coaching remote employees

When we talk to managers around the world about what they feel they could improve on, the one area they all say they could improve on is “coaching.” It’s hard to do and doesn’t come naturally to many of us. So, it seems a bit like piling-on to point out that the odds are pretty good you do a better job coaching the people you share a workplace with than you do with the ones who are remote.

When your team is a hybrid—some people are located with you and others are scattered to the winds—coaching is not only more difficult, but you are sometimes seen as doing a better job with the locals than others. That can cause unintended resentment and challenges.

Coaching at the coffee pot

First, why is coaching easier when people are present?  The obvious reason is that you see them and are aware of their presence. You see Bob at the coffee pot and say, “Oh yeah, I need to give him an ‘attaboy,’” and so you do that. With Alice the remote employee, unless she suddenly appears in your email inbox and you have time on your hands, she probably won’t get that spontaneous, mostly positive feedback. Scheduling time, not wanting to interrupt her, or just being busy yourself dictates whether we do that or not. 

Give coaching your full attention

Beyond that, many coaches try to multi-task when they are coaching remotely. If you are coaching someone onsite, you’d probably pull them into your office, or at least a quiet place and sit face to face with each other. It’s only polite.

Yet how many of us have tried to “squeeze in” a coaching session while waiting for a plane or on a cross-town drive? Not only are we not able to see faces (driving while on webcam is really not recommended!) but we are by definition distracted while holding perhaps the most important conversations we will have with our employees.

While we often think we are “making the best use of our time,” the other person is well aware that they don’t have your undivided attention and are often driven to keep the conversation as short as possible. This will limit the depth of the conversation and make it more transactional, and less “rich.” Given that getting people to open up about their concerns, fears, ambitions or personal drivers is hard at the best of times, when we’re lacking non-verbal cues it is even harder.

Good coaches keep their appointments

Finally, it’s a lot easier to blow off someone who is on the phone than it is someone who is standing in your door way.  Just because they are virtual (maybe even moreso!) doesn’t mean they like being told there are things more important than being coached, especially if they’ve planned for the session and looked forward to it

So if you’re worried about coaching your remote employees at least as effectively as the people you share space with, here’s the two things that are critical. First, coach. Just do it.

Secondly, pay as much attention to the remote person as the one across the desk from you. Block time when you are able to give that person you’re full attention and make it as close to a face-to-face for both of you as possible. Maybe that means using a webcam or finding an empty office somewhere, but the more you treat your remote and co-located workers the same, the more even-handed you will seem.

For more information on coaching and offering feedback at a distance get your copy of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.



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. 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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