by Mark Marone  |  May 6, 2020

Managing remote employees, particularly in times of crisis, presents some unique challenges. This blog will help you keep employees engaged, even when everyone is working virtually.

  • Discover one of the three skills every outstanding manager must master: authentic conversations.
  • Get specific guidance on what to talk about, as well as the “5 Dos” to get you started.

The Three Skills that Separate Great Managers from the Pack

When someone becomes a manager for the first time, there’s always an adjustment period. But the coronavirus pandemic is adding an entirely new layer of complexity to management, whether you’re new to the role or have years of experience under your belt. Managing a virtual team, particularly when employees are distracted, worried, and potentially new to remote work, is a challenge for anyone — especially considering managers aren’t exempt from having those same concerns.

Gallup’s research shows that only 10% of people have an innate talent for management, but they note that another 20% can be developed into effective managers. Now more than ever, organizations need their managers to step up. Not only do you have that opportunity right now, you can make the difference. It starts with an understanding of what makes a manager effective.

Here’s what we know about successful managers. They have the ability to:

  1. Engage in authentic conversations,
  2. Develop interpersonal relationships, and
  3. Reward and recognize employees effectively.

Building these skills takes practice and effort so that they become part of what you do every day — and there’s no better time to start than now. (Link to blog 3, How to Make EE a Daily Priority).

Learning How to Engage in Authentic Conversations Is Step One

Since virtual and remote work makes can create new communication barriers, learning the art of authentic conversations is a great place to begin.

Think about it this way: Great managers play chess, not checkers. They know and appreciate the uniqueness of each one of their employees, and they manage to it.

That’s what authentic, one-on-one conversations let you do. They help you discover the innate talents and individual strengths of your direct reports, and they reveal your employees’ hopes and dreams — things most people don’t exactly wear on their sleeves but that have a big influence on what motivates and engages them.

Just because you can’t walk down the hall to talk with your employees in person doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful, one-on-one conversations. In fact, without regular in-person, day-to-day contact, these conversations are more important than ever.


What is an Authentic Conversation?

Authenticity is being real, being true to yourself and acting with good intention, no matter how many flaws you may have. The secret is that doing so allows your direct reports to be flawed, too. It helps create a psychologically safe environment.

Being real unlocks trust and honesty. It makes room for vulnerability, and it paves the way for creating a meaningful interpersonal connection with each one of your employees, which is the first step towards full employee engagement.

Ready to take that step?

The 5 Dos of Authentic Conversations

To become an effective manager, you need to know and appreciate five things about each individual who works for you — what they:

  1. Do well
  2. Do poorly
  3. Do currently
  4. Want to do
  5. Enjoy doing
  1. Do well. Employees excel when they’re doing what they do best because it energizes and empowers them. They feel confident, inspired, accomplished. They’re also more focused and more productive when they’re focused on what they do well.

But believe it or not, some people don’t know what their strengths are. Just because a talent is second nature to someone doesn’t mean they recognize it. Unless your golf instructor says you have a natural swing, how would you know?

It’s your job as a manager to point out employees’ talents when you spot them, to encourage employees to play to their strengths.

  1. Do poorly. No one’s perfect. Yes, there are some things we each need to learn to do — pivot tables in Excel, maybe, or PowerPoint. You can take class for that, but, sometimes, when it just isn’t your thing, it’s not worth it. For anybody.

You can’t make a left-handed pitcher out of a righty, and why try? You’d just make everybody miserable — and you’d fail anyway. Having these discussions can be difficult, but they make the difference between an employee continuing to grow or stalling out.

But knowing what an employee does poorly — or does well, but hates doing — is a gift. If you can instead pass that task to someone else who likes it, you can take a burden off your employee and perhaps inspire them with a task they excel at and enjoy instead.

  1. Do currently. You should know what your employees are doing currently, but if you’re like many managers, maybe you don’t. Only 34% of employees think their managers know what they’re working on. If you’re not sure, find out.

And here’s a surprise: Employees don’t always know what they’re supposed to be doing either. Only 60% of employees say they know what’s expected of them at work. What about the other 40%?

Pull out your employees’ job descriptions and see how closely they correspond with the work that is being done. If they don’t match well, you need a reboot. Jobs should be aligned with job descriptions, with the work that needs to be done and with organizational priorities. It’s a conversation worth having with each and every one of your employees.

Employees need to know how their jobs fit with those of their teammates, too, and how the team advances the organization’s purpose. And it’s up to you to discuss with them why what they’re doing is important. Research shows that employees who strongly agree that their job descriptions align with the work they’re doing are 2.5 times more likely to be fully engaged than other employees. Fully engaged employees are the ones who make your organization.

  1. Want to do. When employees are doing work they’re enthusiastic about, they’re more inspired, more passionate and more committed to their work. It’s the difference between having a career and having a job.

In career mode, employees want opportunities to grow and develop. They want to expand their skill sets, acquire more experience and test their capabilities. Or they may want to change course. You can often make that happen, but only if you have these career conversations with each individual employee.

Tom might be a pretty good project manager, but what he really aspires to is working in product development. How can you help? Look for some opportunities to cross train or job share? Explore ideas with your fellow managers to see if they could use an extra set of hands in that area?

If you think about it, you’ll come up with something. If you’re not that resourceful, ask around to see what opportunities exist. Helping employees follow their dreams — even small steps — is magic for engagement.

  1. Enjoy doing. Most people find their passion doing what they love, and when they’re passionate, they’re also energized, motivated, productive, enthusiastic and fulfilled.

They’re absorbed in what they do. They find new ways around old problems. They look forward to tomorrow.

Wouldn’t you love to manage a team of employees like this? It would be almost effortless.

Stop daydreaming and ask them. Find out what each employee enjoys doing and start thinking about ways you can help them do more of it.

Time to Start Talking

Some managers, and maybe you’re one of them, struggle with talking to their employees. With some tips and practice, though, it gets easier.

The good news is, this is about dialogue not monologue. And this dialogue can take place face to face or in a remote work environment. Your job is to open up the lines of communication and collaborate with your employees to make sure they have what they need to do the job and be motivated and engaged by the work. Listen to their challenges and ideas, come up with a game plan together, coach and encourage — then support, reinforce and repeat.

Take advantage of the wealth of technology and tools we now have available to keep in regular contact with your remote team members, and use different ones strategically to get the biggest impact. Once you get into the habit of having authentic conversations with your employees, you’ll find you have a team full of inspired, committed employees who are contributing their best every day.

Written By

Mark Marone

Mark Marone, PhD. is the director of research and thought leadership for Dale Carnegie and Associates where he is responsible for ongoing research into current issues facing leaders, employees and organizations world-wide. He publishes frequently on various topics including leadership, the employee/customer experience and sales. Mark can be reached at

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