Starting a new job is tricky during the best of times, and even more so when you’re trying to get to know everyone remotely. Luckily, you have a secret weapon. Focused one-on-one meetings let you make solid personal and professional connections even though you are not sitting in the same office space. I’ll share some tricks that worked for me in case you find them helpful too.
Have a clear purpose
I love it when people send me meeting requests and they tell me what they want to talk about. Before setting up a one-on-one, I do five minutes of research to see if I can figure out where this person‘s interests and expertise overlap with my own or will help me do what I was hired to do. I like to go into a one-on-one with one big question or a few small ones. Small questions can be specific and factual like "Who in the company do you talk to you to learn more about the code base?" Big questions are more open ended like "What’s your vision for the features we'll develop over the next two years?"
The beautiful thing about this is that both parties get something out of it. Most people really enjoy talking about their work and their ideas with a thoughtful listener, and that’s exactly the information that you are hungry for, so everybody walks away happy.
Let the other person steer
Everyone that you talk with will have a little different personality and meeting style. Adapt to that. Some people will prefer making small talk about hobbies or current events. Others will be interested in getting down to business, providing you the information you need and answer your questions. Whatever their style, don’t worry too much about staying on task. If you spend the whole time talking about ice fishing, that’s not a loss. If the person you’re meeting with misunderstands your question and launches into a related topic that they are passionate about, that is still a really valuable way to get to know them and how the company works. The most valuable things you’ll learn are the questions that you didn’t even know to ask.
Work your way out
If you picture your organizational chart on a piece of paper, start wherever you are and work your way outward. Start by setting up a few one-on-ones with your manager and your immediate team. Then move your way outward to members and leaders of neighboring teams. One thing that I found exceptionally helpful is asking people who else they recommend talking to about a topic. Then I put the two or three names they give me on my list of people to set up new one-on-ones with. One of the most precious pieces of institutional knowledge is knowing who the person best person is to talk to about a particular topic. This is a way to get at that efficiently.
Do as much work as possible for the other person
When you request a one-on-one, make it as easy as you can on the other person. Rather than asking if they are free, ask them about two or three specific time windows. After you’ve nailed down a time, create the meeting invitation and send it to them with your questions attached. You might send them a quick email the morning of the meeting mentioning that you’re looking forward to speaking with them as a reminder. It doesn’t matter if they’re a teammate or a senior manager or a vice president, do everything you can to make the experience easy for them. This demonstrates how much you respect their time and lays the foundation for a positive conversation.
And when you are done, please, please, please end on time. Unless they absolutely insist that they are comfortable taking the conversation longer, have your Zoom window closed by the end of the time window you asked for. You get bonus points for wrapping it up five minutes early. For some people, this is an extremely high expression of respect for their time and will buy you a great deal of goodwill.
Open the door for follow up
If it feels natural during the course of the meeting, ask them if they would mind if you send them an email or set up a follow up meeting to discuss topics should questions arise in the future. This is a fantastic opportunity to lay the groundwork for this future interactions and it’s another demonstration of respect for their time.
After doing a few one-on-ones per week for six weeks, you'll be tied into your team just as well as could have been sitting in the same office. Good luck!