You would think by now people would be used to managing difficult work conversations remotely. I wish I could tell you this is the case. It’s not.
The other day, I was on a coaching call with a client who complained about the performance of one of his employees. We had spoken about the need to address this difficult work situation in previous calls and had agreed on the next step. I pointed this out to him and asked him why he hadn’t done what he said he would do.
He said he was waiting to have this conversation in person, only his company keeps postponing bringing workers back to the office. I reminded him that he might be waiting a long time and coached him on how to handle the situation remotely.
The sooner you get comfortable handling uncomfortable conversations remotely, the better, as remote workers will remain part of the fabric of most organizations.
With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from my latest book, Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.
No one could have accurately predicted that one day just about the entire world would go remote. But that’s precisely what happened when the coronavirus hit and pretty much brought everyone to a standstill. Within days of the official announcement of a pandemic, employers shut down their offices and sent workers home, leaving no time to train leaders on how to best manage remote workers. As a result, managers were left to figure many things out on their own. This “experiment” went better for some managers than others.
As experienced leaders of remote workers know, the need to have difficult conversations with employees doesn’t go away when employees are remote. The way you handle challenging remote interactions will ultimately reflect on you and the company. The last thing you want to do is be like Better.com and make headlines for the wrong reasons. In December of 2021, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg
laid off over 900 employees in a Zoom call. This error in judgment made headlines across the globe. I bring this up because learning what not to do in situations is just as important as learning best practices. Never lose sight of the fact that those you’re engaging in conversation with deserve to be treated with respect and compassion.
Avoid mass firings via Zoom or any other platform, and you’ll be one step closer to doing things right. In fact, eliminate the practice of mass firings and you’ll be that much further ahead than the competition in terms of being the kind of organization where people love to work and customers love to do business.
Lots of leaders have been working remotely for years now, which means we can learn a thing or two from their experience. Here are some things to consider that may be different than those in-person meetings you’ve grown accustomed to.
Consider the Place and Time Zones
During the pandemic, many people picked up and moved—some to different time zones. Companies quickly learned that a meeting normally set to begin at 9:00 a.m. ET no longer worked for folks on the West Coast. Before setting a time for what may be an awkward interaction, consider where the other person is located, and do your best to pick a time when they’ll be able to fully focus their attention on the matter at hand.
Also, consider where the employee may be when you’re having the conversation. With so many people working from home now, privacy is at a premium. An employee may be distracted if they’ve got a young child running around their house or a spouse working nearby and may not fully take in your message. Give them a head’s up that what you’re about to discuss is best said in privacy, so they can move to a quiet place if need be.
Request That Cameras Be On
Some people choose to leave their video cameras off, as they find looking at their own image to be distracting. However, there are certain situations where cameras on works best. When setting up a meeting, be sure to let the other person know that you’d like the video conferencing feature to be on. This will help to avoid what could be an embarrassing situation—being asked to turn your camera on when you’re not “camera ready.”
Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes
While it may be easier for you to get things off your mind with a quick email, that may not be what’s best for the person on the receiving end. While you’re feeling relieved that you’ve gotten something off your chest, the other person is left to figure out what exactly your email means. Email can be easily misinterpreted. Think of all the wasted hours and undue stress that one email can cause. Then take your finger off the send button and, instead, schedule a time to speak or simply give the other person a call.
Interested in elevating professional relationships and improving business outcomes? Schedule a call with me to learn more about how my coaching and advisory services can greatly benefit you.