By Dr Maggi Evans, Chartered Occupational Psychologist & Consultant and Coach of Mosaic Consulting

Leadership and management takes place largely through face-to-face, in-person conversations – conversations about targets, priorities, context, solutions and achievements. Some of these conversations are formal, but many are informal, happening on more of an ad-hoc basis.

As we move to virtual working we need to take a step back and think about these conversations. We need to work out how we can successfully replicate them for a new way of remote working. One key type of conversation is the 1-2-1, which may be a formal end of year review, or may be part of a monthly check-in.

Frequent 1-2-1’s are essential in our new virtual working world

Important at the best of times, in the virtual world, 1-2-1’s have become even more important.  As seen in our previous post, they are a key mechanism for working in partnership, setting short-term targets and providing ongoing feedback.

Lots of the principles of face-to-face 1-2-1’s apply when working remotely – but you need to instigate them in a more planned and conscious way. If possible, these should be done with video conferencing rather than just a telephone call – it makes the experience more personal for both parties and enables you to pick up on visual communication cues for example on how they are feeling. In the early days you should aim to do these weekly – but as things settle into a new rhythm, you may change to fortnightly and then monthly – as long as you’re having lots of other regular contact between 1-2-1’s.

Remote 1-2-1’s: five top tips

Many geographically dispersed organisations have well established approaches for running virtual 1-2-1’s. Having worked with these organisations, here is our list of top tips:

1. Why and when? It’s important to start with a clear purpose – what do you want to achieve in this 1-2-1? Therefore, what is the scope and frequency? This then needs to be discussed with your team member to check if that works for them, or if there is anything that they want to add to the purpose, agenda or scope. You also need to agree a suitable time – remember, it is likely to be difficult to hold an effective 1-2-1 if you schedule it for a time when they need to be looking after their children.

2. Preparation. Based on the ‘why’ of the 1-2-1, you will need to prepare. What outcome do you want to achieve? What are their needs? Which of the five things from our previous post do you need to cover? What do they need to think about and prepare?

3. Check-in. These meetings need to start with an informal check-in. We are all living in difficult circumstances and need some time and space to off-load, to share some of the challenges and to connect with the other person. This is about showing you care, about building rapport and understanding their world – this requires deep listening.

4. The core of the meeting. This will vary according to your purpose – your focus may be on short term priorities, giving feedback or problem solving. All of these are important. Perhaps the most difficult of these is giving feedback, particularly if you have some challenging or negative feedback to share. If this is the case, it’s important to provide clear and direct feedback, to be specific about what’s going well and also what can be changed or improved, providing no space for misinterpretations. One approach to this is radical candour, showing you care deeply as you challenge directly. This is also an important time to ask them for feedback – what’s getting in their way? What could you do differently? How can you improve things for them?

5. Summary and next steps. This is a crucial part of 1-2-1’s (and all other meetings) but it’s often neglected, which is why people can leave meetings with very different interpretations of what’s been agreed. Research has suggested that as many as 10% of behaviours in a successful meeting are concerned with ‘clarification’ (testing understanding and summarising) – but when I observe meetings, it’s often more like 3%. So, the summary and next steps is the time to capture any actions and make sure that there is shared understanding of what’s been discussed, what’s been agreed and what will happen next. It doesn’t matter who does this summary (you or them), the important thing is that you are both confident that there is shared understanding.

So, we encourage you to step back and think about your 1-2-1’s and plan how you can use them as a mechanism for brilliant leadership…and the good news is that applying this approach to your 1-2-1’s is a great practice that will apply when you can run them face-to-face again.