As the product leader for a large team at Thumbtack (30+ across 3 groups), it was challenging to stay in sync with all my team members. I tried scheduling recurring 1:1s with everyone, but that led to meeting overload for people who weren’t direct reports (ex. engineers who already had 1:1s with their engineering manager). I found reducing 1:1s and setting aside time each week for office hours to be a more efficient and flexible solution.
To get started, I blocked off time each week exclusively for team members. I used a two-hour block of time twice per week. I put my office hour blocks after lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays since both early birds and night owls are in the office, it incurs lower context-switching costs, and it makes sure I’m available both early and late in the week. I kept them at the same time every week so my team didn’t have to try to guess when I’ll be available. Thumbtack uses Google Calendar as a source of truth for scheduling, so I put the office hour blocks on my calendar, and team members were free to schedule meetings over the blocks on a first-come-first-serve basis. Most meetings don’t take the full 2 hours (15-30 minute check-ins are most common), but it’s important to have longer periods available for deep dives.
I made it clear to the rest of the company that office hours are exclusively for members of my team, and I was unavailable for other meetings at that time. If you want to give office hours a try, be firm about enforcing this rule, or non-team members will treat them as convenient times to schedule you up for meetings, interviews, etc. People were constantly vying for my time, and office hours were my commitment to being consistently available to my team.
In the beginning, I had to actively encourage people to use office hours because people weren’t sure when it was appropriate to use them (hint: it’s always appropriate). When people came to me with questions and I didn’t have time to give a proper response I’d tell them to sign up for office hours. I would also schedule time with team members who I hadn’t caught up with recently. The beauty of office hours is that they’re more flexible than formal 1:1s. Your team should be comfortable using them for anything — discussing concerns about company strategy, brainstorming ideas, or just generally catching up. Over time, my teammates became increasingly proactive about leveraging of office hours and I enjoyed being able to provide them with my undivided attention.
Office hours are an effective tool for busy product managers, but they are not a complete replacement for 1:1s. I still supplemented office hours with recurring 1:1s with direct reports (weekly or bi-weekly) and formal 1:1s with all other team members at least once per quarter. By replacing nonessential 1:1s with office hours you get the benefits of staying tuned into what’s going on with team members without the productivity cost of excessive meetings.