One-to-ones … why they are so important now more than ever.

3rd June 2020

“one-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager.” Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money

We all know the multitude of benefits of one-to-one meetings. They increase productivity, loyalty, strengthen relationships, help goal setting … the list is endless. Just google “benefits of 1 to 1s” and you’ll see. However one advantage that many of the guides don’t include, as they were written pre-2020, was that when a team is dispersed and working from home, they help keep everyone connected. 

Secret Source team sitting and speaking in the kitchen

Many companies that we’ve been speaking to over the last few weeks have mentioned that, as they’re outside the office and not following their normal work routines they have put their one-to-ones on hold until they can meet up face-to-face again. And when they’re back in the office they’ll  just pick up where they’d left off. However, they have also mentioned they are worried about their team and the potential risks of isolation. So, if you’re one of those companies who’ve reduced the frequency of their one-to-ones, now maybe an important time to not just keep your one-to-ones going but even to up the tempo.

One of the key issues with remote working is loneliness and companies need to take positive steps to reduce it, it’s not an issue that will solve itself.

Many companies were thrust into the remote working world with no choice and no preparation, they were not ready to look after their staff remotely, and consequently, many people working from home are feeling disconnected from their colleagues and their work. One-to-ones are just one of the many tools you can use to help combat this and keep your team from feeling isolated.

We’ve been doing one-to-ones for a few years now, and although we haven’t perfected them yet, we have picked up a few great tips from the pros and we think we’re getting better. Here are our top six tips. Hopefully they can help you out. 

  1. Schedule them in regularly

It’s easy to get distracted and prioritise other work, so make sure you schedule in your one-to-ones and don’t cancel them. We schedule ours in for the next six months.

  1. Remember this is a time for your employees

One-to-ones are your employees’ opportunity to tell you how they are doing, their goals and how they feel. It is important to remember that this is their time, not yours.

  1. Schedule in more time than you need

The last thing one of your team wants is to feel pressured, so schedule in more time than you think you need. You can always finish early, but it is important for your staff to know that they have time to talk. We schedule in an hour and usually finish after 30-45 minutes.

  1. Help your employees by providing a structure 

Your first one-to-ones with new staff will be a little more difficult, you won’t have a relationship, they may not feel comfortable giving feedback yet so provide a structure that they can follow, maybe a set of questions or some prompts. Here’s a comprehensive list of example questions.

  1. Take notes

We try to make our one-to-ones informal, we go to a cafe or sit out on our terrace so there is a temptation to just chat, however taking notes and setting actions is very important, and once done you can share them and refer to them in future sessions. We use Asana, but a shared Google doc is just as good to get going.

  1. Don’t make it just about work

It’s very tempting to just get status updates in your one-on-ones and spend the hour discussing the project they are working on. However that is not the goal. You should chat about their career, their aspirations, where they see themselves in five years, what they’re enjoying doing, what they aren’t and what changes they think you need to make. But, importantly, don’t neglect the personal side.  All your team are human beings, they have an important life outside the office, recognise that and show you care.

If you don’t do one-to-ones yet here’s a good guide from the Harvard Business Review to get you going.

Since going into lockdown we’ve doubled the frequency we do our one-to-ones and it has really helped us stay in contact with our team. If you want to chat about our experience please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’m only too happy to help