In my many years of coaching clients, I have learned that people can come with a variety of requests or preferences:
‘Doc’ prefers that I come to the office.
‘Sleepy” wants to meet off-site at the diner and be seated in a specific booth.
‘Grumpy’ can only talk for a half-hour at a time and it has to be before 7:30 am.
‘Sneezy’ really wants to work together, but can only talk during lunch.
And “Bashful’ can only talk every few weeks.
Many of my clients prefer to meet in-person during a one-on-one session. I like that too. It’s how I learned and developed my counseling and consulting skills. I found that being together in the same room allowed me to pick up on small eye movements and slight body adjustments, which often reveal small yet critical clues about internal thought processes and feelings. In-person coaching is traditional and for many thought of as the standard approach to coaching.
Question: Meeting in person might be a preference – but is it better than a phone call or a video call via SKYPE?
Answer: If the consultant has honed coaching skills over the years, developed a proficiency at getting to the heart of the matter, helped develop a strategy to improve outcomes and improve skills that allow others to execute a successful strategy – then maybe not
I SEE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING
According to a recent report by Gallup, State of the American Workplace, working virtually is on the rise. In 2012, Gallup data showed that 39% of employees worked remotely in some capacity, meaning they spent at least some of their time working in a location different from their coworkers. In 2016, that number grew four percentage points to 43%.
As this trend continues, and video conference calls become the norm, it only makes sense that virtual coaching follows this same pattern. Especially as organizations become flatter, requiring leaders to be more innovative in their approach to leadership and sharing knowledge.
You may think that the coach/consultant might be missing visual clues like body language or facial expressions. However, I find that I am sometimes better able to focus on voice, breath, pacing, language, and tone on a call. When the majority of the message coming to me is auditory. I am oblivious to what is going on around me: I’m fully focused on what I’m hearing and the issue being discussed.
With less visual distractions (and on the phone no visual distractions at all), the client and I can block out the usual interferences. We can focus in the moment on what is said, what is NOT being said, and what CAN”T be said. Expressions or visceral reactions to words are not a concern during a call.
Whether coaching is done in-person or virtually, location is still important. The setting should allow for privacy and minimal distractions. That can mean an office, or a meeting room, a kitchen table, a roof top deck or a bench by a pond. You are no longer bound by place.
Virtual coaching allows for location and distance to be less of a factor, opening access to new opportunities. When where you work isn’t a factor, you can choose a coach that is the best fit for you, not just one who is close by.
Not being limited to the office means virtual coaching can provide more flexibility. You can ‘meet’ your coach from home, during a business trip or if you prefer (and this does not happen often) on vacation. Office hours don’t have to always dictate scheduling so early morning, evening, and weekends become possible times to connect.
With time being more and more a precious and finite resource, virtual coaching can happen more frequently and time spent on the road getting to and from coaching is eliminated (and with it – the stress of being in traffic.) Less travel to and from coaching sessions makes connecting more efficient and more cost effective.
FOCUS FOR ALL, MULTITASKING FOR NONE
No matter where the conversation takes place, the key requirement is that the people involved are able to focus on each other. Clients who pride themselves on multitasking can find virtual coaching to be challenging. Multitasking during coaching significantly reduces the benefits.
Virtual coaching isn’t a conference call, where you may partly tune in to what people are saying and partly focus on reading a report, sending out emails, or checking your calendar. In a coaching call, details matter: a slight change in facial expression or vocal cadence can be an indication of something deeper. If it’s not being closely monitored, it can be missed.
Conference calls often have clear outcomes: you have a pretty good idea of what you will walk away with when the call has been completed. Specific coaching conversations however, are not usually outcome specific. While the overarching goal of coaching may be defined, coaching calls tend to be more wide-ranging in scope. That can mean that time should be taken at the end of the call to summarize, reflect on key points and learnings, talk about the date and time of the next session, and summarize any homework between now and then.
OTHER PROS AND CONS
- Virtual coaching allows for practice, learning, and modeling how to work well remotely. It can help improve those skills.
- A virtual coach has to be able to figure out attitude through video or audio and need to be adept at reading between the lines and watching for subtle cues and clues. The more experienced the coach/consultant, the better.
- Developing trust can take longer and require more concentration. Patience may be required.
- Virtual conversations should not be marathon sessions.
- Keeping a regular frequency (every one or two weeks) is critical if momentum is to be sustained.
- The world is changing and technology can be a boon to the coaching experience IFyour coach has more than the conventional formulaic coaching skill set.
- Virtual coaching rests on great relationship building. It may mean more disclosure, more time to create trust and confidence, and superior listening skills. It often requires more precise language.
Spend time getting to know one another. You are building a relationship so ask about things outside of the issues and goals you are working on. Begin and end each session with informal relationship building conversation. Small talk has a role to play: it allows you to know one another outside of the goals of coaching. It can also provide some clue as to what is going on in your life.
Be clear about the criteria for a successful engagement. I use a coaching agreement that outlines how we will work together. It clarifies roles, behavioral expectations and solutions to potential problems that may arise.
Talk about what is working for you in the virtual relationship. How you use technology, share documents, connect between sessions, and anything that causes discomfort should be discussed.
Virtual coaching is not the same as in-person coaching. It is an alternative that allows for increasing choices about how coaching and one-on-one consulting can get done. It takes more skill — and it’s not going away.
I can visit ‘Doc’ in the office.
I can meet up with ‘Sleepy” at the diner.
I can talk with ‘Grumpy’ as early as needed and don’t have to drive at dawn.
‘Sneezy’ and I can work through lunch but I don’t have to dine.
And “Bashful’ can talk from the comfort of his home.
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