How to make one-on-one meetings more meaningful & productive

two colleagues high-fiving after having a productive one-on-one meeting

When your day is packed with deadlines and responsibilities, it can be tempting to push one-on-one meetings with your direct reports or manager to the back burner. But these regular touchpoints are more important than you might think. One of the top drivers of job satisfaction for employees is having a positive relationship with your manager, and setting – and sticking to – regular one-on-one meetings can be a highly effective way to build that bond.

Whether it's weekly meetings conducted face-to-face, or monthly or quarterly Zoom catch-ups, having one-on-one time with individual employees provides a valuable opportunity to connect and support their personal growth, while at the same time ensuring that your remote teams perform better.

Having a separate meeting with each member of your team also allows you to become a better leader, whatever your leadership style – someone who takes the time to listen, and provides employees with the necessary resources to do their best work.

If you’re reading this and thinking one-on-ones are awkward at best, and a waste of time at worst, it might be a cue to reassess your management style, and start having more productive conversations.

Read on for practical tips and useful tools for how to get more from your one-on-one meetings, whether you're a manager or an employee. We’ll cover everything from the benefits of having one-to-one meetings, setting team meeting agendas, and using agenda templates, to dealing with those uncomfortable silences. You’ll also get remote one-on-one meeting templates, and checklists for dealing with a variety of work situations, including how and when to deliver negative feedback or have tough conversations in a one-on-one.

Let’s dive right in!

Table of contents
What is a one-on-one meeting?
6 reasons why a one-on-one meeting is important
How do you prepare for a one-on-one meeting?
What should you do during your one-on-one meeting?
After your one-on-one meeting
6 tips for employees
6 Tips for managers

What is a one-on-one meeting?

A one-on-one meeting is a scheduled, private conversation between a manager and their direct report. Both parties discuss progress and obstacles, exchange feedback, set goals, and track progress. It's also the time to schedule career conversations or have those more difficult conversations, such as salary reviews.

One-on-one time is valuable because it encourages open communication and strengthens the professional relationship between a manager and an employee. It helps everyone understand their roles, and what's expected of them. Direct reports get constructive feedback to help with their personal development and career progression.

What is a skip-level one-on-one meeting?

Skip-level one-on-one meetings happen when a manager meets directly with an employee who is not their direct report, often skipping over their people leader.

Skip-level meetings are not meant to bypass middle managers, but to complement their efforts. The aim is to create a more inclusive and transparent work environment. At skip-level meetings, employees can share their thoughts and concerns with higher-level management, which makes them feel heard.

Skip-level meetings help leaders better understand the organization's overall health, identify any issues, and make informed decisions based on first-hand information.

How often should you have a manager one-on-one meeting?

The frequency of manager one-on-one meetings often depends on the direct report's level of experience, and role within the team.

Research shows that most employees and managers prefer frequent meetings. Google's re:Work initiative, Kim Scott, who wrote the book Radical Candor, and various other experts recommend biweekly or weekly meetings for 30-60 minutes as the ideal frequency for one-on-one meetings.

Having regular one-on-one meetings is a helpful way to ensure everyone is getting the support they need. Consider scheduling recurring one-on-one meetings using a cadence that works for you and your manager or employee.

What's the purpose of a manager one-on-one meeting?

The purpose of a manager one-to-one meeting is to have dedicated time for a manager to talk with direct reports. It helps both parties:

  • Build a positive manager-employee relationship to improve employee engagement, and so the members of your team feel comfortable enough to have even a difficult conversation with you.
  • Have status-update conversations and address any challenges the employee may be facing.
  • Give constructive, continuous feedback about the employee's progress (while taking steps to protect their psychological safety when it comes to areas such as negative feedback).
  • Align the employee's goals with the team or company's objectives.
  • Help the employee improve their skills, and grow professionally.
  • Acknowledge and appreciate the employee's accomplishments.

What's the best location for a one-on-one meeting?

This depends on your work setup. If you:

Work primarily from the office every day:  A quiet meeting room is ideal for uninterrupted time with your manager or direct report. There are fewer distractions, and you’ll have easy access to any necessary documents.

Have a hybrid setup: When you're in the office, a private meeting room works well. But when you're working from home, you’ll need one-on-one meeting tech, such as Zoom or Google Meet so you can share a meeting invite and have meetings virtually.

