As coronavirus caution is ramping up and more people are asked to work from home, here are some of these practices I've put into play that may help other managers conduct remote one-on-ones. I have been working remotely as a manager for the past year with a team of in-office and remote product managers. The following practices have allowed me to stay informed and set my team up for success while minimizing wasted time.

Set a consistent recurring time to meet

I meet weekly for 30 minutes with each of my team members. We have a recurring calendar invite which makes it hard to miss a week due to scheduling conflicts. I consider these meeting a top priority and do my best to not reschedule or cancel. If a customer call or other unavoidable conflict arises, I will chat the team member, apologize, and immediately reschedule at a time convenient to them. They are welcome and encouraged to do the same as necessary.  

Use video chat whenever possible

We use Microsoft Teams to conduct one-on-ones over video chat. If you're managing remotely for the first time, I encourage you to include a video chat link in your meeting invite and to use it. It takes a few weeks to get comfortable on video but it's highly beneficial in maintaining a human connection over geographic distance.

Use time efficiently to address topics useful to the team member

One-on-ones are a time for team members to get advice and feedback, work through problems, and raise issues. As a remote manager, you need to stay informed on your team members work. However, a thirty minute meeting can easily be wasted by asking about project status, what's coming up, what's delayed etc. and no time is left for coaching.

To avoid that time waste, we utilize a shared excel (or google sheets) doc that drives our meeting agenda. I have one private sheet per team member shared only with them. It has seven columns: meeting date, accomplished, coming up, stuck on, proud of, to discuss and action items. (I found this general format somewhere online and no longer have the source. If you know it, please give me a heads up so I can add a reference. Thanks!)

Date Accomplished Coming Up Stuck On Proud Of To Discuss Action Items
Meeting date Work done To do's Any blockers Any wins Agenda items Meeting takeaways

Before the one-on-one, the team member fills out the row except for Action Items. It should only take a few minutes to complete with bullet points. I spend 5 minutes before the one-on-one reading it and then I'm caught up. No need to review project status and work done. We can focus on coaching and problem solving.

  • Date is the date of the one-on-one. Generally, we'll auto-fill this with a formula.
  • Accomplished is for listing out work done between last meeting and now.
  • Upcoming is for listing what is hoped to be achieved before the next meeting.
  • Stuck On is for any blockers or trouble they are running into. Explicitly and routinely asking for this normalizes asking for help. I can then get the information I need to help remove roadblocks and help each team member be productive.
  • Proud Of asks the team member to share something with me that they felt good about from the past week. Sometimes this is a task done well but more often it's a great customer interaction or a successful collaboration with another team. Most importantly this column gives permission to brag or boast a little. Without in-office interaction, I can miss a lot of good moments and only see where help is needed or things are going poorly. The proud of column helps balance the information I'm receiving about my team.
  • To Discuss is where the team member sets our meeting agenda. I set the expectation that they should be proactive about seeking coaching, making me aware of issues or delays, and utilizing me as a collaborator or sounding board. The team member lists out topics that will help them best get their jobs done, improve as product managers, and ensure their satisfaction with their work.
  • Action Items - During the meeting, we'll record any next steps, follow-up items, or takeaways in this column.

During the meeting, the team member drives the meeting using the To Discuss column. Once we cover those topics, we'll review the previous action items and recap our new action items. I'll also use any remaining time for any feedback I need to give, to ask clarifying questions about Accomplished, Upcoming, Stuck On, and Proud Of, and cover any topics I might have. The spread sheet allows us to do this in a nice, tidy 30-minute meeting.

Final thoughts

Each of my team members uses this template a bit differently and that's encouraged. The one-on-one is a time for them to get value so they shape and drive the meetings.

My goal is to stay informed, do what I can to coach and empower, and then get out of their way so they can get great work done.

Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash