By Wayne Turmel

Coaching is a critical part of our job as leaders. It’s also (if we’re really honest with ourselves) part of the job that too often gets ignored amid just trying to get the darned work done. As with so much, the fact that we aren’t co-located shouldn’t make our job harder (after all, scheduling and having a conversation needs to happen no matter where both parties are) but it sure as heck feels like it.

Here are three ways working apart from your direct reports or project team impacts how (or even if) we coach them:

  1. We try to save time, rather than invest it in coaching conversations. One of the most common phrases when we’re talking to people by phone or webcam is, “I’ll keep it short.” We often treat our conversations as interruptions to work, rather than investments that make us more productive or increase the quality of our outputs. But coaching takes time. We need to have the freedom to ask lots of follow up questions, and give people the time to process what’s been discussed. While it’s difficult to do, we need to think of the time spent coaching and in one-on-one discussions as investments in the relationship, rather than drains on time and productivity. When you’re coaching on the fly, make sure you are in a place that really allows for proper thought and reflection. Block the time and keep to it. Reschedule if neither of you can give the other your full attention.
  2. We’re too busy putting out fires to help prevent them. This comes about as a symptom of not valuing the time spent on true coaching conversations. We tend to respond to what’s urgent in our work. This creates two issues. The first, is that we tend to under-prioritize coaching conversations. They get bumped when something more important comes along, sending the message that coaching this person isn’t a priority for you. The second challenge is that when we’re talking to people, we tend to focus on negative feedback (in response to whatever fire is going on at the moment that has made us take the time for that conversation) rather than thoughtful, positive feedback, as well as “feed forward.” We’re too busy trying to get that conversation off our to-do list to give it the deep attention it deserves.
  3. We don’t thoughtfully leverage the technology at our disposal. Coaching remotely puts us at the mercy of technology. What often happens is that we use the tools we are most comfortable with, or are the most proficient in, rather than the tool that would be most helpful in a given situation. For example, if you are uncomfortable delivering bad news, it’s very likely you’ll be tempted to use email or voicemail rather than get face-to-face with that person. Additionally, even though you understand the value of webcams (seeing facial expressions and body language,) if you are generally uncomfortable on camera, it’s easy to default to using the telephone instead, even though it offers a less rich experience. It’s important that the tools we use support our communication efforts, rather than constrain them.

Coaching well has never been easy, and the constraints placed on us by distance—time management, technology and minimal non-verbal cues—can make the task seem more daunting. If we are mindful of the circumstances, and are focused on being good coaches, it can be done.

To learn more about offering good coaching and feedback at a distance, register for our Effective Remote Coaching and Feedback program. Learn more and register here.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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