Have remote employees: Video conferencing is the best option for remote teams. This is because when people can see each other's facial expressions, they tend to be more engaged and focused during team meetings, even when physically distant.

This option lets you share screens and documents while discussing relevant topics, and provide a piece of feedback in real time. Choose a quiet location with a stable internet connection. This could be a home office, a quiet room, or anywhere you can speak freely without interruptions.

No matter where the meeting takes place, it's really important to keep things private and confidential, especially when discussing sensitive matters.

6 reasons why a one-on-one meeting is important

1. Build a stronger & more positive working relationship with your team

Having one-on-one meetings is a great way to have clear and productive conversations where you share information, updates, and feedback.

When these meetings happen regularly, employees feel heard, supported, and valued, especially when you act on a piece of feedback they have given you. This also helps build trust between you and your team members. In addition, it boosts employee engagement — 86% of companies who have highly engaged employees have regular one-on-ones2.

Additionally, having these meetings lets you have conversations that help you better understand your team members' work preferences and goals. These insights help you provide better support to help them succeed in their career growth.

2. Collaborate with employees on their career development plan

One-on-one meetings give you a chance to ask questions and learn more about individual team members’ career goals. Based on their responses, you can assess their strengths and blind spots, which helps you provide targeted support and assign tasks that align with their skills and interests. Plus, you can use your own experiences to help and inspire their career growth, provide feedback, and recommend professional development opportunities.

3. Review your direct reports' performance regularly

75% of companies use manager one-on-one meetings to share and listen to employee feedback3. It lets you answer employees' questions to clarify tasks, projects, priorities, and company objectives. This helps align everyone's understanding of their priorities and promotes accountability.

The meeting usually involves reviewing goals, projects, and tasks, and providing constructive feedback on strengths and blind spots. Even though part of this might be a difficult conversation, the feedback you provide helps employees understand how they are doing and make necessary adjustments.

You can conduct performance reviews of your direct reports during your one-on-one or in a separate meeting.

4. Spot and solve issues before they escalate

One-on-one meetings help you understand the challenges employees are facing by creating space for those tough conversations. This allows your employees to ask for your support and guidance, which in turn, removes obstacles that hinder job satisfaction. This helps build trust and rapport with you, and results in effective problem-solving and a stronger working relationship.

5. Ensure employees are aligned with company goals

One-on-one meetings let you communicate and align employees' individual goals with the broader organizational objectives. They ensure employees understand how their work contributes to the company's overall success.

It’s no wonder 91% of companies with effective performance management systems link employee goals to business priorities4. You use these meetings to clarify things, discuss what's important, and ensure everyone is working towards the same goals.

6. Recognition and motivation

Regular one-on-one meetings demonstrate how much you care about your direct report’s growth and success. It gives you a chance to recognize and reward their efforts.

Companies with formal employee recognition programs experience 31% less employees leaving on their own compared to companies without any program5. These companies are also 12 times more likely to see strong business results.

When you recognize and reward their accomplishments, employees feel valued, motivated, and encouraged to keep performing at their best. This often leads to more job security and higher employee engagement.

How do you prepare for a one-on-one meeting?

1. Start early

Preparing for your one-to-one meetings in advance helps you show up ready to make the most of the time.

Start by gathering your thoughts and relevant documents ahead of the meeting. Then organize your talking points in a structured manner to ensure you don’t miss any important details.

Here are some examples of meeting goals to keep in mind while preparing:

  • Discuss career development opportunities.
  • Provide feedback and performance reviews.
  • Strengthen employee-manager relationship.
  • Address specific work-related challenges or roadblocks.
  • Identify training needs and professional development opportunities.

Make sure you set aside enough management time for your one-on-one meetings. Rushing through the meeting can make employees feel unheard and undervalued. As mentioned earlier, experts say 30-60 minutes is a good amount of time for a meaningful conversation, and to set some actionable next steps.

2. Set an agenda

Having a structured agenda with agenda items keeps one-on-one meetings focused, organized, and productive. It’s no wonder 64% of employees are happier about meetings when they are well structured6.

Having a meeting structure with agenda items also ensures that you address important matters and ask clarifying questions to avoid communication issues. Plus, having these agenda items will mean you have enough to talk through to avoid any uncomfortable silences.

