When we talk to leaders of teams, the one part of the job most feel they could do a better job of is coaching their people. This feeling of “not quite being as good as we could be” is heightened when we work remotely from the people we should be developing.
On the surface this requires frequent, targeted, purposeful conversations. You can have those remotely, so why does coaching suffer when we are distant from each other? Here are some of the reasons, and what to do about it.
It’s hard to “catch them doing something right.”
Good coaching is more than simply correcting poor performance; you need to reinforce the things people are doing right. When we share a workspace, this frequently takes the shape of “high fives” and in-the-moment praise. But when you don’t see people at the coffee pot, or get visual reminders of someone’s presence, it’s easy to let these slide. We save conversation for the “important” things we want to talk about, and these small, positive, items don’t often make that list. When you hear of something someone has done well, make a note to yourself so you don’t forget to mention it. Schedule time to send praise and feedback by email, chat or even leave voicemails for people to come into work and start their day with good news.
Be somewhere you can really concentrate.
When you have an in-person coaching session, you generally go someplace quiet, private and give that person y our undivided attention. You wouldn’t sit across a table from them and give them critical feedback while checking your phone, writing emails or waving to people walking by, would you? But we often try to do virtual coaching sessions “between the cracks” of our tight schedules. People can tell when we’re really listening to them, and if they think you’re more worried about catching that flight, or dodging traffic than really talking to them, the quality of that coaching moment drops. Treat virtual coaching sessions like you would in-person events.
Time is important, but it’s not the most important thing.
Something odd happens when we schedule virtual meetings and phone calls. The purpose of the call is often lost. We say things like “I don’t want to waste your time,” and “let’s let you get back to work as soon as you can.” The fact is, these sessions have value (if you do them right) and you need to ensure that remote employees understand that they have the same percentage of your mind share as the in-house folks do. Perceived imbalance in the boss’s attention is one of the biggest causes of stress between co-located and virtual team members.
You hate them, they hate them, but get over it. Webcams really do help.
Good listening that leads to mutual understanding includes reading body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal cues. Webcam technology has made it simple to have face to face meetings, even when you can’t be in the same room. Now, if the first time you use it is when there is a high-stakes, important coaching call, it might be a distraction. If you’re used to using them, aren’t stressed by the technology and it’s frankly no big deal, you will have better, more meaningful conversations. It will also stop both you and the employee from multitasking and keeping your heads in the game.
Let them speak first. Really.
One of the hardest skills in coaching is effective listening. When we are pressed for time and can’t really see the person we’re speaking to, there is a tendency to say what we have to say and want to get off the line and onto your next call. Whether in person or online, letting the conversation start with the other person engages them and helps us understand what is really going on in the other party’s head. Long-Distance Leaders often say that they know this, but forget it during the everyday crush of their work.
The fact is, if you care about coaching, you probably know many of these things. It is amazing, though, how being apart can drive good leadership skills out of our heads. We do things we know aren’t optimal in the name of expedience and discomfort with the situation.
You know what to do. You just have to make yourself do it. Make notes to yourself. Schedule time for “spontaneous” feedback. It matters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 Management-Issues.com.
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 Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.