Of all the jobs a leader has, coaching their team members is at the top of the list, yet one they feel the least comfortable with. This isn’t surprising, since even under “normal” conditions, it’s part of the job we always feel we could do better. Coaching at a distance can seem even more intimidating.

It shouldn’t be.

As with so much Long-Distance Leadership, if we concentrate on what good coaching should accomplish it becomes far less mysterious to do it virtually.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when coaching your remote team members:

Give them the same attention and focus you would offer in person.

When we coach someone in person, we go somewhere quiet, look them in the eye, engage in some social niceties, and make sure you block time from other distractions. If you were coaching someone in person and started texting someone else it would send a terrible message about where your attention is. The same is true online.

Make the conversation as “rich” as possible.

When we say this, people often think first about using webcams. Of course, they add richness by allowing you to see facial expressions, body language and the like. So, yes, use your webcam. But richness also takes into account the ability to share documents so you are both looking at the same data and information, as well as making the conversation a legitimate 2-way conversation in real time.

Follow (and share) the process. 

A lot of us use a model for our coaching conversations. Many of us have checklists or notes that we use to guide our conversation so we don’t forget important topics or things we want to discuss. In person, we have notes, and we are writing things down. The same is true online. Make sure the person knows what you’re doing so that when your eyes drift off-camera  to check your list, or if they hear the clickety-clack of fingers on a keyboard, they are aware it is in service to your coaching conversation, and not a distraction.

Check with the other person for their questions or priorities for the conversation before jumping in.

Too often we start with what’s on our list, then ask the employee, “so, what do you have?” Coaching conversations are more than just a list of items to be discussed in no particular order. By finding out what is top of mind for the other person, you can address what’s most important or concerning as well as reinforce the idea that this is about them, not you. (Because that’s true, right?)

Stick to schedules and time frames.

When working remotely, time with the boss is precious. Your people look forward to these chances to have your attention more than you might think. When you are constantly rescheduling or keeping an eye on the clock, it sends the message that this coaching time isn’t as important as other duties. What might seem like no big deal to you can send a powerful message about your priorities and where they fit in that list.

Coaching is a tough part of any leader’s job, but leading at a distance doesn’t have to be any more difficult than doing a good job in the office. Now, how well are you doing that?

For a comprehensive look at coaching from a distance, check out our on-demand virtual course, Effective Remote Coaching and Feedback.


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 Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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  1. That’s a good point that coaching meetings shouldn’t be too structured. I could see how focusing on specific problems could be much more effective. I should make sure I get the help I need with any issues I may have if I decide to try executive coaching.

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