So, take some time to prepare agenda items to define the meeting format (an agenda template will help you do this). This involves setting clear goals and expectations, and outlining the topics you want to discuss during the meeting.

Here's a sample one-on-one meeting template with agenda items in chronological style to guide you:

  • Quick check-in and building rapport.
  • Updates on employee progress.
  • Discuss challenges and roadblocks.
  • Give a piece of feedback and coaching.
  • Set goals and planning actions.
  • Open discussion and Q&A.
  • Wrap-up and next steps.

After creating your one-on-one meeting agenda items, share it with your direct report beforehand so they can add three to five items they want to discuss.

Manager's one-on-one meeting checklist

Agenda templates aren't your only useful tool. You can also prepare for one-on-one meetings using this checklist:

  • Review previous meeting notes.
  • Prepare the agenda.
  • Gather necessary materials.
  • Consider employees' current challenges and progress.
  • Minimize distractions and focus on the conversation.
  • Give constructive feedback and guidance.
  • Document action items and follow-up steps.

Employee's one-on-one meeting checklist

Encourage employees to prepare for one-on-one meetings using this checklist:

  • Reflect on recent accomplishments and challenges.
  • Prepare a list of questions or topics for discussion.
  • Seek a piece of feedback or guidance on specific tasks or projects.
  • Consider personal and professional goals.
  • Share any concerns or obstacles faced.

3. Prepare questions to ask throughout the conversation

Questions are one of the most powerful tools for having engaging meetings. They guide the flow of the meeting, ensuring you get the most value out of the session.

Prepare your list of questions beforehand, as it lets you gather relevant information, identify potential issues, and develop solutions in advance. It also shows employees you are invested in the meeting and their success.

As you prepare your list of questions, think about the key topics you want to cover. Also, consider any updates or feedback you need to provide, questions you have for the employee, or any specific team goals or objectives you want to discuss. Having 3-5 backup questions up your sleeve is always a good idea if the meeting runs quickly and there's time left over at the end.

Here’s an example of a one-on-one meeting template you can use as a foundation for creating your own questions:

Check-in questions

This list of questions will help you learn more about your employee’s wellbeing, without coming off as intrusive or nosy.

  • How do you feel about your current workload and priorities?
  • What exciting thing happened to you this week?
  • How do you manage your work-life balance, and is there anything we can do to support you in that regard?
  • What time of day do you do your best work?

Career development questions

Use this list of questions to better understand your employees' aspirations and goals, so you can offer guidance, opportunities, and resources to support them.

  • Are there specific skills you would like to develop to advance your career?
  • How can I support you in achieving your career growth?
  • Are there any training or development programs you are interested in pursuing?

Feedback questions

This list of questions will help you understand how employees perceive their work, identify areas for improvement (communicated in a way that protects their psychological safety), and give you insights into how you can provide guidance and support to your team.

  • What suggestions do you have for improving our processes or workflow?
  • How do you feel about your recent accomplishments and contributions to the team?
  • How do you prefer to receive a piece of feedback or recognition for your work?

Team questions: Use these questions to assess team dynamics, address concerns, and promote a positive work environment.

  • What support do you think our team needs in order to perform at its best?
  • Can you tell me about any team challenges or issues you have noticed?
  • What can we do to improve communication within the team?

Remote one-on-one meeting template for remote team meetings

If you're managing a remote team or remote employees, you can also use the previous agenda during team meetings. But there are some extra things to think about, too. Here’s a checklist to help you:

  • Ensure stable audio/video connections.
  • Get team updates and progress reports.
  • Share important announcements and upcoming initiatives.
  • Discuss any unique difficulties they face while working remotely.
  • Explore ways to improve collaboration and productivity.
  • Discuss strategies for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Again, consider adding three to five backup questions if your agenda items run out too early or you need more information in a specific area.

4. Understand your manager’s or employee’s work style beforehand

Everyone has a unique work and leadership style, and their own preferences for how they like to give and receive information.

Understanding these preferences helps you share information in a way that resonates with your direct report or manager. It also shows that you value their differences, and allows you to  resolve conflicts quicker in order to improve collaboration. For example, different motivational traits will impact your one-on-one meetings. If your manager or employee is motivated by power, they might talk a lot and not give you a chance to speak, making the meeting feel one-sided.

