virtual coaching

Of all the jobs a manager/leader has, the one that we often feel we could do better with is coaching. Study after study shows that’s the part of the gig we often feel gets ignored or isn’t done as well as we’d like. Your employees, especially those who work remotely, agree with you. So what can we do about it?

Here are some things you can do to make your coaching more effective when you can’t be face to face.

Decide to have a real coaching conversation.

A coaching call is not a “check-in.” Good coaching requires focus on both ends of the line, planning, and attention to detail. Look at it this way: if you were going to coach someone in the office, you’d take them somewhere private. You’d sit down, maybe have a moment of casual conversation and demonstrate relaxed, positive body language.

When coaching virtually, the same things apply.  Be somewhere you both can relax and not be distracted. Take enough time that you’re able to engage in some social conversation before you dive in. Any conversation that starts with, “Let’s not waste time, let’s get down to business,” is probably going to restrict real conversation and the chance to explore what’s really going on with the other person.

Make coaching conversations as rich as possible.

Coaching can be an emotional experience. When we are face to face, we can hear the tone of the person’s response as well as their facial expressions and body language. The best results happen when you’re having rich, real-time conversation. For that reason you want to have as “rich” a conversation as possible. You want to make sure you are communicating effectively, are understood, and any unspoken objections or questions get surfaced. This is almost impossible to do over the telephone alone. Suck it up and use your webcams. A little word of advice though: a critical coaching call is not the best time to use webcams for the first time. Get both parties used to the idea of being on camera when the stakes are low and the conversations casual, so you’ll both be less self-conscious when your discussions get deeper and more important.

Have a list—but not a checkbox.

A rich, constructive coaching conversation has a lot going on. You need to know what you’re going to discuss, have supporting evidence or questions you need to ask, and there’s a process to a well-run coaching call. Most of us can’t keep everything clear in our head and wind up hanging up then thinking of all the things we forgot about, or could have said or done differently.

So having a list of topics and reminders is a good thing. On the other hand if we treat it like a checklist, with the goal just to tick off boxes, we often focus on that, rather than really listening to the other person for clues that we should probe deeper, or there are things that aren’t being said. It’s a fine line, but an important one.

Open the call to possibilities.

Coaching means you have to actively listen to the other person. One of the challenges for a lot of us is that people will answer the questions they’re asked. Many of us start with well-meaning requests for information that prematurely focus the discussion and don’t always open the door to more productive conversations. For example, there is a difference between “what’s going on with the Jackson account?” and “What are you spending most of your time on?” 

Here are some open-ended questions to kickstart coaching conversations:

  • What’s up?
  • How’s it going?
  • What’s working?
  • Where are you stuck?
  • How can I help?

Notice that you’re leaving the responses up to the other person. You may want to get to the Jackson account, but if there are other priorities, challenges or the person has something they need to discuss first, you’ll have a better talk when you get to it.

For more information on coaching at a distance, consider our Remote Leadership Certificate Series. Coaching is just one of the critical skills we help long-distance leaders master. 



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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