Your one-on-one check-ins are essential. Here are a few tips for checking in during the pandemic (and any other extended crisis).
1. Do the personal part (really!).
Everyone is being personally impacted by the current situation, so carve out a bit of space to talk about non-work matters and check in about how you’re both doing. Remember that the personal check-in goes both ways—make it easier for them to share by being honest about how you’re doing. Even just saying, “This has been a tough week for me, but I’m adjusting to a new normal…How have you been?” will help you connect on a human level.
2. Make a “not to-do” list.
In our revised check-in template, we include a chart to help you and your staff members keep track of what they’re prioritizing, what’s on pause, and what they are actively deprioritizing and saying “no” to. Being explicit and constantly adding to these last two categories can not only ensure you’re focusing your team’s energy on what’s most important, but it can be a helpful anxiety-reducer, giving team members explicit permission to not worry about items that may be floating around in the back of their heads.
3. Customize the cadence.
Adapt the frequency, format, and length of your check-ins depending on each person’s circumstances. If you’re managing someone new to the team, consider holding 90-minute check-ins, and allocate a chunk of your time to more hands-on problem-solving or sharing feedback on slices of the work. Or, if you’re managing someone who can work relatively autonomously, you might stick to weekly 30-minute meetings where you focus on checking in personally, sharing quick updates, and getting aligned on priorities. Either way, you might add a quick 5-minute call mid-week to check in on each of your people and to see whether they need anything from you.
4. Don’t leave anyone out.
As you adapt your cadence, be mindful of bias and potential inequitable consequences—as a manager, it’s easy to spend more time with people for whom you have “like me” or “I like you” bias. Often, that extra time translates to a stronger relationship and more trust overall. Even if your intentions are good (“Jerry has a lot going on, so I don’t want to take up too much of his time”), not checking in could have negative impacts. Consider the identities of your team members and make sure not to privilege those with more dominant identities, or backgrounds more like your own.
5. Use your check-in to share, follow up, or receive input on organizational support.
Check in directly with each staff member about updates regarding organization-wide developments. If an email went out last week about extra PTO, bring it up in your check-in. Make sure your direct reports are aware of new or updated policies and ask what accommodations they need. On the latter, note that there are equity implications here. Some folks may be less willing to accept or ask for accommodations for various reasons—fear of judgment or retribution, not wanting to let anyone down, and cultural expectations or practices around accepting help. As the manager, the more you encourage and normalize taking organizational support, the more likely your staff (particularly those on the margins) will accept it. This is also your opportunity to get input on your organization’s response.
Bonus Tip: Not everything has to be on video! By now, you’ve probably hosted your grandma’s birthday party (“not time to sing yet, Joey!”), taken a dance class (Zoomba!), and gotten your haircut via Zoom. “Use videoconferencing for meetings” is a ubiquitous tip for remote management. We get it—facial expressions are helpful for communication (and we could all use the extra motivation to put on a clean-looking shirt). But it’s hard to sit at your computer for hours on end. Give yourself and your staff a break from time to time and don’t feel terrible if you want to use good old-fashioned phone calls.