Business Review, “One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager,” she says. “They are where you can ask strategic questions such as, are we focused on the right things? And from a rapport point of view, they are how you show employees that you value them and care about them.”

With Upwork estimating that by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, one-on-ones are a procedure that businesses cannot afford to get wrong.

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