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.

Constructive Tension: The Cornerstone to Creativity

Some teams try to avoid conflict and tension in the belief that it contributes to negativity in the workplace.  While this is certainly a possibility for a poorly managed team, conflict is an important and valuable aspect to the creative process because it raises diverse views, which can lead to otherwise unexplored ideas and processes. In a well-managed team, healthy conflict leads to constructive tension. Instead of causing stress and anxiety, constructive tension propels the team to further discussion and excitement about moving from point A to point B. It creates the space for creativity and innovation and leads to productive, positive outcomes.[1]

Peter Senge describes constructive tension, also called creative tension, as the “gap between vision and current reality”. It is where possibility and constraint meet and is vital to create peak performing organizations. [2]  For this necessary and delicate balance to exist, employees must feel that there is value in filling the gap. They need to believe that, as part of the team, their participation matters and that they directly contribute to the actions needed to move from their current reality to the articulated vision. Without this gap and buy-in from employees, there would be little incentive or desire to take the action needed to move from vision to reality. [3]   

Being comfortable with creative tension is a must for effective managers. To achieve this, organizations need to create a “conflict positive” environment where differences are encouraged and discussed freely.[4] Creating a balance between two seemingly opposed ideas, such as expecting maximum work performance while at the same time encouraging professional development, is critical to improve both results and relationships.[5] This calls for ambidextrous leadership, which recognizes the inevitability of conflict, maintains focus on ideas instead of individual, and understands that conflict exists on a continuum. These leaders recognize their strengths and where they are lacking, engage others with diverse skills to foster and maintain constructive conflict, and create processes to work toward shared goals.[6]

Important to ensuring constructive versus destructive tension is balance: too little tension and there is no incentive to take risks or actively engage; too much, and it goes from being constructive to anxiety-inducing.[7] Research strongly supports the link between constructive tension and creativity and innovation, with some studies finding that competition can be as valuable as collaboration.[8]  Among the benefits of constructive tension are increased focus, which helps maintain critical productivity, as well as greater innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to get the job done and move it towards the desired future state.[9] Conversely, if tension stifles rather than encourages creatively, team members can become concerned about their psychological safety, lose trust in one another, adopt a groupthink attitude, or otherwise lose confidence and fear failure. [10]

A key attribute essential to create and maintain constructive tension is transparency. When everyone is on the same page and shares the same understanding of what is happening, employee buy-in is high, and the team maximizes the benefits of constructive tension.[11]  In fact, employees identify transparency as the number-one contributing factor to workplace happiness.[12] Everyone knows and understands how their contributions affect the ability to achieve their collective vision and keeps them focused on the same target.[13] Genuinely transparent organizations encourage information sharing, which improves employee relationships through better ideas and creative problem-solving. Employees also are more likely to promote the company and its products when they have had a role in its successes. Customer relationships also are stronger when companies adhere to the values they proclaim and clearly report how they demonstrate their support for their values. [14] This also contributes to profitability: most consumers (94%) saying they would be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency, [15] with a similar number (90%) saying they would stop purchasing products from brands that lack clarity.[16] Further, 81% of consumers are willing to try a brand’s “entire portfolio of products” if the brand is transparent, and 73% are willing to spend more for products that offer complete transparency.[17]

Tension exists in all workplaces, and the way it is managed determines how meaningful the resolution and outcomes will be.[18] Constructive tension is inexorably intertwined with creativity and innovation and contributes heavily to success.  History is rife with examples of businesses that failed due to a lack of change (e.g., Blockbusters, Blackberry, Kodak, MySpace)[19] or transparency (e.g., AIG, Enron, Tyco). This issue continues to across sectors today.[20] Consumers have spoken – shouted! – and organizations that listen and respond will reap the rewards of their loyalty, while those who don’t come under greater scrutiny and risk the fate of these former powerhouses who have become synonymous with failure and continue to exist only as a footnote in business texts.


[1] Isaksen, S.G. & Ekvall, G. (2010). Managing for innovation: The two faces of tension in creative climates. Creativity and Innovation Management, 19, 73-88.

[2] McGoff, C. (2017, Nov. 30). This psychological theory will motivate your team to achieve more in 2018. Inc.

[3] McGoff

[4] Isaksen & Ekvall

[5] (https://steverudolphcoaching.com/constructive-tension/)

[6] DeGraff, J. (2018, Dec 19). The creative power of constructive conflict. Psychology Today.

[7] McGoff

[8] Isaksen & Ekvall

[9] McGoff

[10] Baril, M. B. (2019, Sept 18). Five team attributes that are killing your creative tension. Forbes.

[11] McGoff

[12] Craig, W. (2018, Oct 16). 10 things transparency can do for your company. Forbes.

[13] McGoff

[14] Craig

[15] Label Insight. (2016). Driving long-term trust and loyalty through transparency. Label Insight Food Revolution Study.

[16] SproutSocial. (2019, May 2). #BrandsGetReal: Social media & the evolution of transparency. SproutSocial: From Risk to Responsibility: Social Media and the Evolution of Transparency.

[17] Label Insight.

[18] Isaksen & Ekvall

[19] Aaslaid,K. (2018, Nov 22). 50 examples of corporations that failed to innovate. Valuer.

[20] Pegoraro, R. (2019, Sept 29). Tech companies are quietly phasing out a major privacy safeguard. The Atlantic.