Making a change on a team isn’t easy. Never has been, never will be. But on a remote team it can be even more difficult to get the team on the same page. It’s bad enough when it’s a relatively simple change like using a new software (simple doesn’t mean it won’t make people crazy. It’s just… less complicated than other problems.) When you’re attempting culture change, it becomes exponentially more difficult.

All teams have a culture. It’s a ten-dollar term for “the way we do things here.” There is a way of doing things on your team or in your organization. The big question is did you get there on purpose or did it just happen?

Missing social cues

On a remote team, it’s harder to create the culture you want because you don’t have everyone in the same place, picking up cues from each other. If you see everyone around you acting a certain way, peer pressure (which isn’t always a bad thing) kicks in and there’s a natural desire to conform. When you are sitting by yourself, far away from your peers and can’t see the way they work, or hear them talking to and coaching each other in the new way, it can be frustrating.

Coaching to the new norm

Leading people who work remotely is tricky here, because you need to be clear on the new behaviors and expectations, then find ways to measure whether they’re happening without looking like a micromanaging weasel. It’s also very easy to fall into the trap of managing day to day tasks, and forget about coaching to the new cultural norm.

Have discussions about the vision of the culture change. That means talking about how things are and how they should be. Include references to it in your meetings and updates. Build time into your one-on-ones to not only discuss the immediate tasks and challenges, but how that person is doing with the change.

What to include in coaching conversations

  • Use “we” instead of “you” language whenever possible
  • Acknowledge the change and why it’s occurring
  • Acknowledge what has worked in the past and then focus on the future
  • Identify what has to change and why.
  • Assign tasks inside the context of the culture change: “Here’s why we’re doing this…”
  • Engage in conversation to identify new behaviors and best practices that can remain. The goal is to get buy-in rather than grudging compliance
  • Be patient and coach to the change. All coaching and performance management should come from a place of “this is what we’re trying to achieve in the future,” rather than punishing non-compliance.
  • Celebrate even small victories that show the new way of doing things will work. Stay positive.

Coaching culture is a major component of building and maintaining successful remote teams. Check out our on-demand course, Effective Remote Coaching and Feedback. This course will help you understand the unique challenges facing remote team leaders when it comes to coaching and give you the practical skills you need to be effective in that role.


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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