Virtual coaching became the norm for hundreds of coaches worldwide from March 2020 as we responded to Covid-19 and the pandemic produced. But how does this change things? What do people want from virtual coaching? Is it preferred?
I’ll begin by giving you my preferences because that’s likely to explain more than practice alone.
I am steadfast in my preferences for in-person coaching. Naturally, this takes a back seat to safety and common sense; so sure – pandemic and international clients are a perfectly valid reason to keep sessions on the screen! Also, I’m a wheelchair user – so many venues aren’t versatile enough; particularly those of a more industrial complex.
I believe the fundamental reason I prefer to coach face-to-face is quality communication. Everyone has experienced the process of changing a contact method with someone and subsequently seeing a changing in the dynamic.
Let’s explore the in-person coaching process and discover the pros involved.
Psychology professor Albert Mehrabian laid out this concept in his 1971 book Silent Messages (1971 – Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles). The top sheet of this theory lays out the following
From my experience, this is a golden rule to coach by, too. Much of my coaching and NLP training covered not just what people say, but how they say it. What’s more – what they do when saying it. Humans are expressive – you only need a conversation with a five-year-old to learn this!
As soon as we start stripping back layers of this communication things are less clearly conveyed – consider the last time and email chain or text exchange painted a picture very different from reality.
I like to meet clients outside of their comfort zones – this often means not their office or homes. Somewhere we’re not disturbed and have privacy. Ironically; this is to increase comfort! When a coaching session is going well you get in the groove and the outside world stops for a while.
It’s a state of mindfulness that involves being truly present. This state is valuable in coaching – otherwise, deeper changes and understanding are hard to come by.
When at home or in your office, distractions are everywhere! I don’t just mean phone calls, people dropping by with questions, emails popping-up. You become surrounded by emails reminding you of tasks, ideas, and pressures.
The next best thing is virtual coaching sessions. That’s the avenue 2020 lead us down – in fact, a few of my newer clients have yet to experience in-person coaching with me as a result. I prefer Zoom over other formats – which should be hosted via desktops where possible, or at least something with a large screen you don’t need to touch.
I think first and foremost has to be distractions. Emails, phone calls, colleagues, messages, not to mention the way we’re now so used to instant information, that we’ll automatically Google something when sat at a computer with a query in mind. This focus varies from client to client, some client barely change.
However, I was shocked by the amount that certain clients zoned out. One would get a message (from a phone that would always be on silent and out of sight in our usual sessions) and stop talking/listening to reply.
I recognise that there’s a certain level of professional respect and courtesy that goes beyond the communication method – some people wouldn’t act this way when engaging in a session via smoke signals! But the medium is a large part of the cause.
For each client, I have a separate A5 ring binder – of which my clients have their version. I compile these with our notes, appointments, forms, tasks and so on. If a client requests their next session covers a specific subject I have a tool for, I can print out worksheets that I hand to them on entry, and we’re off. Not useful in virtual coaching!
We have to find or build an online version, perhaps have an interactive PDF version, or they have to print the form to the A5 dimensions and have an exact 6-hole punch to hand and do all this before the appointment. Even when I have such a quiz ready-made on my website, just moving the focus from our conversation to a web browser is a setback.
No story is just one-sided, so let’s look at the flip-side to virtual coaching video sessions.
Scheduling meetings without travel and similar interaction is brilliant. For one of my clients, we both have to drive 45 minutes to meet halfway in North London. What’s more, the best time for his sessions is 8.30 am. Combine the time and travel with traffic, return journeys and the session, we each have to leave before 7 am and won’t be back at the office until 11. Our Zoom sessions start at 8.30 and finish at 10 – simple.
Depending on your coaching package and circumstance, we often need a private space to work in. Most of the time, this requires hiring a meeting room or consulting-room somewhere. The Zoom call is free.
Specifically, in terms of scheduling, online sessions can be more flexible. It becomes much easier to schedule when you eliminate everything else. Even when working in the same building, you’d rarely schedule one meeting within 5 minutes of another. We don’t have that barrier online.
Phone call sessions are very rare. I’d generally only use calls in two situations – the first is a chemistry call, this happens the first time I speak with a client to discover if it’s worth us working together and how we click. The second is follow-ups; depending on the coaching programme you choose, and level of interaction you prefer, there’s sometimes a follow-up between sessions. The informality of both means this can happen via call. Of course, virtual coaching via zoom is preferred to calls when available.
There are circumstances where the sessions simply cannot happen in person. Often this is location-based – not every client is close to me, some clients don’t have the time to travel or some locations aren’t ideal for accessibility issues.
In these situations, we set up firm rules.
When we agree online sessions are essential, we set out how this will happen in our contracting session. We agree:
And even with all this, I still strongly recommend that we get together every few months for an in-person session. Virtual coaching rarely covers every need.