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February 19, 2021
Connor Mooney

Better Check-ins With Remote Workers

Now that remote working is being normalized by the COVID-19 pandemic, managers are being forced to learn different skills.

After all, managing remote teams is much different than doing so in the office. It requires greater attention to employee dynamics and resistance to micro-managing. Managers need to know their workers are productive while remote, but at the same time workers need to know they remain a vital part of the team’s productivity. Isolation can kick in for both managers and workers, so it’s important to be mindful of how and when to communicate, even outside discussions of job duties.

One way to do this is the check-in. This is an established call — by phone or video chat – that is one-on-one with employees to talk about more than just job deadlines and other tasks. What makes this tool so necessary is that it is designed to focus on the employee’s well-being, something that is more of a challenge to assess or discuss when the team is not located at one site. Check-ins are valuable to let workers know they are appreciated and for managers to understand the challenges they may be going through, especially during a time when anxiety over public health and the economy is skyrocketing.

Here are a few ways managers can create better check-ins with their remote staff.

Have an agenda. Instead of just calling up and asking how they are doing, managers need to focus on what they want to get out of the one-on-one, to assure employees that they consider this time together important. This is not an interaction that should be rushed, nor is it something managers should just use as a checklist item. Instead, managers should use this time to spark a conversation that has value for both sides.

Set clear expectations. What time should remote workers be online? When should they take breaks? Is there flexibility for when they should be reachable or not? Make sure you set expectations early and use the one-on-one to validate them. What deadlines are essential for the month, which ones are not? Your one-on-one should amplify productivity expectations as well to make sure both parties are on the same page.

Give feedback. Being remote, employees may have heightened insecurity about how their work is being assessed. Give feedback, even on the slightest tasks. Show them that you have been aware of their work and communicate how their work has contributed to recent wins for the organization. This is a great way to start off each call.

Make it routine. You want to make sure your one-on-one is baked into the schedule. Whether it’s once or twice a week, or every two weeks, make sure they know the pace of these meetings so they can plan to address goals set by each one.

Share the best tools. Navigating what workers might need on their own can be daunting, especially when they can’t just ask for advice from a co-worker at the next cubicle. Make sure you remind your employee where they can locate online tools such as the company stylebook, guidebooks, company policy manuals, software, and more.

Set an action plan. Of course, your employee has goals they must meet every year or quarter. But what about between each meeting? Establishing a blueprint for the month might be good to keep them engaged, and checking in on that plan lets them know you have not forgotten their hard work. Make sure every plan is achievable and builds upon their previous work. This way they will feel like they are growing their skills while at the same time contributing to the company.

Ask the right questions. Finally, you’ll want to make sure that each one-on-one isn’t just dictated from the top down. Solicit their feedback because they are the ones who may get you the best answer for how your department is progressing. 

Don’t start off calls with directives. First, ask them how they feel about how things are going and if the present is the best time for them to talk about work. If the answer is yes, consider the following questions that are designed to foster more insightful and productive conversations;

  • Are you okay? This lets them know you care about their well-being, especially during a time of uncertainty and crisis. They will appreciate knowing that you care about them as human beings first and foremost.
  • How are your family and loved ones? By acknowledging that people have lives outside work involving people they love and care for, managers can earn the trust of workers by showing they are mindful of their other obligations.
  • How do you feel about the work you performed lately? Get their perspective on deadlines, work quality, etc., and then join in with your own perspective.
  • What do you need more from me? Show them that you are a resource. Maybe there is something they’ve been hesitant to ask for; make this an opportunity for them to get what they need to help them perform at a higher level.
  • What development do you think might help you? Despite the challenges of this year, show them you are still invested in them enough that you want to support them with development opportunities like webinars, and more.
  • Don’t forget to talk about priorities. Remote work can lead to chaos if work is not streamlined in a way that is manageable. Things fall apart when different managers with different priorities overload employees without realizing it. Make sure you set parameters to their workload. Tell them which work takes precedence over others.

The one-on-one is a great way to check on the progress of that pecking order so that nothing falls behind schedule and the worker feels comfortable they’re doing what they need to do and when. Checking in will not just get them there, but it will boost their morale by showing them that, despite being physically apart, they still play a critical role in your organization’s mission of success.

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