Team dynamics have shifted with the widespread adoption of remote and distributed work. It can sometimes be hard to connect with coworkers since you don't casually run into them in shared physical spaces.
Instead, interactions with your coworkers often have to be deliberate and sometimes there are fewer opportunities to bond as a team.
Why check in questions are especially important for remote teams
With asynchronous work, it can be hard to pick up on your team member’s busy day when they’re logged virtually in from the other side of town or a different time zone.
Without intentional actions, teams can find themselves drifting apart, making collaboration and daily work more difficult and less productive. In addition, workers can feel isolated and unheard, which often impacts their mental health and productivity.
Because asynchronous work treats work like a relay race instead of a sprint, team members can pick up tasks from others without waiting for meetings or direct messages. Instead of synchronous work, where a team needs to be online during the same hours, people now have the actual freedom to decide when and how to work.
However, with this increased flexibility and freedom, it can be difficult to get your team on the same page — which is why communication is so key to successful asynchronous work. Adding check-in questions to meetings helps ensure high-quality communication and build team relationships.
However you incorporate this element of checking-in, it will help you gain insight so you can address roadblocks, support your team’s mental health, and build a positive team culture.
What are check-in questions?
Luckily, check-in questions are a pretty self-evident concept. This makes it easier to incorporate them into your workdays and meetings. The goal of check-in questions is to touch base with team members and gain insight into how your team is doing.
Check-in questions also help build a positive culture with higher quality connections between coworkers. These can be worked into meetings as needed. If check-in questions don’t fit your team’s dynamic, you can include the check-in element by creating a shared digital space or communication channel. This can be especially helpful for asynchronous teams who are navigating having team members working at different hours.
You'll find that maybe a coworker is stuck on a problem or a manager is juggling fast-moving projects. Maybe a team member is buried under a mountain of work and can’t handle more assignments. Whatever your check-in questions are, as long as they engage your team, then they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.
Why you should use check-in questions
Check-in questions can be a valuable tool for staying in tune with your coworkers. They ought to help you see potential roadblocks or bottlenecks and offer a helping hand if needed. Using check-in questions at the beginning of a meeting can help reset mindsets from previous meetings. They can also shift the tone of meetings by injecting a dose of purpose or fun.
For remote or distributed teams, these questions can be vital for team members who might be geographically distant from each other. Getting to know coworkers helps people feel engaged and connected, which is good for both mental health and productivity.
Check-in questions provide an opportunity for everyone to speak, no matter where they’re located or how long they have been part of the team. They also help to give context for conversations and assignments, team members (especially when they’re working remotely) often have limited insight into what their coworkers are doing. With more background on someone’s workload, another coworker might be able to help or offer answers.
What are the elements of a good check-in question?
Effective check-in questions should help build a positive team and company culture. Good check-in questions should connect team members and provide insight. They should be polite and appropriate questions that allow all of your colleagues to be heard.
Check-in questions should elicit a brief answer from your team members. You want more than a “yes” or “no” response but you also want to stay away from turning a meeting into a free-for-all storytelling session.
Most importantly, these questions should elicit answers that provide insight into your team’s mental health, workload, and challenges. With good questions, you can keep an eye on anything that needs more attention — like a coworker struggling in a new role, or a new team member who doesn’t understand workflows.
What good check-in questions should not have
Check-in questions shouldn’t become the main act. They should be limited but important parts of meetings. It is also important to make sure that questions aren’t too personal. No one should feel like they’re being interrogated or as though they’re in the spotlight.
Remember that generic questions will usually get generic responses. Try to avoid, “Is everything OK?” or, “How is your work?” You will likely be greeted by the standard “fine.” Remember: Avoid basic questions, don’t get overly personal, and don’t pressure anyone outside of their comfort zone.
Check in questions that set you up for success
Like the best tools, check-in questions can adapt to fit your needs. They can be as fun or business-like as you want them to be. You can ask the same question at each meeting or switch up your questions to get different perspectives.
It’s best to be prepared by reviewing check-in questions and deciding what works for your team and meeting. Remember to ask open-ended questions to avoid simple “yes” or “no” responses. Think strategically about what you want your check-in questions to do.
These are great for brief meetings or standing meetings. They create an opportunity for team members to vocalize their goals, workloads, or roadblocks.
