How to coach high performance on a remote team

10 minutes

Let’s face it, remote work isn’t for everyone. There are some employees who will naturally thrive while others may need some coaching.

Below are 5 skills that are key to being a successful remote worker.

Also, read the coaching tips for managers to help their team improve these skills.

First, a note on remote feedback

Don’t let an employee spend time wondering if they are doing the right thing.

Your employees who are used to office-life are likely missing many of the cues and signals, like body language or a spontaneous ‘good job’ in the hallway, that tell them they’re on the right track.

It’s easy to assume the worst about your work when you don’t hear otherwise and when we can’t use in-person skills or cues to know how we’re doing. As a manager of any employee, but especially a remote employee, provide feedback early and often. It’s your job to ensure they perform at their best.

5 key strengths will help your remote workers succeed. So, make sure you coach your people in these 5 areas to strengthen their remote muscles.

#1 Coach them to Over-Communicate by default

Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind for those who excel in a remote environment. In fact, part of the reason why top remote performers engender trust is they excel at communicating and managing expectations early and often so that others aren’t left wondering.

Some behaviors of those who excel:

  1. Shares asynchronous progress updates in slack or email before anyone has to ask
  2. Proactively communicates possible delays or quality drops
  3. Documents processes, procedures, and learnings in a public space (like slack channels, notion, or wiki pages) so that others can easily find it.
  4. Proactively ask for things, instead of waiting to be asked. If they want to work with another team, or learn about something, they ask.
  5. When struggling with a specific objective, they talk about it.

Spot these warning signs

  1. Your employee is vague in their communication
  2. They have frequent misunderstandings about assignments
  3. You have to repeat yourself continuously or clarify information about tasks and expectations.

Coaching

People often mistakenly assume everyone has as much knowledge about a subject as they have. It’s also called the Curse of Knowledge . It’s important to coach remote team members to provide others with context that is both clear and quick to read.

#2 Great speakers, even better writers

Remote workers can’t afford to not be on the same page. Misunderstandings can have a huge impact on productivity, especially if you don’t understand the last message your employee - who lives in a different timezone - sent to you before their day ended.

That’s why communication is key, especially written communications.

Great writing makes remote work better. It saves time, reduces meetings, and invites other perspectives by creating more space for those who need time to think things through.

There is no need for 30 minutes of back and forth on Slack when one well-worded email will do.

Some behaviors of those who excel:

  1. Fewer words = clearer message = more effectiveness. They are able to distill complex thoughts and ideas into simple, clear language that’s quickly and easily understood by others. Strong writers can convey their points with ease, even to someone who may have little to no context on the work or project that is being discussed.
  2. They frame the problem for everyone to read in Slack or in a document - and they invite others to chime in on their own time. This way they make it easy for people to collaborate with them.
  3. They know when it is time to have one synchronous conversation and pull people together for a video call. They don’t risk a Slack thread becoming 148 messages long with no decision made.
  4. If they are worried about something, they say it. Most frustrations, worries, and disappointments can be solved with a quick video call. In such situations, strong remote workers set up a video call immediately.

Coaching

With written communications, there are two coaching tips that can have a big impact for employees who are struggling:

#3 Focused on outputs, not inputs

Strong remote workers are driven by metrics - they understand that their value is driven by clearly-defined goals and their output - not by the amount of time they are at their desk.

Some behaviors of those who excel:

  1. They are focused on outputs like NPS, Apdex, conversion, and churn rates, etc instead of inputs like hours worked, widgets stacked, queues cleared, etc.
  2. They communicate in outputs instead of inputs because they know this is what others see and value. They are comfortable documenting their success and updating metrics.

Coaching

For a remote worker to be able to focus on outputs, they’ll first need clarity on what those outputs need to be.

That is where you, as their manager, can really help them.

Not only does this clarity help your employee, but it will also reduce micromanagement. Help them get clarity:

#4 Trusting and Trustworthy

Working remotely, we don’t see each other that often. Yet, skilled remote employees are a master at cultivating online relationships. Over time, they build and maintain trust with each positive interaction. Virtual teams need to rely on task-based trust, which is the belief that each team member will do their job.

Some behaviors of those who excel:

  1. Responsive: Team members earn the trust of their co-workers by being responsive - if they know they will be unresponsive for a period of time they will proactively communicate this.
  2. Follow through: They do what they said they would do - and keep their commitments.
  3. Taking responsibility for results: They don’t pass blame.
  4. Personable: They take time to check-in with coworkers every now and then. A simple chat to see how their coworker is doing in- or outside of work and, if appropriate, an offer to help.
  5. Self-motivated and disciplined: Due to their limited face time with colleagues, remote workers have to find motivation outside the normal dialogue with you and their co-workers. There may be days that go by without them receiving detailed feedback, a pep-talk, or long chat to discuss concerns. Strong remote workers are generally self-motivated to deal with that. Working remotely also requires the drive to get work done and the discipline to work through distractions.

Coaching

#5 Strong digital communication skills

In remote work, communication is almost exclusively digital. High performers are able to collaborate and connect with others using digital tools and across time zones.

Some behaviors of those who excel:

  1. They know and can set ground rules on how to use the technology.
  2. They match the technology to the task - Text-based media is generally more useful for sharing basic daily information, while video chats and telephone conversations are better for brainstorming, problem-solving, and relationship-building.
  3. They communicate enough context via technology (for example comments in Trello cards)
  4. If communication is vague, they quickly suggest a video call to talk things out face-to-face.
  5. It’s easy for them to present complex information over a video call.
  6. They stay calm in the face of tech issues
  7. Their text chats are clear, friendly, and effective.

Coaching

Learning new tools can be a lot to absorb at once, especially if they came from another company or another team that didn’t use the same tools used in your team.

Consider matching them with other people in the organization who have mastered the tools you want your remote worker to use.

And, make sure you spend some extra time with them to show how you would have presented information differently using those tools. A quick 5 minute screen share to demo how you use technology can save hours of frustration - on both sides.

+1 Extra, for Managers of remote workers

Strong at Giving Context and Direction

Similar leadership principles apply for managers of co-located teams and remote teams. But relationships are more “fragile” because managers generally spend less time connecting.

In a remote environment it is even more important to regularly provide the team with context and direction.

Some behaviors of those who excel:

  1. They paint the big picture for team members and bring the importance of their roles to the forefront.
  2. When asked, team reports know what their roles are, and why they matter.
  3. They hold kick-off meetings at the start of a new project or transition to unite the team around a common purpose and goal.

Coaching

Leaders of a remote team need to work a bit harder to become a natural leader. And you can coach them in setting context and direction:

Credits: Photo by @jeffreyflin on Unsplash.