Coaching Managers of Remote Employees

by Susan Gerke

I teach workshops to managers on the subject of “Leading Remote Workers.” In addition to a variety of managers, several HR professionals have attended the last few workshops. These HR professionals tell me the reason they attend is so they can more effectively coach managers in their organizations who are struggling to effectively manage remote workers.

Today, remote workers are very common in organizations. Whether in a different city or country or just on another floor or working at home, there are more remote workers in organizations today than ever before. For many managers, managing these remote employees is more challenging than managing co-located employees.

Some of the issues I hear managers (and HR professionals) describe include:

How can I get to know them when we haven’t even met face-to-face?
How do I recognize when there is a problem before it gets out of hand?
How can I delegate to them when I can’t easily check on their progress?
How do I measure their performance when I don’t see them?
These and many more are legitimate issues. And, they are issues that aren’t going to get resolved without some focus.

There are three keys to be successful as a remote leader:

Building Relationships
Empowering Others
Measuring Performance
In the remote environment, we lose visual cues to help us understand people. However, Interaction Styles (Dr. Linda Berens) can give us good clues on how to do these three things more successfully.

Coaching Key #1: Help them learn how to build a relationships with remote employees.

They are not going to be able to build relationships in the casual way it often happens when they are co-located with the individual. They don’t have the opportunity to have coffee or lunch or just drop by the person’s desk to chat. So, they have to be deliberate about relationship building.

Teach them the four Interaction Styles (In Charge, Chart-the-Course, Get-Things-Going and Behind-the-Scenes) and then help them brainstorm ways each style would be receptive to relationship building. For example: An “In-Charge” style would probably prefer something relatively quick and to the point, whereas a “Get-Things-Going” style might prefer more time to interact and talk about personal things. Then encourage them to think about the individuals they need to build relationships with and help them determine how each should be approached.

Coaching Key #2: Help them learn how to empower remote employees.

One of the challenges here is the use of language. The Interaction Styles model helps us clarify the difference between directing and informing language. For example: If I use informing language — “This needs to be done.” — I may be frustrated when it doesn’t get done by someone who is used to directing language and might respond — “If you wanted me to do it why didn’t you tell me to?”

‘As a coach, you can help the manager understand which language is her natural preference, and begin to see where that will be effective and where it may not be. This language can be a challenge when people are co-located too, but in that environment the visual cues may help them see that the employee didn’t accept the task and the manager can explain further.

Coaching Key #3: Help them learn how to measure the performance of remote employees.

Measuring performance has three key areas: setting objectives, giving feedback and evaluating. Like building relationships, to be successful with measuring the performance of remote employees, the manager must be deliberate about spending time in each area.

Understanding the four interaction styles again can be helpful. On evaluating, for example, while the “Chart-the-Course” and “Behind-the-Scenes” style may want some time to digest the evaluation and then have a follow up conversation later, the “In-Charge” and “Get-Things-Going” styles are more likely to want to engage in dialogue during the evaluation conversation.

Bottom line, understanding the Interaction Styles and focusing on these three coaching areas, you can be a much more effective coach of managers leading remote employees.

© Susan Gerke