Remote Coaching is one of my Quick Coaching Tools. They are exactly what the title suggests. Short snippets of coaching tips, tools and ideas for you to use on a just-in-time basis. Use them as an update and to refresh your coaching practice and professionalism. You could call it coaching in a hurry!
At this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, not all coaching can be completed face-to-face. Consequently Leaders will have direct reports at other locations around the globe, working at home and perhaps feeling isolated from the rhythm of a team environment. Virtual or Remote Coaching may involve using the telephone, webcam (on your desktop or laptop PC) – or combination of these. This is not a time for a Leader to stop coaching their colleagues. Because right now your people need you to be there for them more than ever.
What are the Challenges of Remote Coaching?
What’s different with Remote Coaching? Firstly and obviously the Leader/Coach is not face-to-face with their Coachee. Importantly this means you lose the benefits of eye-to-eye contact, being able to judge the mood and atmosphere in a session and not having the clues that gestures and body language offer. How can the remote Leader/Coach acquire sufficiently robust observations and data on the Coachee’s daily work activity and performance to give them valuable and impactful AIDA feedback?
If remote working means you meet less, then the familiarity, or what we often call ‘rapport’, may not be as high as when you are co-located. likewise, another factor to consider is rapport’s close cousin ‘trust’. What is the level of trust existing between Coach and Coachee? How confident is the Coach about the engagement and willingness of the Coachee to be coached? Does the Coachee feel trusted by their Leader/Coach? For instance, if there are a number of remote Coachee in the team member working at a distance or from home, how can the Leader/Coach help them feel part of the social network of his/her team?
There can be local distractions at either end of the coaching conversation. For example, interruptions can take place more easily because people are most likely to be working in a situation where new work/home routines and divides have not been fully established. Time differences across the globe may dictate coaching sessions can only be scheduled within a limited time window when both parties are in working hours. What can the Leader/Coach do to be more successful with their Virtual or Remote Coaching? Here is a Summary of Actions.
Summary of Actions
Agree a Coaching Charter
You will have already made good use of the face-to-face time you have with your remote Coachees to build the relationship and share social time together. Now set up and agree a formal (or informal) ‘Coaching Charter’. This would be the mutually agreed outcomes of a discussion on the question ‘how shall we work together given we are not in the same location?’ Explore the issues raised with your Coachee using the GROW model and coaching tools. What do we want to achieve through coaching sessions (G)? Explore the realities of remote contact and communication (R)? What options do we have – do’s and don’ts (O)? How shall we hold ourselves to account to be effective on our remote coaching sessions (W)? See further reading below – the HBR article principle #3 on ‘commit to a communication charter’.
Create a Process & Rhythm
Part of the Coaching Charter will be when, how often and why will you schedule your coaching sessions? Personal Operating System are important for both Coach and Coachee. Set up a core of planned coaching sessions – probably to correspond to your monthly one-on-ones. Remember to take account of time zone differences and local public holidays. Ask your coachee to be in a private area and schedule the sessions to their convenience. Agree the optimum combination of communication technologies – for example, telephone, video conference, email, etc. See further reading below – the HBR article principle #4 on ‘leverage the best communication technologies. As part of the Charter agree a guideline on postponement. For example, you could agree it’s OK to postpone a session once providing it is immediately rescheduled and the subsequent session is a ring-fenced firm commitment.
Create a Coaching Dashboard
Keep track of the coaching process –particularly the agreed Way-forward actions – in a way that can be shared by both Coach and Coachee. For example, use a SharePoint site or other Cloud document repository resource (Example, Google Documents/Drive or DropBox) privately with each coachee to deposit outcomes, resources and GROW notes. Both coach and coachee can add to the shared resource files between sessions. Create a discipline (Charter & Rhythm) around keeping this document resource synchronised and up to date, including automatic update notifications.
