When we ask managers what the hardest part of their job is, inevitably, the issue of coaching from a distance comes up.
Having supportive, productive and empowering coaching discussions is really hard. (That’s why teaching those skills is an industry unto itself.) But when you add the complicating factors involved when working remotely, the hard job can seem even more daunting.
It doesn’t have to be.
In fact, recent developments in technology can make coaching from a distance that much easier, if you allow yourself to leverage the tools.
Let’s take a look at the skills and the tools available, and see how they work together:
- Having a model and a coaching mindset. People have always been able to make distance work if they’re sufficiently motivated. Genghis Khan used a courier system to pass messages back and forth at record speed, and the Apostle Paul mentored Timothy by letters written in Greek. If you take your job seriously, and identify the stages and tasks associated with each task, some of the answers become obvious.
- Active listening and clear communication. Listening is hard. One of the reasons it’s difficult when coaching from a distance is that we reduce listening to only what we hear. Real listening is a full-body experience. We not only hear the information coming our way as audio signals, but interpret it through body language, word choice, and confirming understanding. Improvements in audio technology, the introduction of webcams and the ability to share screens (and thus confirm you’re looking at the same information) makes interpreting messages and having real conversations easier.
- Real time visual confirmation. Webcams allow us to see each other in real time, and adds critical body language and facial expressions into the mix. But it’s more than just seeing each other. Using screen sharing allows both coach and employee to confirm information. The fact that everyone’s looking at the same data helps when discussing performance or quality issues. Beyond that, the ability to pass control from one person to the other allows for in-the-moment training or assessing someone’s processes. If you’ve ever had to coach someone through a website while on the phone (“Okay, what do you see now? Click there. No, the button above that……ARRRRGH) you know this is so much less stressful and so much more impactful.
- Time and space cease to be an issue. When we work remotely (especially across time zones) it can be difficult to schedule time in advance, or to be in both a physical or mental place where we can concentrate on the job at hand. Now that we are a mobile workforce, and broadband has improved (at least, in most places), you can schedule coaching conversations at a time when both parties can focus on that moment, rather than squeeze it in between other tasks. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the flexibility that mobility offers, even if it means holding the chats at times you would rather be doing something else.
The bottom line is, that while coaching is not easy, the hard work is in planning for and executing the coaching conversation. If you’re avoiding these tasks, working remotely makes it easier to avoid your coaching duties. But if you’re doing these critical tasks, new technology makes it easier than it used to be, even when you’re separated.
You can learn more about Coaching and Delivering Feedback at a Distance , one of our various interactive instructor-led training sessions, that is one critical component of the Remote Leadership Certificate Series. Click HERE for registration details; our next public session will occur on August 16, 2016, from 2:00-4:00 PM (EST).
P.S. We can also deliver this program (or any of our other training services) to your team or organization on YOUR schedule and YOUR platform! Just click HERE to contact us for more info!
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.
Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote and virtual work environment.