- What do you want to accomplish today?
- What is a work challenge you’re facing?
- What is your workload?
- What are your biggest priorities?
- How can your team support your work?
Emotionally focused questions
These are useful for understanding where everyone’s head is at. Mental health is a key priority and emotionally focused questions can give you a glimpse of your team’s mindset. Because people often have different levels of comfort when it comes to answering these types of questions, it’s important to be respectful and polite.
Keep the professional context of work in mind and avoid any overly personal questions. People should never feel pressured to answer if they’re not comfortable doing so. These questions may not need to be asked on a daily or regular basis but are important to bring up so you can help team members who feel overwhelmed or burnt out. They are also great to incorporate into one-on-one meetings or more formal situations, like yearly reviews.
- How would you describe your current mindset?
- What tasks are in your comfort zone?
- What has made you feel proud recently?
- How is your workload affecting your mindset?
- What is your main concern right now?
These questions can help break the ice, or help new team members get to know the rest of the team better. With remote and distributed work on the rise, there are fewer opportunities to gather around the proverbial water cooler and catch up on small talk. These questions help workers build and maintain relationships with each other.
- What is your dream vacation?
- What is a fact that most people don’t know about you?
- What superpower would you want?
- What is a surprising fact about yourself?
- What is your favorite movie?
Set up a shared space
It’s important to do what works best for your team. Sometimes, meetings aren’t the best place for check-in questions — whether you don’t have the time or your meetings include a large number of people. You can touch base with your team without check-in questions for meetings. The questions can be optional, but the check-in element is critical.
Create a water-cooler space or a more informal space, like shared communication channels or groups, where people can share non-work-related things and connect. Team spaces in Rock are a good place for teams to share updates or their current statuses. This can be valuable for teams working asynchronously since they don’t have to respond in real-time but can still bond with team members or share information.
While it’s not the same level of interaction as an actual or virtual face-to-face, it’s valuable to have a communal space. Rock’s messaging feature enables you to conduct polls to get a quick read on your team’s opinions and mindset.
Polls can help you get an idea of workload, who is busy, and how people are feeling about their work. Team members can tag tasks or projects that they are having trouble with so you can see exactly what they’re talking about. Teams can respond with messages or emojis to continue the conversation or show their support or lack thereof.
Remember the value of a one-on-one
Keep up with your team individually in your one-on-one spaces and follow up on meeting check-in questions. If a team member mentions that they feel overwhelmed or bored, creating and following through on action items can demonstrate that you’ve heard them and you’re addressing their concerns.
To be more effective, convert check in-responses into tasks in your personal space so you can follow up on something. Rock’s tasks feature enables you to assign tasks to yourself or others, creating an actionable step.
Taking notes is also a good idea, this can help you track progress of a team member who is struggling or burnt out. It will also help make sure that your team’s answers to check-in questions are remembered for future reference.
Set up more coffee chats with your team
While you should always be thoughtful about using time for meetings, even informal ones, short and informal meetings can provide an open forum for team members. Rock’s meeting feature enables people to set up calls quickly, so when you and a coworker have a free period of time, you can catch up. These types of meetings can allow you to spend the time needed to discuss check-in questions without lengthening work meetings too much.
Individual meetings can help people feel more comfortable engaging with check-in questions since they won’t have the pressure of speaking in front of other team members. Team members who want or need more engagement can do so while people who don’t need more engagement don’t feel pressured to participate.
It’s not “just” checking in
Check-in questions can be a valuable part of meetings. They can give you insight into your team’s current mindset, offer workers a chance to be heard, and help your team connect.
Remember to keep this part of a meeting focused so it doesn’t dominate the meeting’s time. Think of it as a useful supplement or a jumping-off point for the next items on the agenda. Creating action items from business-oriented check-in questions can help eliminate pain points for team members who are feeling burnt out or stuck.
If check-in questions don’t fit in your meetings or don’t work for your team, find another way to touch base. Sharing a communication channel or group, like a shared space in Rock, can be a good way to share stories and open the floor to your coworkers. Working check-in questions into one-on-one meetings is another great way to engage with team members.
What’s your favorite check-in question? Let us know by tagging @LetsrockHQ on Twitter!