Tim Addison

Tips for 1 on 1s during COVID-19

We’re now at around week 10 of COVID-19 in NYC, and it looks like it’ll be a major part of 2020, if not beyond. While the business of business still moves forward, I’ve found that my 1:1s have been more demanding than ever before. I’m lucky to have a great team who have provided me with plenty of support, and I’d like to share some practices that have guided how I’ve approached 1:1s.

Most of this advice is generic and applies to all 1:1s, even in non-crisis times.

Be vulnerable

It’s vanishingly unlikely none of your team are concerned. It’s also unlikely that they’re likely to bring anything up if you don’t allow them to see your own concerns too.

Being able to share that you are concerned about the future, that you don’t have all the answers, and that you are looking for support from your team (in addition to providing it) - it all goes a long way towards creating an environment where people can confide in you.

Be supportive of problems

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions’. It has to be some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard - I think the more honest form of this advice is ‘only bring me trivial problems that you’ve solved, let the systemic ones fester’.

Concern about the future state of society is about as unsolvable as it gets. If you’ve not created the space where your team feel that they can share concerns or unsolved problems, then you’ve got no chance here.

Trying to create some weird divide where personal problems get different treatment to business problems dehumanizes people. Don’t do it.

Address privilege

We’re sitting having a 1:1 in the middle of a global pandemic that we can barely get our heads around. We’re both very privileged to still have a job. It’s ok to address that, be thankful, and still raise concerns.

Does it sometimes feel absurd to see what is happening in the world and then bring up an issue with some mundane (but annoying) expense policy? Of course it does! That’s ok, and calling it out can help people move past that (or at least acknowledge it).

Create deliberate space to address the unfixable

It’s great when you’re able to help someone. Maybe you come up with a way to level-up someone’s career, or figure out the perfect team to maximize the chance of success on a tough project. Falling into the ‘debug/fix it’ trap is an easy mistake to make as a manager, and there is a whole lot going on right now that cannot be fixed.

Rather than ignoring that bucket, I suggest you address it.

You probably won’t hear someone say ‘there is an unfixable problem I want to talk about’, but you might hear ‘I don’t feel productive and it’s bothering me’. Listen for signs that your team wants to talk, and remind yourself that they (and you) are still grappling with the fact that this isn’t just remote work, this is remote work in a pandemic. It helps to mention that, a lot.

Acknowledging the feelings/reality that things aren’t the same as they used to be is a conversation worth having, and you should underline that you don’t expect these issues to be fixed/go away. Try: It’s ok to struggle with these things, I’m not expecting anything more from you there - you’re doing a great job.

Some of us have got 10/15/20+ years of expertise in navigating working in an office, and after 10 weeks (less than 1%!) we’re wondering why things are harder than they used to be.

Revise your schedule

If you’re not meeting weekly with your team right now, consider upping the frequency. This is probably the most disruptive period of many people’s lives, and if you are catching up with them every fortnight, month, or quarter - you owe them more than that.

You can always cut a meeting short, and dial back the schedule if you both agree it’s superfluous. It’s not always easy to ask your manager for more time, so do your team the favour of offering it first.

Rome wasn’t built in a day…

…and if you attempt everything above in a single meeting, it’s going to be a really heavy 1:1! The stronger the relationship with your team, the easier navigating these kind of topics will be.

If you’ve not addressed the pandemic and it’s impact yet, your next 1:1 is the perfect time to get started.

Stay safe.