Hold Regular Plus/Deltas
Take time out to review the effectiveness of the remote coaching, check compliance to the Coaching Charter and agree any adjustments required to content or process. Consider adapting the Plus/Delta quadrant technique described in further reading below to the coaching process. Both coach and coachee create their own Plus/Delta quadrants as the basis for alignment on what to adjust in the remote coaching process. Quadrant preparation approach questions for both coach and coachee could be: 1) ‘What is contributing to performance and development?’ 2) ‘How can we be more effective?’ 3) ‘What should I continue to do to maintain the strengths of the process?’ 4) ‘How can I personally change things to be more effective?’
Use Impactful Communication
Focus on delivering clear messages during remote coaching sessions – use effective vocabulary, be ‘in command’ of your messages and convey ideas logically and simply. Avoid colloquialisms. Be particularly patient and clear when both parties are not speaking in their first language. Preparation is key. Listen attentively and respond appropriately to demonstrate empathy and maintain then Coachee’s self-esteem. Use appropriate pace, tone of voice and enthusiasm to gain and keep the Coachee’s attention. See the ‘Clean Language’ further reading link below.
Have Coffee Breaks Together
Take time out for ‘social’ contact during remote coaching sessions. Start off the session with a catch up on the Coachee as a person – what is happening in their business and personal life? Share your own updates. Use and encourage short stories to provide context. On longer remote coaching sessions take a coffee break together mid-way through. Use this to revert to social and context discussions away from the core coaching subject. This can be especially useful if you perceive the session is losing focus, stalling or there is a lack of creative productivity.
Check the Temperature
Take the opportunity of coaching sessions to check the business temperature at the remote location. Use as a barometer on the effectiveness of remote team of which coachee may be a member: 1) test their understanding of the team mission (explicit purpose); 2) check for any misunderstandings on goals, priorities and responsibilities (who does what when); 3) check on understanding of up to date on thinking/issues from the centre (mega-communicate); 4) check on who might be allies and opponents (cultural protocols and time zone); 5) watch for conflict between team members or with local associates (climate/conflict). All of this of course is done in a ‘coaching’ way by asking appropriate questions!
With remote coaching put extra emphasis on the ‘R’ for Reality part of the GROW model by using the FOFF technique for raising awareness questions. That is, assessing the Coachee’s current understanding of the Facts, their Opinions and their Feelings and how do they see the Future? See ‘check the temperature’ above. For an explanation of FOFF see ‘Coaching for Change Leadership’ in the Coaches Toolkit.
Stay in the Zone
Whilst there is no reason to suppose that remote sessions are ‘Moments of Truth’, there is a strong case for using the ‘In the Zone’ model from the Toolkit to ensure effective and focused coaching. Follow the FISS (Focus, Intention, Simplicity and Safety) technique. For an explanation of FISS see ‘Moments of Truth’ in the Coaches Toolkit.
Adopt Adaptive Feedback
One of your challenges as a remote Leader/Coach is you do not have opportunities to observe your Coachee conduct their daily work-from-home activities. Feedback according to the AIDA model depends on observable Actions as its starting point. You now need to adapt the AIDA model and seek data for the Actions part of the model based on asking the Coachee structured questions. Examples might be: “How did you respond when XYZ?” or “What do think you did to prompt ABC?” Follow on by asking the Coachee what they thought the Impact was on various stakeholders and the situation. Then use the Desired Outcome and Alternative Actions part of the AIDA model to explore outcomes to reinforce via feedback or alternative actions to stimulate an improved outcome. For a refresher on the using the AIDA model in coaching see ‘AIDA Guidelines for Feedback’ in the Coaches Toolkit.
Harvard Business Review Blog: ‘Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles’
BusinessBalls Communication and Listening Article: ‘Clean Language’
Implement Consulting Group: ‘Virtual Collaboration’
Leadership Pipeline Institute (use Contact tab): ‘Leading Remote Teams in Challenging Times’
Victoria Walsh Coaching ‘How to manage wellbeing and productivity during this stay at home phase’