Sunday, May 23, 2010

Coaching Remote Employees Can Be Quite a Ride

My son just got his driver's license.  I was nervous when he went out to take his road test because it was a rainy day with wet road conditions.  But no matter; in the weeks leading up to his test, we spent plenty of time in the car together, so he was ready.   I'd done the same thing with my daughter two years earlier.  I used the same approach with both of them but the experience was very different.   When my daughter was learning to drive, she verbalized everything she was thinking and feeling and asked me a lot of questions.  I always knew where should stood and what help she needed from me.   With my son, it was just the opposite.   We would get in the car and drive together in silence.  Every once in a while I would ask him, "How is it going?"  or "What questions to do you have?"   Most often he'd reply by saying, "I'm good" and would continue driving. 

One day as we drove a long in silence, I started to think about work.  In the last few months, we have been doing a lot of work helping managers who are leading virtual teams.   This is something that I think about a lot.  I've written about it twice before: in January and again in April of this year.  On this particular day, I was thinking about the challenges managers face in trying to coach remote workers. Coaching employees in general can be a challenge, but being separated by distance (and perhaps time) adds another level to the challenge.

I began to think about what it would be like for a manager who had to coach remote employees who had personalities like my two children.   A manager coaching someone like my daughter would probably welcome the feedback.  She certainly gives you enough to work with, but there is always the danger of getting off track.  On the other hand, a manager coaching someone like my son might find his silences difficult to interpret from a distance.  This got me thinking about how important it is for us to continually reinforce the advice we provide to our managers who coach remote employees.   Here are some of the key points we try to drive home with them:
  1. Use a Combination of Scheduled and Impromptu Coaching Sessions - It is important to have regularly scheduled coaching sessions with remote employees.   But don't pass up an opportunity to pick up the phone in between sessions when there is something important to discuss.
  2. Use Technology Tools to Keep You on the Same Page - In this day and age, there are a lot more technology options than just using the telephone.  Use web conferencing tools, wikis, or blogs for shared note taking.   If possible, use webcams with a service such as Skype to allow a more "face-to-face" type interaction.
  3. Start, but don't Stop with Results - You probably have metrics and performance indicators that will make discussing work outputs with your employee feel very natural, but don't stop there.  Use performance results as a jumping off point into a deeper discussion about work activity and resource needs.
  4. Listen Carefully to Your Employee - It is important to stay focused on your employee during remote coaching sessions.   Busy managers must avoid the temptation to multi-task.   Use active listening techniques such as clarifying, paraphrasing and giving feedback.
  5. Probe Silences - Don't allow silences, hesitancies or unreturned phone calls to go unexplored.  Unlike driving lessons with my son, managers of remote employees don't have the advantage of actually seeing what is going on to compensate for what is not being said.


  1. newly promoted sales leaders can best lead their teams to success by learning and working at the skill of coaching. But once sales leaders learn to be effective coaches, the dividends should pay off.

  2. Nice post!!! Coaching is a different approach to developing employees' potential. Thanks for the share with us.