How to Coach Strong Performances in Remote Work Environments

Facing the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis is essential for leaders managing their remote workers from a social distance. This includes common challenges such as declines in job performance and lack of voluntary engagement[1] due to social isolation and home distractions. One best practice is to not wait until the team morale is low – address it now. Set the stage with expectations for team success, build meaningful connections, and reward strong performance.

Getting in front of these challenges requires an unselfish, generous and creative leader who understands the value for rewarding strong performances. Here are some tips for investing in your team, learning from mistakes, and managing team behaviours.

Invest in Your Team

When it comes to workplace distractions, it’s safe to say that focus at work is the exception — not the rule[2]. If you want to reinforce the behaviours you want to see, start by looking at performance rewards as more than monetary compensation. Widen your optics, think creatively, and, most importantly — know your team. Rewards come in many different forms, and while money does make the world go round, a sound investment in developing your team is the gift that keeps on giving[3]. Think of more creative ways to reward your team, and consider other rewards such as flexibility for paid time off.

This is the time to be a remote and visible team leader, share great work going on in the company, and recognize team members[4]. Brag about their great work at stand-up meetings and appreciate your team for their efforts. Offer incentives and rewards for the team to win together as a group. Create a team holiday and reward everyone for their meeting significant deadlines. Collaborate with your high-performing remote workers and ask them what they want. Have a brainstorm session for creative reward ideas outside of annual bonuses or salary bumps[5].

How to Learn From Mistakes

Open dialogue is critical to establishing a culture of accountability. To build and develop team trust, you have to let mistakes grow organically. As a leader, it is easier to take care of things yourself, but it makes more sense to resist the urge to jump in and save your team[6]. See naturally occurring consequences as a learning moment to discuss failures and lapses in team processes. Fail early and let your team learn quickly from incoming train wreck situations — you are setting the stage for good teachable moments. Sometimes, the best time to step back and support your team is to let them miss the mark — so they can feel the disappointment.

Avoid common pitfalls and choose the right timing for teachable moments — a high-profile deliverable is not the right time for a learning experience. Avoid saving the day. Let your team learn from the disappointment and frustration of failure. Don’t sugarcoat the mistake, but embrace the experience and grow from it as a result.

Sometimes, train wrecks need to happen. By letting naturally occurring consequences run its course, you can teach and support your team to discuss failures and lapses in team processes. Open the conversation during stand-up meetings to prevent the same mistake twice. Understanding how to prevent mistakes as a team makes for a great business story. Now, they can grow through the growing pains, develop their game plans for reading warning signals, and avoid future pitfalls. You can’t give them the answers — but you can celebrate the overall learning. Play the same game and not the blame game.

Managing Team Behaviours

Problematic behaviour or underperformance can create issues for your team in any work environment. The first step in any issue management is to acknowledge there is an issue — hopefully, identified by a fine-tuned early warning system. This is a teachable moment and a valuable opportunity for you as a leader. Approach the problem with transparency and schedule time to sit down for an open and two-way discussion.

See this through the lens of the employee and understand the source of the behaviour. There might be potential reasons for the challenges that could indicate bigger issues. Maybe team morale is low, and remote work is making them feel insecure about their skills. Approach your discussion with an outcome in mind and source the root of the problematic behaviour. See it as a learning moment and place the responsibility in the employee’s hands. Document the management and team action plan to encourage future prevention methods. By leaving it up to the employee to come up with ideas for success, you simultaneously address the issue and demonstrate trust. Place the responsibility on the employee and open up opportunities to create pride of ownership in behaviour. It is also a solution for increasing positive change for future issues.

Difficult behaviour is an energy drain. The best way to deal with it is to address it quickly — and get the results you and your team want. Bring up concerns and observations — but resist the urge to point fingers. Play the same game instead and make a long-term investment in your team — and your productivity.

Remote work comes with challenges and requires an unselfish, generous and creative leader who understands the value for rewarding strong performances. Create realistic expectations and hold your team accountable — but let the team learn from the disappointment and frustration of failure. See problematic behaviour or underperformance issues through the lens of the employee. Understand the source and identify indications of bigger issues. Use it as a learning moment to coach your team to improve and grow.


[1] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Thibodeaux, W. (2018). Distractions Are Costing Companies Millions. Here’s Why 66 Percent Of Workers Won’t Talk About It. Inc.

[3] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[4] Davies, N. (2020). Remote Team Morale Is About To Plummet, Here’s What Leaders Must Do. Forbes.

[5] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[6] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

The Human Factor in the Workplace of the Future.

