Using Distance Coaching to Develop Untethered Workers

In 2014, Bersin by Deloitte published their infographic, Meet the Modern Learner. In it, they reported that companies are finding it harder to reach and develop their “untethered” workers. This is a significant problem because at the time 30% of full-time employees did most of their work remotely.

It appears that this trend is only increasing. CareerWiki reports that more American employees are working remotely, and they are doing so for longer periods.

How can companies develop their “untethered” talent who may only rarely be working in a central location? Coaching, a time-honored practice, can still work and technology is making easier to be an effective remote or distance coach.

Guidelines for Effective Distance Coaching

General Guidelines

  • Use a variety of modes of communication (e-mail, one-on-one phone calls, teleconferencing, video conferencing (Skype, FaceTime), online meeting software, collaboration software, instant messaging, text messaging, online chat sessions, and face-to-face).
  • Select the best possible available technology for the planned coaching activities. (i.e., Do you need to see the remote worker? Does the remote worker need to see you?)
  • Plan/practice your communication and use of technology ahead of time, to ensure messages are clear, effective and succinct.
  • Be aware of tone, volume and inflection during oral communication.
  • Be aware of tone and clarity in written communication.
  • Edit all written communication to ensure the intent of the message is in line with the affect it will have on the remote worker.
  • Encourage follow-through after all communications.
  • Determine how each of you will be accessible. Be clear about how to contact each other.

Creating Rapport through Distance Coaching

  • Establish mutual respect and build a trusting relationship by using communication modes that include face-to-face meetings, voice, and video, if possible, early in the coaching process.
  • Share personal information/photos of hobbies, activities, favorite sports teams, holiday destinations, etc. that the relationship can build on.
  • Send a digital photo if you have not previously met each other.
  • Establish ways of working together by planning collaboratively how you are going to stay connected (e.g., phone/video call at the beginning or end of week; weekly e-mail status report/action plan; completion of online tracking tools).
  • Create a sense of continuity and affiliation by setting up the time for the next coaching session at the end of each session.
  • Always respond promptly to remote worker’s voice or e-mails to minimize the sense of isolation and disconnection.
  • Schedule occasional face-to-face meetings, if possible, or video calls to reinforce the relationship and enhance communication.
  • Engage in collaborative goal setting and agenda creation by sending a draft agenda prior to each coaching session. Invite the remote worker to suggest changes to the agenda.
  • Establish your role as facilitator/coach—not expert—by effectively directing the remote worker to online solutions and problem solving resources (other experts, blogs, reference materials, etc.).

Showing Respect through Distance Coaching

  • Don’t encroach on your remote worker’s time; exchanges need to be mutually planned.
  • Don’t avoid phone calls because you may feel they take more effort than e-mail (phone conversations often deepen the trust level).
  • Don’t always leave overly long messages (voice mail or e-mail).
  • Determine the best use of technology when balancing the need to address a difficult issue with the need to maintain a good working relationship.

Listening and Clarifying

  • Place emphasis on active listening when connecting by voice.
  • Follow up an e-mail from you containing detailed information with a phone call to clarify the remote worker understands, when necessary.
  • Call to clarify the intent of a remote worker’s written message, when necessary.


  • Ask questions that develop the remote worker’s self-sufficiency by building their own skills/solve their own problems.
  • Use open, thought provoking questions when supporting the remote worker’s development rather than prescribing actions and solutions.


  • Use the most appropriate technology that allows feedback to be timely, specific, focused on behavior and its consequences, and is motivated by a sincere desire to help the remote worker.
  • Do not always use e-mails to give constructive feedback (e.g., make recordings of virtual meetings available to the remote worker).
  • Use a combination of voice, written and face-to-face coaching to clearly explain how and why a remote worker’s inappropriate or ineffective behavior must change.
  • Use a combination of voice, written and face-to-face coaching to explain the implication and importance if the remote worker’s inappropriate or ineffective behavior does not change.
  • Solicit feedback from the remote worker by asking effective questions (i.e., How do you feel about this? What do you think?).
  • Invite the remote worker to send feedback after the session when they have had a chance to reflect.

Monitoring Progress

  • Keep track of action items when using all modes of communication.
  • Follow up regularly with remote workers if there is more than a few weeks between sessions.
  • Review and track progress on assignments in real time using shared online tools.

Conducting the Session

  • Plan routine pauses when using a voice call, video call or online meeting software so the remote worker can speak.
  • Ask the remote worker throughout the voice call, video call or online meeting if you are on track with the agenda.
  • Summarize and reinforce important points in writing after a voice call, video call or online meeting.

Distance Coaching Teams

  • Ensure all remote workers are engaged and involved if this is a group/team coaching session.
  • Keep remote workers aligned with the business goals and values.
  • Act as a key liaison by sharing information about the organization and the team.
  • Ensure remote workers receive up-to-date information about changes in organizational policy and structure.
  • Keep them in the loop and group emails, texts, meeting recordings and online collaboration software.
  • Encourage remote workers to maintain regular contact with other team members.
  • Include remote workers in local staff meetings using video conferencing or online meeting software.


“Out of sight, out of mind” Is not an effective strategy for dealing with the increasing number of remote workers even if they are meeting all their performance goals.

Distance coaching is a highly effective strategy for developing talent and keeping untethered workers from drifting away!

FKA President
Michael Nolan