Team members working from home (WFH)?  Checking in regularly and the right way is essential. You could do more harm than good without the right questions.

You'll want to know how much progress your team member is making, but if that's all you are doing, or you make that your first question, you risk being seen as a micromanager. The same goes for regular advice. Micromanaging says,  'Í'm an anxious leader who doesn't trust you'. 

So what's the right way?

Put your team member's welfare first. Isolation is the biggest disadvantage of working from home. The one thing that stands out when we talk with people who work from home is that they miss their colleagues. Researchers around the world report the same.

When you call your tone should be collegial - maybe senior colleague to junior but neither like a supervisor nor a counsellor. 

Some suggestions to make your checking in more focused on your team member:

  • How is (working from home/ communicating with the team/ meetings on Zoom etc.) working out? 
  • If they don't mention something you've heard from others in the team, or think might be an issue, ask directly 'Is .... an issue for you?' Maybe,  'Are you having any problems with....?'

Go deeper if you think it might provide more useful information. You'll be exploring the size of a problem so that you can come up with an appropriate solution, or just accept it because it's a minor issue. (Use your own words.)

  • You mentioned... what's the effect of that? How much is that affecting your family or work?
  • How often is that happen?
  • How frustrating/distracting is it?

Now, if it seems useful, ask about solutions. (Once again, in your own words. The questions should be a natural part of your conversation, not a checklist.)

  • What could we do to fix that?
  • What do you need from me to fix that?
  • If I/you/we were to .... would that fix the problem?

Notice that almost all the questions are open. Closed questions can be useful too but work best for checking your understanding: 'So that's happened several times/ that's been a major frustration for you this week?' 

'Is....an issue for you?' is a closed question too - and appropriate because you are using it as a prompt - the start of a new line of enquiry. 

The two-question technique

If you feel tempted to jump in with your own thoughts, justifications or advice, the two-question technique will help you hold back.

Ask a question. Listen attentively. Ask a second question based on the answer to the first question.

Q1: How well is the team communicating with you?

Answer: Well it's bit overdone. I'm being copied into emails that have almost nothing to do with me and getting texts on trivial things.

Q2: Mmm Sounds distracting. How often is that happening?