F4S team tools help you understand your team’s motivations with precision, so you can adapt your communication to suit their preferences. The behavioral analytics platform provides insights into your leadership, communication, and work style, as well as your strengths and blind spots.

To begin using F4S, send an invitation to your direct report’s email address and ask them to take the free work style assessment. The assessment includes 40 questions and usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes to complete.

After they finish the assessment, you can access the results in an easy-to-use dashboard. The assessment results help you understand your own work style and that of your manager or team members. Once areas for improvement are identified, you can set personal development goals.

Team dashboard shows employee work style
F4S team dashboard

AI Coach Marlee then provides personalized insights to help the team achieve their development goals. The insights will help you:

  • Align tasks, projects, and goals with what motivates employees.
  • Recommend resources and training that match their preferences.

Understand how individuals collaborate, their communication styles, and areas where they may work well together or face challenges.

And coming soon, F4S will be launching Ask Marlee. Once your team has completed the assessment, you can ask AI Coach Marlee questions related to coaching, development, communication, and more.

For example, you can Ask Marlee “How does Conor prefer to receive negative feedback?” AI Coach Marlee will respond with coaching recommendations based on Conor’s work style motivations. These insights will help bring out the best in your team and ensure direct reports have a more fulfilling time at work.

If you work in a remote or hybrid setting and use Zoom for video conferencing calls, you can improve virtual collaboration with F4S Zoom integration.

F4S zoom integration shows communication preferences on team profiles
F4S Zoom integration

When you and your manager or direct report use the app, you can see how each person prefers to communicate. This helps you understand the best way to communicate and collaborate, increasing your chances of a productive outcome. Plus, you can adapt your messages based on their communication style. The app shows you the ‘decision input’ style while you're on the call to help you respond in a more personalized way to prevent and manage misunderstandings. This makes your one-on-ones easier, and promotes better teamwork.

Discover the communication style of your meeting attendees
Get F4S for Zoom

Here are additional tips on how to prepare for a one-on-one meeting:

For managers:

  • Review the employee's performance: Take a moment to review the employee's recent work and performance. Reflect on their achievements, strengths, and areas where they may need support or improvement in their performance development.
  • Review previous meeting notes: Look back at the meeting notes from your previous meeting with the employee. Refresh your memory on any pending items, action points, or discussions that need follow-up.
  • Gather necessary information: Collect any relevant documents you may need to reference during the meeting. This could include project updates or performance metrics.
  • Mentally prepare: Remind yourself of the purpose of the one-on-one and approach it with a positive, supportive mindset. Also, practice communicating your thoughts clearly and concisely during the meeting.
  • Schedule and share the meeting invite:  Don't forget to send out a meeting invite, and to include a brief meeting description, so attendees can see what it will be about.

For employees

  • Reflect on your work: Once you’ve accepted the meeting invite and read the meeting description and any accompanying notes, take some time to reflect on your recent accomplishments, challenges, and progress. Consider what you want to share with your manager, and areas where you may need support.
  • Set meeting goals: Determine your goals for the one-on-one meeting. Identify any questions, concerns, or topics you’d like to discuss with your manager.
  • Prepare updates: If there are any projects you are working on, prepare updates on their progress. This includes sharing any achievements, challenges, or assistance you may need.
  • Bring questions or requests: Consider any one-on-one meeting questions or requests you have for your manager. This could be related to your career growth or personal development, specific tasks or projects, or any support you may need to excel in your role (and don't be afraid to have those tough conversations)
  • Clarify your goals: Remind yourself of the goals or objectives you set for the meeting. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you address the topics or concerns that are important to you.
  • Reflect on your talking points: Consider the main talking points or concerns you want to address during your meeting.

What should you do during your one-on-one meeting?

1. Break the ice

If you’re the manager, you should start the meeting with a brief check-in to establish rapport and build a personal connection. A good icebreaker or conversation starter is asking about any recent personal or work-related updates, achievements, or challenges. A conversation starter like this helps create a positive atmosphere, measures their level of engagement outside work, and increases your chances of having an awesome conversation.

