virtual one one one

As leaders, we know that one-on-one communication with our team is critical. When we can’t just look out and survey the cubicle-farm to see how people are doing, the little time we get to spend with each employee becomes more precious. That’s why conducting these meetings is perhaps the most important skill a long-distance leader can have.

In many ways they are just like doing person to person chats in the office with a couple of important differences. Ignore those, and you can fail in your goal to stay informed, build relationships and keep a good big-picture view of how team members are doing.

We want to do these well. If, on the other hand, you want to ruin a perfectly good management interaction, try doing these five, counterproductive things during your one-on-ones:

Start by giving them “your list.”

When you only have quality time with people on a regularly scheduled basis, you likely keep a running list of things to talk about. That’s great. But when the leader starts the conversation with, “Here’s what I want to talk about, what do YOU want to talk about?” you’ve told them what’s important to you and unless there is something really critical on their list, you likely won’t hear about it. Always ask team members what they want or need to discuss before giving them your agenda or they may not be forthcoming.

Do it “between the cracks” in your schedule.

When we’re in the office, we make time for these important conversations. We call people into our office or an empty space and give them our full attention. It’s obvious to the other person how important this event is. When we are working with remote employees, we often give the impression that there are other things we could be doing. We are more likely to cancel remote appointments than in-person ones. Sometimes we hold these calls while driving (or, back in the good old days) in airport lounges between flights. We often sound distracted, and even when we’re taking notes, can sound like we’re multitasking. Make sure the other person knows this time is important to you.

Don’t use webcams unless absolutely necessary.

Working remotely, you have limited face-to-face time as it is. These conversations tend to be important, so you want them to be as “rich” as possible. When you avoid using your camera you miss out on the body language, facial, and other non-verbal cues that can help you really communicate and ensure buy-in and understanding.

Don’t share screens or use collaborative tools.

When you are talking about performance metrics, or sharing team data, you probably have a dashboard, spreadsheet, or some other documentation. We’ve all been on phone calls where someone is trying to walk us through a document and we either aren’t looking at it, or can’t follow along but don’t want to say something. Your people are no different. By sharing the information on your meeting screen, you increase the odds of both parties working from the same information and being engaged. Or maybe that’s too much trouble and you’d like to keep guessing whether they know what you’re talking about or not?

Stick only to business.

Time is precious, yes. Getting work done without interruption is preferable to wasting time. But maintaining social relationships, understanding what’s going on at home for your folks and making the work more pleasant are all important things. Sticking only to business can heighten an employees’ sense of isolation, frustration, and generally keep you blind to potential problems or stress.

We probably don’t need to say this, but just so we’re clear here, we are kidding! You definitely want to keep the conversation rich, give the person your undivided attention, take the time for social contact and make the most of what little time you have with each individual team member.

If you’re interested in learning how to do this more effectively check out the Remote Leadership Certificate Series. We’ve got our dates set for next year. See which ones work best for you and your leadership team.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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