18th March 2020
Our world of work is rapidly adapting to the COVID-19 crisis, prompting workers to move to remote working and work to move to virtual formats. Amidst all this, what might this mean for coaches?
Whether you’re an executive coach, a HR practitioner or a people leader, chances are you have recently adapted your daily and weekly routines when it comes to coaching your clients or team members. Whilst virtual working has become an increasing norm over past couple of years, recent events relating to the COVID-19 global pandemic has driven many organisations to more quickly and abruptly adopt work from home practices. Many face-to-face meetings and workshops have moved to an online format, enabled by videoconferencing technologies such as Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams etc. Whilst this presents many opportunities for coaches (e.g. greater flexibility of when and where to choose work, access to a wider pool of clients) but also many challenges for coaching activities and how they are delivered effectively.
Given this, what might best practice look like when it comes to virtual coaching? To answer these questions, this article explores draws on evidence-based research to recommend five simple tips to keep in mind during your next virtual coaching conversation.
Refresh your technology set-up and communicate changes to your ways of working
Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Hangouts, Lifesize – you name it – there are many high quality, easy to use video conference options on the market that are suitable for virtual coaching meetings.
Many applications are free (with some limited features) or can be purchased at a low cost for the meeting host. To create more flexibility – you may also want to consider having a number of different technology options in your repertoire to meet different needs and circumstances (e.g. lack of access to reliable data, no webcam etc). Remember to test any new technologies you adopt with a trusted colleague to understand how it is experienced by an end user. And finally, consider how you’ll communicate your changes to your ways of working to others. Let people know how you’ll continue coaching and what options are available to them. Ensure you point them to reference guides to support them to connect with you easily (for example, see guide of how to join a Zoom meeting here).
Encourage clients and team members to find an appropriate space and location for coaching conversations
It goes without saying that a public or noisy space is typically not conducive to a productive coaching conversation.
As such, even when virtual conversations are taking place from home, it is still important to think about the location. Encourage your clients and team members to organise their space/working zone so that is free from noise and distractions. A location with good lighting will help video quality which can enhance how both parties can better connect and build trust with each other (see Tip 3). Good lighting also has other benefits for those working from home, with research from Centre for Performance at Work (2010), finding that it is one of several important factors in creating healthy workspaces that in turn promote engagement, well-being and productivity.
Develop trust by building in extra time to build personal connection.
One common concern about virtual coaching is that the format is less personable, which may impact how trust and rapport is built between a coach and coachee.
Whilst in some cases body language can be more challenging to pick up (especially if technology or lighting no adequate), there is actually an abundance of research available to suggest that the quality of virtual relationships (e.g. measured in terms of presence, bond etc.) can be just as satisfactory as face-to-face. To enhance trust and rapport building in your virtual coaching practices, we suggest you experiment with setting aside dedicated time in your agenda to connect on a personal level. Perhaps reflect on a recent success story (or war story too!) relating to your working from home experience in this new environment. Humans connect with stories, so utilise storytelling methodologies to your advantage!
“Let people know how you’ll continue coaching and what options are available to them. Ensure you point them to reference guides to support them to connect with you easily.”
Supplement virtual coaching with other development activities
Moving to online also presents additional opportunities to support your clients or team members with other development activities.
Maybe you can help them to facilitate an action learning project online or connect them with mentors in other industries. Or what about getting creative and utilising virtual task boards such as Trello to collaboratively create and track to a learning plan together? Another idea is to support people to pursue passion learning projects through identifying suitable online courses or accreditations.
Make it a habit to check in on wellbeing during this current climate
This current climate will present increased job stressors for many.
This current climate will present increased job stressors for many. For some, stressors may come from the role ambiguity in adapting to how work changes in the virtual environment. For many others, job security will be front of mind. Make it a habit, every time you connect with your clients or team members to see how they are currently feeling and understand what support mechanisms they currently have in place. You may also want to focus part of your sessions around resilience to help others to maintain and sustain their wellbeing and performance during this time.
Amidst the current chaos and uncertainty, coaches have a strong role to place in supporting clients and team members to navigate opportunities and challenges faced during these times.
Whilst many of you may already be employing these tips in your day to day work, this article is a reminder of some practical tips for you to experiment with, especially during this time where there is a greater focus on virtual work.
Do you have any great tips to share on related to virtual coaching? Share with us below or on our social media channels!
For more information about the above, or about transformational leadership practices, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Simpson, S. G., (2014). Therapeutic alliance in videoconferencing psychotherapy: A Review. Australian Journal of Rural Health 22, 280-299
Silvester, J., Konstantinou, E., (2010). Lighting, Well-being and Performance at Work. City University, London.
MLQplus team would like to thank Monica Pham for their contributions to this article.