2. Review previous action items

Get status updates if any action items or tasks were assigned during the previous one-on-one. Discuss any progress, challenges, adjustments, clarifications, or completion of those tasks. This ensures accountability and lets you brainstorm strategies to overcome issues.

3. Share updates

Allow your direct report to share status reports on their current projects, tasks, or any significant accomplishments since the last meeting. They can also provide relevant data, metrics, or examples to support their updates. This will help you measure their progress to see if they are closer to hitting their KPIs.

4. Seek guidance and feedback

Offer constructive feedback on the employee's work, highlighting strengths and areas for improvement. You should also address any concerns in a supportive, solution-driven way — provide relevant advice, resources, and training.

5. Actively listen

Active listening is a powerful tool that both managers and employees should use to make the most out of one-one-ones. During the meeting, employees should be active listeners. Pay attention to your manager's feedback and any concerns they may have. This demonstrates respect and shows that you value their input.

If you’re a manager sharing negative feedback, make every effort to prioritize your employee’s psychological safety during the delivery. Not only does this protect your employee’s wellbeing, but it makes them feel more comfortable sharing their opinions with you, without fear of judgment or recrimination.

Bear in mind that awkward silences can and do occasionally happen during one-on-ones, but they often simply indicate that an employee needs time to process a piece of feedback before responding. So, embrace the silence, and create a safe space for open dialogue.

6. Discuss performance development

If you’re an employee, use your one-on-one meeting to discuss your professional goals, employee development opportunities, and any necessary training or resources with your manager.

Start by asking your manager for advice on how to grow in your role and advance your career. This shows you are invested in your own growth and eager to take on new challenges that fuel your career progression

If you’re a manager, encourage employees to set short-term and long-term goals, and support their personal growth and career aspirations. Regularly revisit these goals to track progress and provide guidance. Schedule career progression conversations on a recurring basis, so they can track progress.

7. Be open and honest

If you’re the employee, look to establish a foundation of trust and transparency with your manager.

Slack is great for transparent communication, as it allows you to talk and share information with each other easily. It provides a written record of conversations, so both manager and employee can refer back to what was discussed. The tool allows for private messaging, which is helpful when having a tough conversation or discussing sensitive matters you might not feel comfortable sharing in a public channel or in person.

To make the most out of the tool, share both your achievements and any challenges you may be facing. Also, be willing to admit mistakes and seek help when needed. This fosters a productive and supportive working relationship.

8. Be proactive

If you’re an employee, don’t just rely solely on your manager to drive the conversation. Instead, take the initiative and bring up topics or ideas that you believe are important. For example, you can stir up a conversation around growth, which shows your engagement and commitment to your role.

9. Address concerns or challenges

As manager, if your employee has any concerns, roadblocks, or challenges, this is the time for them to discuss them with you. Encourage your employee to do so by asking open-ended questions to get answers that help them understand the issues they are facing, and then offer suggestions on how to overcome them.

10. Set action items

Towards the end of the meeting, as manager, you should summarize the key discussion points and develop an action plan.

Clearly define who is responsible for each task, and set dates to action items. You can use a note-taking tool to document the meeting minutes for reference. Also, schedule a follow-up conversation and pick the date and time for your next regular one-on-one meeting (or future meetings).

Both manager and employee should be sure to end the meeting on a positive note, expressing appreciation for each other’s time. Finally, if you're a manager, don't forget to acknowledge the employee’s efforts and contributions.

After your one-on-one meeting

6 tips for employees

1. Reflect on the meeting

Take some time to reflect on the meeting afterward. Consider what went well, and what could be improved for future meetings. Reflecting on your conversations and the outcomes helps you refine your approach and maximize the value of these meetings.

2. Review your notes

Take some time to review the meeting notes you took during the one-on-one. Ensure you have captured all the important points, action items, and commitments during the discussion. This will help you maintain clarity and stay on track.

3. Follow up on action items

After reviewing the meeting notes, identify the action items that were assigned to you or agreed upon during the meeting. Prioritize them based on urgency and importance, considering how they align with your goals and responsibilities. If there are any time-sensitive action items in your meeting notes, address them promptly. Completing these tasks on time shows you are reliable and accountable.

