A friend of mine is responsible for product development at a San Francisco Bay area company. He manages a team that is not just local, but spread over three locations and two continents. He knows his job is to help team members analyze their performance, help them problem solve, and motivate them to achieve success. The challenge is how to effectively do all that when he isn’t in person. It isn’t practical or cost effective for him to fly to each location when a coaching need arises.
My friend is not alone. More and more companies are not only increasing the number of remote staff in their organizations (upwards of 45-50% by some estimates), but many companies are now 100% virtual.
We have to think about how to create the right conditions for success, when we aren’t co-located with our teams. So what can we do to get better at having virtual coaching conversations with the people we manage? Here are five things that can help.
1. Amp up your emotional awareness
It’s well known that most thought is emotionally based. Life would be so much easier if things stayed rational. When we are coaching virtually, you have to bump up your emotional awareness to break through the virtual distance. Loss of body language and authentic speech can contribute to a loss of emotional context during our conversations. Even worse, the loss of emotional awareness may embolden us to abandon empathy altogether in exchange for being direct and efficient in our communication. This may weaken our relationships with team members even as problems get resolved. It’s critical to think about the other person’s world and listen carefully to how they are responding during the conversation. Make sure your speech and interactions communicate the emotion behind the words.
2. Be fully present
You need to be fully present in any conversation you are having. It’s crucial when you want to truly collaborate and provide meaningful coaching. The big challenge in virtual meetings is that multi-tasking is everywhere. The moment you drift away, you lose the context of the conversation. We’ve all heard that keyboard sound in the background. Clear distractions, find a quiet space and don’t be tempted by distractions like email, instant messages, or the latest sports update. Listen deeply.
3. Get good at virtual collaboration.
Good collaboration is a two way street. It’s about discussion, exchange of ideas, and mutually agreed on next steps. To do that well virtually, you may need to employ a number of tools. Get really good at asking questions. If you have multiple people in your conversation, make sure everyone contributes. Many people are intimidated by the virtual environment and it reduces their willingness to share. Encourage the exchange. Share documents or develop a plan collaboratively using application sharing in your virtual environment.
4. Pick the right virtual “location”
Do you need to use a screen-sharing tool like Skype to share information or take notes? Being visual can often times make things easier to understand for both sides. This is particularly true if you have multiple cultures and languages on the team. Taking down ideas or agreements in a document can make follow-up in email easier. How much of the emotional content are you losing by not seeing the person you are talking to? You may need to share video and really talk “face-to-face.”
5. Ready your environment
Don’t underestimate the need for quality communication equipment. Make sure your audio and visual technology enhances and doesn’t distract. Know the bandwidth limitations for the people you are talking to and adjust to their needs. Invest in a good camera and audio equipment. Be in a quiet place for these discussions.
Bonus: Celebrate successes!
Make sure you find a way to celebrate both team and individual successes. Have a team meeting in a collaborative environment where people can see and hear about each other’s triumphs. Highlight successes in emails to all the team members. Give rewards “in person.” Use video conferencing or Webcams and have someone in the local office present awards or prizes for you on site. Get creative!
Whether we are in person or virtual, to coach effectively we need to make sure we are creating the right conditions for success. Small changes in your virtual coaching can encourage your team to make progress toward goals and help them be motivated by their successes!