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Tips on How to Lead, Coach, and Train Your Remote Team

Red shirtOver the past few months, most of us have had to figure out how to adapt to a remote work environment. Managers were faced with unique barriers to how things were usually done. I caught up with Elaine Carr, ICMI's Instructional Design Manager, to find out how they're helping contact centers maximize the value of virtual training. We also discussed recent changes to ICMI courses and her personal lessons from managing and training remotely for the better part of a decade. If you're interested in learning more about any of these topics, register for ICMI’s first Virtual Symposium, held June 22-25, 2020.

Here is the interview:

Building Trust and Engagement

Andrew Gilliam: How do you build trust and rapport with employees when you're all working remotely?

Elaine Carr: Communication is vital! You should communicate with your remote employees almost daily, and leave time in your interactions to talk about stuff besides work. Sometimes remote employees think that they shouldn't talk about anything besides work, they might feel the need to prove that they can do the job independently. However, sharing things about yourself and asking questions to get to know your employees as people is an important part of building a relationship. Especially if you do not see their faces regularly, it's easy to forget they're a whole person. When there's mutual trust built by sharing little things about yourself, you can start trusting with bigger things.

AG: Many companies resisted remote work because they didn't trust employees to be productive on their own. How do you know who you can trust when you can’t see employees' work ethic in person?

EC: I always go into it trusting people until they give me a reason not to trust them, but trust is also built over time. It's not about activity; it's about outcomes. Focus on outcomes, not how they got there. If deadlines and expectations are being met, it doesn't matter whether the work was done in six hours or eight hours. Also, keep in mind that disruptions are more prevalent than ever these days. Your work from home employees aren't working alone. Allow employees to use the flexibility inherent in remote work to their advantage. Be clear about your expectations, when things are due, and the result you expect. Check-in along the way to see if there are obstacles you can remove or questions you can answer, but get out of their way so they can do the work and get it done for you.

AG: What are the outcomes we're looking for from engaged employees?

EC: Engaged employees trust each other more; therefore, they work better together. Trust is an essential ingredient to a high-performing team. Engaged employees also feel their work has a purpose; they've bought into the organization's goals. They understand they're doing work that moves their team and the company forward. Plus, engaged employees enjoy their work and the people they do it with more.


AG: Is it more difficult to give feedback to employees, when you're both remote?

EC: It's not easier or harder to give difficult feedback remotely than it is in-person; you just have to use your tools in a different way. Whether you're giving praise or constructive criticism, being face to face is very important. Get the camera out for these conversations so that you can see each other's faces. That can make a difference in how employees interpret what you're saying and how you're saying it.

AG: Is there anything else leaders should consider when coaching or giving constructive criticism to a remote workforce?

EC: Remote teams require much greater intentionality. In person, it's easy to share little things in passing as you see each other around the office. It's easy to avoid these conversations remotely, but great leaders and managers should address them head-on. Be deliberate about continuing to have these small conversations to share your observations before something becomes a big problem.

AG: What role does personalization play in communication, and how do you know how much communication is enough?

EC: For the most part, having that daily contact to check-in and give feedback is essential, especially when people are first starting to work remotely. However, finding the right frequency of communication requires a lot of trial and error. You might have a few really independent employees who work really well without that much contact. Most importantly, ask your people what works for them. If you let people talk, they will often tell you what they need. You just have to listen to those answers.

In addition to scheduled communication, always be accessible to your employees in case they really need you. I love the presence indicator in instant messaging software now; it's easy to see when people are available, away from their computer, or on a call. This can be a great tool for making yourself available to your employees, but it's particularly important for managers to keep their status updated and not overuse the Do Not Disturb status.


AG: You've been developing and delivering in-person and online training for a long time now; are there any bad habits you had to be intentional about changing for the virtual format?

EC: Virtual trainers must be intentional about asking questions to engage the audience and waiting for their answers. Allow things to happen organically in the classroom. Don't force all interactions to go through you; allow students to private chat with each other, too. It does bring a small element of chaos into the classroom, but it's not any greater than it would be in-person. Those conversations are where the learning happens, so don't lock things down so tightly that it prohibits those interactions. It's not about the trainer; it's about the learner and what they're trying to accomplish. Many trainers know and do these things in person, but they forget it virtually when you cannot see the participants.

AG: What is your favorite tool for training virtually?

EC: I like breakout rooms and small group activities; I love to get people interacting and working together to solve a problem. It's a great way to learn. I love being able to use whiteboards, where everyone can write things down, share ideas, and brainstorm as a group. At the end, you'll have all of these ideas that you can share and keep as a reminder.

AG: What do employees and presenters need to be successful in virtual training?

EC: Whoever is leading the class, whether a contact center manager, quality analyst, or dedicated trainer, must be well versed in the platform they're using. You might consider having a producer in the background to help, but the instructor still needs to have a deep knowledge of the tools at your disposal. For both instructors and attendees, little things like having a good headset and microphone make a big difference in sound quality and the learning experience. If your employees don't need a headset for their job, you can pick up inexpensive USB headsets that will work for training. For contact center agents who may use a headset every day, consider investing in a model that can connect to both their phone and computer, allowing them to work from either device comfortably.

AG: Do you have any pet peeves of virtual training, that a new trainer might not consider when they make the switch from in-person?

EC: One of my pet peeves is instructors who move their cursor too much; some have a nervous habit of repeatedly circling content on the screen. It makes me motion sick, and I can't focus on the lesson! Also, when instructors highlight things on the screen, it can make it more difficult to read what they're trying to emphasize. Use the pointer that's part of your training platform, and simply place it next to the content you want to bring attention to. Those small things can be very distracting and get in the way of learning.

Join Elaine and other contact center industry experts from the comfort of your home office at our Virtual Symposium, June 22-25. Space in our virtual classrooms is limited; check out the schedule and sign up for your course now!