Remote COACHING – join the future, avoid the pitfalls

Every now and then I see an article come up in my news feed that suggests remote, or virtual coaching might be the future of coaching. MIGHT BE??? I always chuckle to myself as I think that if that is the future, then it’s been here for quite a while and I find myself standing right in the middle of it. As are most executive coaches working today. So here I am to tell you about “the future” and that it is time for you to embrace it regardless of whether you are a provider or recipient of coaching.

As someone who calls both Belgrade, Serbia, and Miami, FL, home, with clients located across four continents and several different industries, it should come as no surprise that I work with them via video or tele conference. Having spent almost all of my career working in the US, and always working with suppliers, team members and partners who were rarely in the same country, let alone the same city, working online and virtually (video or teleconference) was never an issue for me, it was the norm.

When I started consulting and coaching 5 years ago, there was never a second thought as to whether the meetings would be virtual. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent professional network so that when I announced myself as a Leadership Strategy Coach, referrals and clients immediately started signing up, without too much work on my part. No one questioned the process, they didn’t really have to – there was a link on my website that allowed them to schedule appointments whenever I was available.

The very first time I received pushback on coaching virtually is when I started working with clients here in Serbia. I came to realize that their view of communicating via video chat stems from experiences that occurred over ten years ago. Fortunately, connection strength is a lot better these days, so I regularly encouraged clients to try a complimentary online coaching session through one of the media I use (Zoom, Hangouts, WebEx). To their surprise, they found the experience just as good as coaching in person. By preparing properly, clients were able to focus themselves on our conversation, and did not experience the connectivity issues they were so worried about.

There are companies popping up regularly, riding the technology wave that supports virtual coaching. Better Up is a company that serves tech giants such as Facebook by providing their employees with on demand virtual coaching sessions, specifically geared towards their unique culture and challenges. Coach.me is another company that serves its market through virtual coaching, and many similar concepts are popping up across the globe.

BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL COACHING
As you contemplate joining me in “the future”, there are many benefits of online coaching that will likely influence your decision to move forward with it.

Convenience, Time and Cost Efficiency
Whether the coach travels to the client, or the client travels to the coach, time is being wasted in the process of setting up and getting to face to face meetings. The time wasted in traffic is time that could be used by both client and coach on other activities. Let’s say it takes half an hour to get to and from the coach or client. They meet 24 times over a period of one year. The time spent travelling, not counting likely delays, is 24 hours, or one whole day. This is time the client could spend with loved ones, working on ideas, enjoying leisure activities or a hobby. And for the coach those 24 hours don’t just represent wasted income, but a lost opportunity to impact one or many more people.

Just today, I was headed to a face to face meeting. I had 30 minutes free, but I couldn’t really use it to work on anything. I knew that if I got started, I would have to interrupt myself to leave for the meeting, and by the time I got back, I’ll forget the ideas that came to mind. But had my meeting been virtual, I could have gotten a chunk of work done, and not concern myself with the time I needed to get to the meeting.

A global pool of talent and markets
When working virtually, neither the coach nor the client is limited to the region in which they live and work. This enables a leader in one part of the world to receive coaching from a global expert located on another part of the globe. Technology shortens the distance between clients and coaches and opens up new ways of thinking. For coaches, working virtually opens up whole new markets. Consider how big of a population inhabits your city, and compare it to the population of the world that speaks languages you are fluent in. Why limit ourselves to just one market, when there is a whole world out there to choose from?

Faster Access
As mentioned previously, there is little setup time when coaching online. It isn’t just about not having to travel but setting up meetings is faster than ever. With applications such as Calendly, Acuity, Satori, etc, you can list your availability wherever you want and allow clients to schedule meetings at their convenience. It is just important to determine how far ahead meetings can be scheduled, and how far ahead can they be cancelled.

REMOTE COACHING CONSIDERATIONS
While the benefits of coaching remotely are numerous, there are some considerations you should take into account in order to make the best of the experience both for you and for you client.

Equipment and software
When starting out, using your laptop screen, camera and personal headphone/earbuds is all you need to conduct successful coaching sessions. As you get into group sessions and webinars, that are often recorded, you may want to invest in some equipment that will allow your clients to enjoy a better experience.

Background
Just because you may be at home or on vacation when you take a call, that doesn’t mean it is ok to show up disheveled looking in pajamas or by the pool (as tempting as it sounds.) Remember what your role as a coach is – to show up for your client and support them through caring, listening, etc. If we show up looking unpresentable, our clients may interpret it as a lack of commitment on our part and feel less motivated to work themselves.

Try to create a special spot in your office, so that the screen you work on is at eye level. Have a note pad ready to take notes. Show up a few minutes early to make sure there are no issues with the software you are using. Remove anything you think your clients might see as a distraction.

Cultural implications
If you are used to coaching clients from your home country, there are important considerations to take into account when it comes to coaching people from another country. The values that may be common to you and the people around you, may be very different than the ones your client has experience with.
When it comes to comparing how people from different cultures live and work, I’ve grown accustomed to using Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Model. In a nutshell, Hofstede’s research focuses on comparing cultures across six dimensions – power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long term vs short term orientation, indulgence vs. restraint. Let’s use two countries I call home as examples – Serbia and the US. If we look at the individualism vs. collectivism dimension, it’s easy to see that Serbia is considered a collectivist society, while the US is to no one’s surprise an individualistic society. A lot of coaching revolves around helping clients become accountable to themselves. Therefore, individuals are solely responsible for their own success – a sentiment characteristic of individualism. Therefore, coaching clients in collectivist Serbia, who are accustomed to relying on their community (company, country, government, etc) to be accountable for everyone, will not be the same as coaching someone in the US on the same topic.

Give clients choices and prepare before hand
As you test the many types of conferencing software you will use to work with clients, remember that whatever you choose, do not assume that your client will obligingly accept. If clients are weary of calling in, or using your recommended software, allow them to suggest their own. Or if they are uncertain still, invest some time to test choices together, so that the client again feels fully supported by you.

GOING FORWARD

So now you may have a better idea of what the “future” of coaching looks like, and that it is in fact already here. But as we contemplate the “real” future of coaching, the one that hasn’t actually arrived yet, what do you think it will look like? Today’s tech buzzwords revolve around block chain, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, to name a few. The potential markets and opportunities that can come out of these areas are endless. There are already projects that involve applying blockchain in learning and personal development. Through virtual reality, you can have an even more personal experience by meeting your client in a truly virtual office, face to face, without ever leaving your home. Or perhaps you can visit your client personally after all, but as a hologram. And then there is AI – we’ve already seen life like robots that can mimic human facial expressions. Will Robots replace coaches? Truthfully, while these robots clearly are not human, and their facial expressions seem as artificial as their bodies, please don’t forget what a PC looked like 30 years ago compared to what it looks like now.
As far as I’m concerned, it is our responsibility to keep ourselves informed not just in terms of the latest academic research and concepts in coaching, but also the technology that will support our interactions in the future.

4 Comments

  1. Very true what you say about individualism vs collectivism. I’m based in Slovakia at the moment but am from Scotland. Has been a very interesting experience discovering the cultural difference, the level of risk aversion and fear of trying new things is much higher here. But on the other hand I do like the much greater sense of community.

    Communications technology is great for remote coaching and some clients prefer it over the more traditional meeting. The need for coaching seems to be growing, I have noticed many people don’t have anybody to talk to about their personal or professional lives, someone they can trust, a person who has a lot of experience and can understand them. Particulary with the millenial generation, friendships are often quite superficial, so there is a real need for coaches, to be someone who will really listen and help them work things out.

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