What is Virtual Coaching?
Virtual Coaching is where the coach and the client meet and work together remotely. It’s growth in popularity accelerated due to the Covid pandemic. Today, video platforms are the main vehicle for virtual coaching. However, both telephone and video coaching are excellent alternatives to face to face coaching. Clients often like a blend of face to face and virtual.
The skills required are the same as face to face coaching. But, there are key differences and challenges for both coach and coachee. At first, the clients perception about virtual working may be somewhat negative. They may need help and encouragement to value the approach. Almost all our clients, who start like this, quickly come to appreciate the power of virtual coaching.
“Caroline is an extraordinary coach. We have only met face-to-face on 1 occasion and yet she has been invaluable in helping me transition to a more senior role, where I needed to adapt and learn new things to focus on what is important. Her ability to listen, understand and with a few key questions trigger thoughts and actions that are needed has been of great help to me.”
Vice President Research & Development, Sealed Air
What’s so great about virtual coaching?
Research has shown that virtual coaching is as effective as face to face coaching. The place of technology, in learning, has been here for a while. Suddenly, its become a necessity. As a result, learning curves have been rapid and steep. But, it’s been worth it. Many coaches and clients are surprised by the power and effectiveness of virtual coaching. In fact, many clients now prefer it for reasons explored below.
The younger members of the workforce have no such concerns. Virtual learning, for them, is easy, effective and enjoyable. That suggests it is here to stay.
Trust and rapport
Trust and rapport are central to a successful coaching relationship. Virtual coaching enables powerful and strong levels of trust and rapport to develop. Even telephone coaching, despite the lack of visual connection, is not a barrier to these important features.
For many coaching clients, the physical absence of the coach enables greater levels of openness. The “coaching space” has changed. There is a sense of closeness created by screens. At the same time, there is a sense of distance and safety because clients are in a place of their choosing.
Improved matching criteria
Matching of coach to coachee is a critical factor in successful coaching. For many organisations, face to face coaching means that the geography of the coach and coachee is a factor in matching. Long distances mean more time, expense and environmental impact.
However, geography plays no part at all in what makes a successful match so it is a limiting factor. Virtual coaching removes geography and enables matching to be made only on relevant criteria, making success more likely. Chemistry meetings are easier to arrange enabling greater choice for coachees.
A safe environment
Virtual coaching allows clients to be coached from a place of their choice – usually one that is familiar and comfortable. This contrasts strongly to neutral meeting places for face to face coaching that sometimes become too busy or noisy to be as effective as they could be.
Being in an environment that is comfortable and secure facilitates greater relaxation, creativity and focused thinking for clients. It also enhances feelings of safety which result in greater levels of openness and honesty.
It’s accessible and flexible
The beauty of virtual coaching is its accessibility. You don’t need to be in the office or travel to a meeting. The removal of travel time also makes it more time efficient. The coaching can fit far more easily into your work schedule. It can often survive last minute changes to schedules. In addition, it often means that the risk of cancellation fees for postponements can be avoided.
Leaders and managers are busier than ever. This flexibility and accessibility can be invaluable to them. Making coaching easier to access results in greater engagement and levels of commitment.
Support between meetings is also easier to provide. Since switching to entirely virtual coaching, we’ve found clients far more willing to ask for a quick check-in or chat between sessions. So we’re adding more value.
Develops listening skills
Both client and coach will develop their listening & observation skills with virtual coaching. The skill of highly effective listening is invaluable. It’s also quite elusive. Telephone coaching provides an excellent opportunity to build mastery in this vital area of communication. Without visual clues, it’s essential to pay attention to everything, the spoken and unspoken. Leaders who receive coaching via the telephone often comment on how well their listening ability has developed.
Telephone coaching also has its place
The phone is the fall-back when connectivity issues interfere with video coaching. Although it’s been largely replaced by advances in video platforms, it remains a valuable vehicle for coaching.
Recent research from Yale University supports the effectiveness of telephone coaching. It found that when visual cues are removed, leaving only listening available, people are more accurately able to correctly interpret the feelings of others through the nuances of voice. Other research, from the British Journal of Psychology found that averting one’s gaze helps cognitive processing. Virtual coaching, especially telephone coaching, removes the requirement to retain eye contact and therefore, according to the research, will improve thinking and reflection.
What are the risks with virtual coaching?
Virtual coaching is not for everyone
Some people simply prefer that face to face connection and consider Zoom, or other video coaching tools, a poor substitute. A study into virtual coaching found that considering media preferences for both coach and coachee had a significant effect on client satisfaction. Some coaching clients are very comfortable with telephone coaching, others prefer video coaching so even the type of virtual coaching is important for its success.
When it works, technology is excellent and enables us to work far more productively. However, when connections are poor in quality, the impact for virtual coaching is serious. It’s a distraction, causes frustration and completely disrupts the flow of coaching conversations and thinking.
For virtual coaching to be effective, the technology used is very important. Agreeing a back up plan is also wise. Even the fastest connection can be the victim of a power cut. Beyond the technology itself, the quality of the environment is also very important. Minimising distracting backgrounds and reducing noise with headphones are examples of good steps to take.
What our clients say about Virtual Coaching
“Virtual coaching is very liberating. It frees me up to be more honest and, to my surprise, it’s extremely intimate”