View of virtual conversation in the office

By Wayne Turmel

Managing (and especially coaching) a remote team can seem very different than leading a group of people who work together, and who you see all the time. It’s not—but it sure as heck can feel that way. Today’s post is just a little reminder about what’s different, and what hasn’t changed for a long, long time.

First, let’s look at what hasn’t changed. This doesn’t mean the job of coaching your people has ever been easy… it’s usually one part of the job we don’t do as well as we’d like to start with. As a leader, whether people are at the next desk or in a different time zone, we know we need to:

  • Have 2-way conversations to ensure people are on track, are bought in, and understand their goals
  • Have honest discussions about barriers to success, the resources people need to be successful, and to help them stay on track; not just for their individual tasks, but their roles as team members as well
  • Offer feedback for both development and performance management. Good news and encouragement is just as important as correction.

Now, when I look at that list, two things jump out at me. First, there are parts of that list you’re doing well, and parts that (despite your good intentions) you know you can do better. The thing is, there’s nothing on that list that changes at all based on the location of the other employee. They need to happen.

So why does it feel so different when you’re not working with that other person in the same place every day?

  • There aren’t the accidental opportunities to talk to people. When you bump into someone at the coffee maker, it’s easy to say, “Good job on that project, yesterday.” Those little “by the way” comments matter.
  • When you’re remote, every interaction takes more conscious thought. You need to block time, because you don’t know exactly what they’re doing at that moment. You can’t just see them and start talking…. You need to be aware of the need to have those conversations, then make them happen. It just takes more effort—and managers who are prone to forget this kind of interaction neglect them more often without a constant visual reminder.
  • Coaching is a two-way conversation, and sometimes involves difficult conversations. Those are made more complicated when you’re not getting the visual and non-verbal input we receive face-to-face. Are they understanding what you’re telling them? Are they just telling you what you want to hear, and you can’t see their eyes roll or the look of panic on their faces as they exaggerate their progress on the task? Without a rich means of visual input, we may miss important clues as to what’s really going on with that person.
  • The technology itself makes conversation harder. If you’re uncomfortable with webcams, or you tend to be as brief as possible on Chat and end conversations prematurely, you may be missing out on valuable information. Technology can help your discussions be much better, but you need to be aware of the dynamics that impact the way you communicate and how it’s different than when you’re face to face.

Whether your employees are on the other side of the globe or working part-time from home, it’s critical that you take your role of coach seriously. Ask yourself: do I know how and when to coach people? Then ask yourself, “how does working remotely impact those discussions, and how can I mitigate the challenge?”

You’ll find that the job isn’t more difficult, necessarily, just different and we need to be more aware of what we’re doing…or not doing.

We have many other resources on coaching and giving feedback virtually, including the Effective Remote Coaching and Feedback course. Learn more here.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute
Wayne Turmel, co-founder of 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

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