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be an increasingly necessary workplace improvement to help organizations become more competitive. Automating mundane tasks streamlines business functions to improve delivery, increase quality and reduce costs, and while routine processes are ideal for AI, in a newly reimagined workforce, human contributions are equally important. Far from eliminating human workers, the number and types of people jobs created as a result of AI will increase and be in high demand. This includes technical areas such as programming and technology design, as well as roles that deal with workplace changes resulting from the increased use of AI, such as user and employee experience, ethics, and, of course, the need for AI training. Further, AI can be used to complement existing roles so that certain positions can be upskilled and supported by AI, particularly those requiring a more personal, intuitive, and empathetic touch.[i] 

Acknowledging the challenges of “fusing people and technology”, Deloitte’s notes in its 2020 Global Human Capital Trends that, “The power of the social enterprise lies in its ability to bring a human focus to everything it touches…”.[ii]  Organizations need to consider how AI can best serve their mission and goals and how to develop an AI ready workforce. To achieve such balance and successfully operate in this future workplace – one that is on our virtual doorstep – requires a range of diverse skills and talents melded in harmony. In other words, it will be a team sport.[iii]

Teamwork is a staple in virtually all areas including sports, military, medicine, marketing, IT, human resources, and more. Students learn the importance of working in groups at an early age and study groups long have been a fundamental component of MBA programs to foster bonds and prepare students for the inevitability of future workplace dynamics.[iv] Research on team effectiveness is prolific, and theories abound on what makes the “perfect” team. Across fields, there is growing recognition that skills and abilities, while important, have less to do with a team’s success than its psychological makeup.

Although team members each have an important functional role, too much emphasis has traditionally been placed on skills and experience rather than considering each member’s psychological role and how that affects the team.[v] [vi] This explains why the best minds don’t necessarily make the best teams and why what should, theoretically, be the “A Team” can turn out to be more of a B or even C team. Instead, the personalities of the members are better predictors of the success of the team.

For the past twenty-years, the “Big Five” personality traits have been widely accepted as appropriately representative of most individuals. Not surprisingly, these dimensions – openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extroversion/introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism[vii] – often are used to assess employees and job candidates based on the assumption that they are  indicative of superior job performance. However, while there is consensus that these attributes are desirable, specific attributes may not be appropriate or necessary for all jobs.[viii] Certainly  extroversion is a plus for a sales position, but it may not be a critical attribute for a librarian or mechanic. Conscientiousness may be coveted by some supervisors, but others may find that it inhibits highly desired creativity and spontaneity. And while agreeableness is important among team members, at the same time highly agreeable people may be uncomfortable posing challenging questions or playing devil’s advocate, which are critical to innovation and identifying gaps.[ix] As such, a bigger picture view that factors employees personalities in conjunction with the type of project and its ultimate goals should be considered when determining team composition.[x]

Major enterprises have come to recognize the importance of this and, in an effort to create highly effective teams, have poured extensive resources into identifying characteristic associated with the most successful teams. As a result of their research, Microsoft developed an entire curriculum based on the five key attributes they found to be common in successful teams: team purpose, collective identity, awareness and inclusion, trust and vulnerability, and constructive tension[xi]. Google hypothesized that the best teams would consist of the best people, so they initiated Project Aristotle to find out.  As with most workplace groups, they found that some teams clicked immediately while others struggled to make it through a meeting. Ultimately, they identified two shared behaviors common to successful teams. First, each member spoke about the same amount. This occurred in different ways but at the end of the day, everyone had the opportunity to speak and be heard. Second, members on the “good” teams were more intuitive about how others felt and were more sensitive to team members feelings.[xii] This reinforces the importance of uniquely human roles as the use of AI continues.

Another area that characterizes effective teams is their comfort with conflict. Conflict, in reasonable quantity, is essential in teams because it helps members stay motivated and innovative, encourages creativity and communication, creates bonds, improves morale, unifies direction, and discourages groupthink.[xiii] Finally, as with all relationships, trust is always a key attribute. This is especially important in  virtual teams[xiv] where members might miss each other’s nonverbal cues and other more nuanced communications.


[i] Meister, J. (2019, Jan 8). Ten HR trends in the age of artificial intelligence. Forbes.

[ii] Volini, E., Denny, B., Schwartz, J., Mallon, D., VanDurme, Y., Hauptmann,…Poynton, S. (2020, May 15). The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward. Deloitte Insights, 2020 Global Human Capital Trends.

[iii] Meister

[iv] Duhigg, C. (2016, Feb 25). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. The New York Times Magazine.

[v] Hogan Assessment Systems Inc. (2016). Conflict: The secret to successful teams.

[vi] Winsborough, D., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017, Jan 25). Great teams are about personalities, not just skills. Harvard Business Review.

[vii] McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60, 175-215.

[viii] American Psychological Association. (2020). Which traits predict job performance?

[ix]  LePine, J.A., Buckman, B.R., Crawford, E.R., Methot, J.R. (2011). A review of research on personality in teams: Accounting for pathways spanning levels of theory and analysis. Human Resource Management Review, 21, 311-330.

