Remote work has been growing steadily for some time, but in our post-pandemic world, there’s no longer any doubt that some degree of remote work will continue for the foreseeable future. While there are many advantages to remote and hybrid work, there are some challenges that savvy leaders will want to address right from the beginning, including learning how to have a difficult conversation in a remote environment.
Having a difficult conversation has never been anyone’s favorite part of leadership, and managing conflict is always challenging. However, the nature of the remote environment makes serious discussions even more challenging. Reading body language is difficult over a video interface, and there is always a heightened risk of interruption on one side or the other.
If your next difficult conversation must occur with a remote worker, here are seven steps to help you make the conversation go more smoothly.
1. Check your motives
Before you set up the conversation, identify why you want to have it and what you want from it. Ask yourself what the other party in the conversation will want from it, but be open to being wrong; it’s never a good idea to assume you are right about someone else’s motives!
2. Check your facts
If you understand your motives, what are the facts underlying those motives? What behaviors have you seen from the other party? Perhaps more importantly, in a remote environment, what behaviors have you not seen? What’s missing? Be clear and precise, and don’t assume facts you can’t confirm.
3. Check the impact
Establish as clearly as possible what the impact of these behaviors has been. Perhaps other team members are working to compensate for a lack of presence from the remote employee, or maybe the employee isn’t producing targeted sales numbers. Be as clear as possible.
4. Check your emotions
We all bring our own emotions to every conversation. What is the story you are telling yourself? What might be the story the other person has? In a remote environment where in-person connection is less likely, it may be tough to establish the other side of the story. Be open and curious about the emotions on the other side.
5. Check the setting
Remote and hybrid work presents unique challenges to management conversations. While many typical workday conversations can be conducted over the phone or via video conferencing, there may be times when an in-person meeting makes more sense. Remember that we pick up more physical cues in person than we do over video calls. If it makes sense and geography allows, be open to having a conversation in the office.
6. Check your expectations
Before you begin your conversation, be clear on expectations for future behavior, performance, and impact. What do you want to see from the other person? What behaviors? What impact goals do you have? During your conversation, make sure the other party is also clear on those expectations.
7. Check your accountability plan
A difficult conversation is far more impactful when both parties agree to an accountability plan, especially in a virtual environment. Establish when and how you will check in with each other, and ensure that interim checkpoints are clear on both sides. What will you look for and when?
A remote environment doesn’t have to mean a lack of meaningful conversations, including difficult conversations. When leaders approach these challenging conversations with care, respect, and forethought, even tough issues can be resolved positively, and both parties can walk away ready to move forward to produce great results.
- Is there a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off because of your remote environment?
- Do you have assumptions about remote work that might impact conversations in a virtual environment?
- What is one way you can improve communication with remote workers?