Lead Dev Async AMA Recap: talking about life

Welcome back to the Lead Dev Async AMA recap, where I’m recapping the conversation we had over on the Lead Dev Slack to kick-off their newest community series. In each post, I share a question that was asked in the series, and how I answered.

Today I’m focused on a topic that’s especially relevant for pandemic times: how to respond when your report brings up non-work related topics in a 1:1.


Let’s talk about life

Do you have advice for discussing non-work related topics that a direct report brings up? Particularly under the current circumstances (global pandemic, rapidly shifting to remote work) where your direct report may suddenly have a lot of additional responsibilities outside of work.

In my talk I mention how 1:1s are your report’s time—those 45 minutes of the 40 hours that they give your team each week that’s purely theirs. If they want to talk about what’s going on outside of work, that indicates that they trust you. That’s a good thing!

There are lots of reasons why someone might bring up non-work topics in a 1:1, and the reality of the global pandemic persuades me that it’s now more than ever important to normalize that talk. Communication is hard, and it could be that they are bringing up non-work topics because they want you to know what they’re dealing with at home, or personally, and how it’s impacting them. Listen carefully and try to connect what they’re sharing with how they work and what you’ve observed.

Are they feeling isolated? Being aware of this means you’ll look for ways to help them feel more connected.

Are they struggling with their new home “office”... that turns out to be their laptop on a card table? Perhaps there are things your company can provide or purchase to ease the transition.

Are they worried about the fate or future of the company? As context-giver-in-chief, this is an opening to share what you know (to the extent that you’re able to share).

Finally, remember that as a manager or lead, you’re not alone. If you’re concerned about how responsibilities outside of work are impacting individual contributors or your team, it might be worth broaching this with your leadership team and trying to get some shared understanding around expectations for delivery during the pandemic. It could be that leadership has a tacit, but not explicit, understanding already that people are working at lower capacity, and goals have already been adjusted accordingly. Encourage company conversation so folks are on the same page. Expectations are a lot easier for everyone if they’re out in the open.

What do you think? How would you answer? What kind of conversations has your team or org had, or what changes have you made, since COVID-19 upended everything? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Check back in for the next question in the recap series! We’ll talk about how to go beyond status reports in 1:1s to have conversations that matter.