[x] Weir, K. (2018, Sept). What makes teams work? American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology.

[xi] Spataro, J. (2019, Nov 19). 5 attributes of successful teams. Microsoft.

[xii] Duhigg

[xiii] Hogan Assessment Systems Inc.

[xiv] Ford, R.C., Piccolo, R.F., Ford, L.R. (2016). Strategies for building effective virtual teams: Trust is key. Business Horizons, 60, 25-34.

The Value of Playbooks Based on Scenario-Based Learning

Providing a quality product or service requires the coordination and balance of hundreds of discrete, interrelated steps. An error or oversight at any point in the process can contribute to a domino effect that ultimately could have disastrous outcomes. To avoid this, organizations can benefit from scenario-based learning that provides team members’ with hand’s on experience to address issues that may arise relevant to their role and the tasks they must complete, as well as the opportunity to contribute to successful results. These scenarios can then be used to create workflows, or playbooks, for their teams to ensure consistency and positive outcomes.

Scenario-based learning, also called problem-based learning, provides an opportunity for teams to work though and identify solutions to authentic, complex or ill-structured problems.[i] This requires critical thinking and analytical, problem solving skills.[ii] Participating in the process empowers individuals and teams to consider multiple scenarios in a risk-free setting and allows them to see how project outcomes are affected by the decisions made at each stage in the process.[iii] By pre-emptively considering a wide range of scenarios before issues become real-life problems, teams can work together in an environment free from counterproductive emotions that create tension and muddy the process. Instead, they can focus on the decision-making process and how and when to escalate to achieve targeted outcomes.

The need for escalation occurs from not knowing who owns a problem. Operational scenarios alleviate this problem by working through various alternatives to identify the best and most effective route, which becomes institutionalized in the playbook. This also helps overcome poor managerial decisions by those who are more likely to pass off decision making rather than empower their team to solve their own problems.[iv] For these managers, escalation is the norm rather than the exception, when the reverse is the optimal goal.

A scenario-based playbook encourages problem solving and provides the necessary training and support to increase accountability. This increases the reliability of decision making[v] and helps alleviate the uncertainty that comes with change because team members know what is expected of them and can react immediately.[vi] Each “play” represents a way of doing something that moves the task forward in a direction that will improve outcomes.[vii] A playbook may refer to a simple but critical task or a complex project, or it might be updated to reflect a minor change or a complete overhaul. Having clear, written guidelines is critical, especially in a crisis situation, so that employees are all on the same page and work toward the same results. It makes them accountable in their roles, lets them know when issues should be escalated, and identifies the specific processes and systems that should be engaged in doing so.

This approach is more critical than ever in times of uncertainty because having defined positions, responsibilities, and processes becomes even more imperative to provide crucial consistency and accountability when it is most needed. Organizations and their leadership benefit because it allows them to plan ahead for future events, both intended and unintended. Their informed decisions can better direct allocation of staffing, budgets, and other critical resources in advance of imminent challenges, [viii]ensuring responsiveness and reliability in how actions ultimately will be undertaken.[ix] While playbooks provide the important guidelines for task completion, they also recognize the value of human involvement in decision making and how that maximizes the effectiveness of human-machine interface. This will continue to be an area of growth and development as machine learning advances and becomes more indoctrinated in the workplace.

So, if you’re not already doing it, find time to incorporate scenario-based learning as part of employee development. The benefits far outweigh the costs and, in fact, are more likely to result in a long-term cost savings. Scenario-based playbooks are a proactive means of empowering employees to action by eliminating any confusion about who’s in charge, what to do, and how to get it done. Employees and teams know what is expected of them and are knowingly and willingly accountable for their part in the process, benefitting everyone across organizational levels.


[i] Rosenbaum, H., & Shermis, M. (2010). Making a case for scenario-based learning in IS and executive education. Paper presented at the 16th Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru.

[ii] Noroozi, AL, Khakzad, N. Khan, F., MacKinnon, S., & Abbassi, R. (2013). The role of human error in risk analysis: Application of pre- and post-maintenance procedures of process facilities. Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 119, 251-258.

[iii] Stewart, T. (nd). Scenario-based learning. Massey University, University of New Zealand.

[iv] Grenny, J. (2017). When to solve your team’s problems, and when to let them sort it out. Harvard Business Review.

[v] Accenture. (2016). Scenario-based planning: Exploring the best chance on success. Accenture Insights.

[vi] Accenture

[vii] Notter, J. (2018). Creating a playbook for improving employee engagement. Forbes.

[viii] Office of Personnel Management. (nd). Scenario-based workforce planning. Office of Personnel Management Human Capital Framework.

[ix] Accenture