4. Follow up on unresolved issues

If there were any pending decisions from the meeting, follow up on them as soon as possible. Take the necessary steps to gather additional information, seek clarification, or facilitate decision-making. This ensures that important matters are addressed, and progress is made.

5. Communicate progress

Keep your manager or employee informed of your progress on the action items assigned to you. Regularly update them on any significant developments, challenges encountered, or completed tasks. This demonstrates your proactive approach, and maintains open lines of communication.

6. Seek support and collaboration

If you require assistance or collaboration from your manager or team members to accomplish the action items in your meeting notes, reach out to them. Communicate your needs and deadlines clearly, and work together to ensure successful completion.

6 Tips for managers

1. Send a meeting feedback request

After the one-on-one meeting, ask employees for their thoughts on the meeting format, content, and suggestions for improvement. This helps improve the effectiveness of future meetings.

If necessary, schedule a follow-up conversation. Allocate gap time between your one-on-ones to allow employees to reflect, recharge, and prepare for the next session so your follow-up conversation is focused and productive.

2. Support individual growth and development

As a team leader, showing genuine concern for your team members' professional growth and development is important. When you invest in your team, you invest in your company's success. You can do this by offering opportunities for learning, training, skill development, guidance, and mentorship to help them reach their full potential.

3. Foster open communication

Silos in communication torpedo productivity. To break them down, create a welcoming environment where employees feel comfortable expressing themselves. Encourage open dialogue and listen actively to what your team members have to say during scheduled one-on-ones or follow-up conversations. And always be approachable and accessible to your team members so they feel comfortable coming to you to exchange feedback, or with anything they need.

4. Delegate effectively

When delegating tasks to your team members, consider their strengths, interests, and development needs. Providing the necessary resources, support, and autonomy will empower them to successfully complete ongoing projects.

5. Provide regular feedback

Regular feedback helps individuals stay on track and make course corrections, which ultimately benefits your company's success. Offer ongoing feedback and recognition to your team members. Not only does constructive feedback help individuals improve their performance, but acknowledging their achievements also makes them feel valued.

6. Address challenges and roadblocks

One effective way to support your team members is by helping them problem-solve by providing guidance and removing obstacles.

Be proactive in addressing challenges and roadblocks that may hinder your team's progress. You should also advocate for necessary resources or support from other departments or stakeholders to ensure your team has what they need to succeed.

7. Recognize and celebrate achievements

Acknowledge and celebrate the successes of your team members. Showing appreciation for their hard work and contributions goes a long way in boosting morale, motivation, and a sense of accomplishment.

Taking the time to recognize the efforts of others can help create a positive work environment where everyone feels valued and appreciated. After all, a happy team is a productive team!

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"I have learned how to communicate better using every tool I have in myself, especially in learning how to use my tone of voice"

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“Coaching with Marlee was simply amazing. 200% recommend!”

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  1. Allas, A; Schaninger, B. (2020) ‘The boss factor; Making the world a better place through workplace relationships’. Available at Mckinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-boss-factor-making-the-world-a-better-place-through-workplace-relationship
  2. ‘Tool: Hold effective 1:1 meetings’. Available at ReWork. https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/managers-coach-managers-to-coach/steps/hold-effective-1-1-meetings/
  3. Stange, J. (2020) ‘6 Employee Engagement Best Practices for Highly Engaged Cultures’. Available at Quantum Workplace. https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/employee-engagement-best-practices?__hstc=233546881.dd939d6c8b4c2ee753984c68ef0941fd.1557929934483.1575651637687.1582837935176.191&__hssc=233546881.1.1582837935176&__hsfp=1578993557
  4. ‘State of Employee Feedback’. Available at Quantum Workplace. https://www.quantumworkplace.com/hr-practices-to-improve-employee-experience-state-of-employee-feedback
  5. Chowdhury, S; Hioe, E. (2017) ‘How effective goal-setting motivates employees’. Available at Mckinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-organization-blog/how-effective-goal-setting-motivates-employees
  6. Wickham, N. (2023) ‘The Importance of Employee Recognition: Statistics and Research’. Available at Quantum Workplace.  https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/importance-of-employee-recognition
  7. Martin, M. (2020) ‘The State of Meetings in 2022’. Available at Get Clockwise. https://www.getclockwise.com/blog/the-state-of-meetings-in-2020

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