When communication happens primarily through technology, as it does with virtual teams and remote employees, trusting relationships take longer to develop. Effective one-on-one meetings are a powerful tool to keep employees motivated and positive. Here are four tips to make your one-on-ones as effective as possible.
Let the direct report choose the best time. As humans whose energy varies during the day, there are times best suited for problem solving, routine reports, crunching data, or reflecting and envisioning the future. As a leader, let your team member choose the best time for your one-on-one call. Have them choose a time when they aren’t rushing for a deadline or needing to be alone to focus. Although you are responsible for making sure one-on-one meetings happen, virtual employees work independently and are typically very careful about how they spend their time. You want your call to be welcomed as a time for connection, reflection, and investment in future success—not seen as a distraction or interruption to real work.
Use technology to reveal more. Use the best one-on-one technology you have available. Video is best—even a cheap laptop camera with Skype or Office Communicator will provide you with visual information about the person’s commitment and mood. If you can’t get a video feed, invest in high quality—not necessarily expensive—headsets for your conversation. These make it easier for you to focus and listen for indicators of mood such as frustration or enthusiasm. In audio-only one-on-one meetings you will need to listen for the said, the unsaid, and the underlying tone beneath the spoken words.
Ask questions to develop independence. Individuals who work virtually are required to function more independently than those who have someone in the next cubicle for support. Use the skill of facilitating problem solving to develop competence and commitment. Examples of good questions to foster independence are:
- What other factors could be influencing this situation?
- What is getting in the way?
- What else should be considered?
- What are the pros and cons of this idea?
- How will you know the plan is working?
Build personal connection at their speed. Developing a personal relationship with your direct reports builds trust and commitment and can help you know, early on, if something is impacting motivation or performance. At the same time, people’s personalities differ in how much and how quickly they are willing to share their personal selves with you. Model sharing by being transparent about yourself, but don’t force intimacy. Ask questions that provide opportunity, such as:
- Which part of your job is the most enjoyable?
- How could your job be better?
- What could I do to make your job easier?
- What’s the most interesting thing happening for you right now?
- How will you be celebrating the upcoming holiday?
- How is your family?
In each phone call ask one or two open-ended questions to provide opportunity to build the relationship, but let your team member control the level of sharing.
Don’t let distance keep you apart! With these tips in place, both you and your team member will leave the call feeling in control, supported, and motivated to move forward together.
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world.