One-on-one meetings are a dedicated, recurring time block on the calendar that opens up a space for managers and their team members to have honest, open-ended conversations. While many professionals prefer remote and hybrid work, the loss of face-to-face meetings has challenged interpersonal relationships.

Even before the pandemic and the big shift into remote and hybrid work models, one-on-ones were considered critical to the professional and personal development of managers and their employees. Today, they’re even more crucial.

In the Manager Tools podcast, host Mark Horstman calls one-on-one meetings “the single most powerful thing we know a manager can do to improve their relationship with direct reports and get better results.” One-on-ones go beyond an open-door policy: They create a space for leaders to coach, mentor, and build a working relationship with their teams.

Benefits for managers: Self-reflection and growth

One-on-one meetings are an excellent way for managers to speak candidly with their direct reports, strengthen relationships, and create safe work environments built on trust. However, one-on-ones also present managers with a unique opportunity to focus on their own growth as leaders, reflect on and hone their coaching and mentoring skills, their ability to give feedback, and listen to constructive criticism. This is especially true for managers of remote teams.

Research by Google showed that one-on-one meetings directly correlate with managers’ overall performance. They concluded that higher-scoring managers were more likely to have frequent one-on-ones with their team members than lower-scoring managers.

The benefits of one-on-ones: more employee engagement

People thrive in their work when they receive focused, uninterrupted time from their managers. When managers create a space for their direct reports to talk honestly about things that impact their work and experience, it gives people a chance to truly reflect on how they feel about their workload, mental health, and team dynamics.

In a study published in HBR, researchers used Microsoft Workplace Analytics to take a deep dive inside two Fortune 100 companies and found that people with managers who didn’t have regular one-on-one meetings were four times as likely to be disengaged.

Meanwhile, people who had twice as many one-on-ones with their managers as their peers were 67 percent less likely to be disengaged. More research by The New York Times showed that frequent meetings with direct reports were “one of the strongest predictors of success for managers.”

This data shows us that when professionals have the opportunity to discuss things outside of task status updates or daily to-dos, they’re more engaged and motivated. This is especially true for remote and hybrid teams, as a lack of communication can make people feel isolated and disconnected.

How can managers leverage their one-on-one meetings?

Regular meetings with individual team members are beneficial in myriad ways. Managers can get even more out of them–while improving their own effectiveness–when they adopt a few techniques and approach meetings with a positive, employee-focused mindset.

This time is for your team members

These meetings are all about the individuals managers are meeting with. What does this mean? The focus should remain on the team member. Equally important is the employee’s participation in the meeting. These meetings provide a safe space for leaders to hear every team member out and organize future check-ins. Personalized time can also have incredible long-term benefits on retention, collaboration, and team dynamics.

Don’t choose favorites

Not everyone on your team is a top performer or vocal about their opinions or concerns, but it’s vital that managers dedicate time to every person on their team. Giving your people dedicated, uninterrupted time with managers–whether it’s once a month, bi-monthly, or multiple times a week–goes far when it comes to boosting team-wide morale.

Not just a conversation

One-on-one meetings aren’t performance reviews. If anything, regular one-on-ones help take the pressure off performance review meetings and offer managers and employees the opportunity to build open and trusting relationships. These meetings are a time for asking honest questions, encouraging honest answers, listening, and coaching. Starting the meeting with questions like “How’s everything going?” or “How has working on xyz project so far been?” can help break the ice.

Collect feedback for growth

These meetings provide an excellent opportunity for growth. They’re also perfect for working on improvised management and leadership skills. Collecting feedback from the team can help identify gaps and spaces where managers can improve their leadership skills.

Hear your people out

If there’s a conflict or disagreement between team members, take the time to pause and listen. Managers who recognize and respect people’s concerns are more likely to build stronger relationships with their teams. The simple act of listening is easy and effective.

Take notes

A study published in Psychological Science found that people who take notes with a pen and paper retained more information than those who typed away on their screens. Taking physical notes in a meeting also shows people that you’ve taken an active interest in what they have to say, especially in a remote setting when it’s easy to be distracted by Slack or other open tabs.

Book a follow-up

Don’t let your one-on-ones be a one-off. Make sure to take the final five minutes of the meeting to recap what you’ve discussed, review agreed-upon actions, and schedule your next one-on-one.

In fact, research by Upwork found that one-on-one meetings are six times more effective than group-level communication. Tim Sanders, Upwork’s VP of Customer Insights, recommends scheduling weekly one-on-ones.

What to discuss in one-on-one meetings

Above all, it’s essential to use these meetings to create a safe, shared space for asking questions, getting feedback, and discussing long-term personal goals. Your agenda items should help you get a better understanding of how your team members are collaborating and how managers can assist in the career development of team members. 

It’s always a good idea to structure the meeting. Setting an agenda helps team members prepare and feel more relaxed before diving in. Here are some topics you can consider building into your one-on-one meetings:

  • Weekly and monthly priorities
  • Checking in on team and company goals
  • Identifying any roadblocks or pain points and resolving them
  • Identifying successes or big wins and giving credit where credit is due
  • What worked well on a recent project? What didn’t work well?
  • Pinpointing the biggest time wasters and finding solutions
  • Team collaboration: What’s working and what’s not working?
  • Where are the opportunities for growth and development?
  • Does your team member feel supported?
  • Identify any challenges in a remote work environment and find a solution

Make one-on-ones a mainstay of your company culture

One-on-one meetings are a cornerstone of healthy company cultures. While these meetings can feel time-consuming, especially in a remote work environment, the return on investment is key to developing trust, solidifying teams, improving collaboration, and boosting engagement.

Shiran Yaroslavsky

From Shiran Yaroslavsky

Shiran Yaroslavsky is the VP Product US at HiBob. She is the former CEO and Co-founder of Cassiopeia (acquired by HiBob), a startup that helps managers lead teams effectively with data. Shiran is a thought leader in people analytics and remote team leadership. She was featured in 2019 in Forbes’ 30Under30 list in Israel.