If you’re a manager, you’ve been trusted with a big opportunity: actively supporting your team’s employee engagement, so that people can bring their best selves to work and do their best work. 

You’re basically a superhero. 

And like Thor’s hammer, Batman’s utility belt, and Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, an important tool—the check-in—can help boost your powers. Regular one-on-one conversations with your team members are essential for building trust, reviewing priorities, discovering roadblocks, and simply finding out how people are doing. 

If your team is remote, that means connecting by phone or video chat. And if remote work is new to you, you’re developing a new skill set. It’s entirely natural to feel a little exposed or awkward. That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to help you feel more comfortable with the conversation habit—especially during periods of challenge and change.

Why one-on-one conversations are important

When you take regular work stress and add the extra strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial to stay tuned in to people’s well-being. This is especially important for remote teams who can’t rely on the casual facetime that happens in a shared office. 

It’s also helpful to remember that each person on your team is working through their own individual circumstances. Regular check-ins allow you to understand those unique challenges so you can support their work needs in ways that are most valuable them.

“Some folks will say, ‘I am so productive at home, the challenge is to turn off,’ ” says Dana Udall, Chief Clinical Officer for Ginger, an on-demand mental health company. “Other folks are having a hard time being productive or engaged because they may have other commitments or they may be feeling depressed.” 

(In the latter case, you’ll want to be able to provide information about your employer’s mental health benefits or offer resources from a trusted source, such as the World Health Organization.)

How managers can lead effective check-ins

Having an empathetic, sensitive conversation doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially over video. That’s why your first step—before you connect with one of your team members—is to check in with yourself. 

Take stock of your mood by asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you okay? 
  • Are you in the right physical and mental condition to have a conversation right now? 
  • Are you able to be present? 

If you aren’t feeling well yourself, it might be best to reschedule. Your team member will understand if you need to shift the time. 

When you are ready to have a chat, make sure you are prepared to address the most pressing priorities for your team. Aside from support, the most critical need for most managers and employees is to find a shared understanding of what to prioritize, especially at a time when many organizations are revising strategies in response to accelerated change.

3 tips for chatting with employees by video

Here are three more tips to make your check-in successful:

  • Be present. Try to be on camera and avoid distractions, but also recognize that some people may be overwhelmed with the frequency of video conferencing. 
  • Use visuals. Share your screen when appropriate to help people understand exactly where they can access key information and resources that will help support their well-being.
  • Be explicit. Be clear about your expectations, but also seek to understand what expectations others have of you.

In the recent webinar Reimagine Well-Being, Ginger’s Udall underscored how helpful it can be for managers to be open in sharing their own challenges about work and stress. “Being vulnerable can be really important,” she said.

So don’t be afraid to talk a bit about your own struggles. Even superheroes must confront kryptonite from time to time. It’s also helpful to be a role model for setting boundaries and fighting burnout, so share what you’re doing to take breaks and recharge. 

Questions to ask when you check in—especially in times of extra stress

Above all, try to make sure you talk less and listen more. Consider asking questions like the ones on this list—curated by Glint’s people science experts for managers of remote teams working during periods of stress or change:

  • How are you doing? How are your family members and loved ones?
  • How have you been adjusting to the changes in work? What are your biggest challenges/concerns?
  • How are you doing with maintaining boundaries between work and home responsibilities? What’s working or not?
  • Do you need any additional flexibility related to your working hours (when you work, or how long you work)?
  • What are the most impactful things for you to spend your time on right now? Are any of those priorities at risk? What can be pushed back, transferred to another teammate, or removed?
  • What do you need from me in terms of communication? What is your preferred frequency for one-on-one meetings while working remotely?
  • How would you prefer to stay connected to the rest of the team? (Don’t assume all employees need or want the same type and frequency of virtual happy hours, coffee chats, etc.)
  • Is there anything that I can do to make sure that you continue learning and innovating, even though we’re all working remotely?
  • What support or resources do you need to help you be successful during this time? 

Following up after your check-in

As best you can, make sure you and your team member leave the conversation with a clear idea of next steps. That might mean noting any priorities that need to shift, any additional flexibility that’s needed, or an adjustment to the frequency for your one-on-one check-ins.

It’s valuable to identify at least one small action you can take before your next conversation. Actions demonstrate that you’ve heard your employee’s words and are transforming them into forward progress. 

Why think small? Tiny actions are more likely to get done and build to larger change. In the face of large workloads or overwhelming events, it’s critical to break challenges down into achievable tasks.

Speaking of small and achievable, don’t forget to invest a little chunk of time for reflection. Ideally, your one-on-one conversation has helped you understand how best to support your employee’s work, productivity, growth, and success. It’s highly possible you’ve heard words that help you grow and be more successful, too.

Discover more about the habits that support employee engagement for remote teams when you download Glint’s People Success Toolkit: Remote Work.