Being a leader means sometimes having difficult conversations. You may need to address someone’s performance or punctuality, for example, and you may worry how the other person will respond. While some discussions are stressful, they can help pave the way to improved engagement and productivity. If you lead a team with some remote employees, you know it can be especially challenging to navigate difficult conversations over a screen.

The key is to treat these conversations just like you would if you were meeting the employee in person, says Karen Cavanaugh-Schroeder, MBA, a senior human resource specialist with Insperity. You still have an important message to communicate—it just may take a bit more emotional intelligence to convey it.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss a few of Cavanaugh-Schroder’s tips for engaging in difficult conversations with remote workers.

Make sure you have a positive foundation. Challenging discussions can go much more smoothly if you already have a strong working relationship with your team members. Take time to get to know each employee and learn their personalities and working styles. Then, make sure they understand their roles and responsibilities. Cavanaugh-Schroeder says many managers fail to ask their employees if they have any questions or need anything cleared up.

Make video the norm. When you can’t meet with your team members face-to-face, video calls allow you to see each other’s facial expressions and nonverbal cues. When you default to using video, your employees already feel comfortable being on camera.

Put in the prep work. Never wing it when it comes to difficult discussions, says Cavanaugh-Schroeder. Prepare for the call knowing what you want to discuss and gather concrete examples. And make sure you focus your criticism on a behavior or some aspect of job performance, but never the employee as a person, she adds.

Explain and listen. The conversation should involve you sharing the issue as you view it as a leader and the employee sharing their side of the story. Maybe there’s a personal issue that is impacting their job performance or maybe the employee needs additional training. This collaborative listening approach can also make you a more empathetic leader, Cavanaugh-Schroeder adds.

Determine resources and support. Another important part of having successful conversations with remote employees is learning how you can best support them. Could they benefit from extra training or a mentor relationship? Or maybe the employee could use some helpful introductions to other people in your company. Always ask your employee what they need to succeed in their role.

Outline next steps. Depending on the nature of the discussion, you may increase your one-on-one check-ins, or you may work on a performance-improvement plan for the employee. No matter the path forward, continue to follow up with the employee and assess whether they have improved, says Cavanaugh-Schroeder.

Approaching difficult topics with remote workers doesn’t have to feel daunting. Work to create the kind of culture where in-office and remote employees feel like they can communicate with you and have access to the resources they need. And above all, remember that no matter where they work, your team members want to feel heard.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Karen Cavanaugh-Schroeder, MBA, has more than 15 years of experience in the areas of leadership, performance management, strategic planning and employee relations She is a senior human resource specialist with Insperity.