Adopting Technology to Coach During a Crisis or Disruption

The current global crisis is allowing us to see that technology is an excellent support tool, a means to an end rather than the end itself.

Since it is now impossible to coach clients in person, the only solution is to continue to support clients by using technology to engage in coaching.

The use of technology solutions to engage in coaching has been adopted by many coaches over the past decade to augment their face to face coaching relationships, from the telephone to video conferencing software.

We recognise that the optimal approach for coaching is to be physically present with the client, however, when this is not possible it is critical to find a solution that will allow you to continue to be able to support your clients.  Continuing to engage in coaching may be an important mitigating factor for them as they deal with said disruption.  It will act as an anchor and probably enable them to be sufficiently prepared to take advantages of the opportunities that will present themselves when the disruption has ended and a sense of normalcy returns.

We believe the coaching profession is in an advantageous position to offer support to people and businesses during this crisis and to help them keep focused on the future and to prepare for it.

The purpose of this blog is to provide you with some advice, tips and best practices for using technology as a means of continuing to coach.

In 2020, it would be near impossible to encounter a client who has not used some form of video conferencing/virtual technology that allows him/her to connect with others in personal or business life. Therefore, moving to using a technology solution will not be an alien proposition to clients.

Stretching Yourself

If you have not engaged in virtual or remote coaching sessions, this will stretch you a bit, so be prepared for that.  The biggest change will be the visual input that you may not be used to.

Considerations for Transitioning to Virtual Coaching

Our suggestions on what you need to consider as you make the move to coaching virtually are:

Choosing the Technology

Use a simple technology platform that you’re comfortable with and which your clients are familiar with as well.

You can check in with your clients to find out what technology they have used and are most comfortable with.

Where possible the technology solution should allow you to not only use a camera, it should also have features that will allow you to draw and share your screen should you want to show the client something. Maybe even permit split screens.

Examples of software include and are not limited to:

  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • Facetime
  • WhatsApp
  • Join.me
  • Any webinar platform you may currently be using

Housekeeping – Preparing for each coaching session

  • Having a robust broadband connection is essential
  • Use a computer or laptop
  • Ensure your microphone is working – test before
  • Ensure the camera is working
  • Use a headset – both you and the client
  • Privacy – both you and the client should be in a private room with the door closed
  • Leave the lights on (both you and client) if session is in the evening and it will get dark before the session ends. There’s nothing like talking into the dark

The Client Experience

In a virtual or remote session, many things will be different which means you will have to be more alert. For example, the pace will be different as will cues, especially if using a telephone.

However, the most important thing to remember is that you are still a coach and that it is the client’s agenda and you’re there to support and serve them.  All the techniques, skills and competencies that you draw on when engaging in face to face in person coaching still apply.

As a reminder these include

  • Setting up the process for coaching session – ensure you discuss the client’s reactions and responses to being coached virtually; allow them to share any fears they may have in moving to an online approach for coaching.
    • Consider designing the general process and structure for the sessions with your client.
  • Consistency in how you manage the process will be important across each of the virtual sessions
  • Building and maintaining the relationship and connection with the client
  • Communication – listening, questioning, non-verbal cues in a virtual environment, silence, pauses, pace and speed
    • Clarity will be key in this environment
  • Building trust with the client is of course imperative
  • Your presence – be aware of how this may change in the virtual space. It has been shown that in a virtual space things get magnified, therefore you need to be aware of how you are showing up and how it is being received by your client.
    • Hence, be aware of your eye contact, posture, facial expressions, etc. Your client needs to know they are still in a safe space

Challenges of virtual coaching

You will face challenges when undertaking virtual coaching, and it is important to be aware of them and prepare for how you will mitigate and manage them. A few of the challenges you may encounter are

  • Distractions – consider what may distract either you or the client during virtual coaching. For example, not being able to see beyond the image in the screen, and therefore wondering what could be happening beyond it. Discussing this with your client will be helpful.
  • Making connections with clients will be a little more difficult because of the lack of visual cues
  • Communication – Use of language will change as you will need to use more descriptive language, for example, metaphors, analogies, storytelling
  • Silence may be challenging, and you will need to consider adapting the pace of the session to deal with this

Remember, it is only through practice that you will become comfortable and increase your confidence in this environment. Therefore, the best approach is simply to get started.

If you are a coach who has been using technology to augment your in person coaching, please do share any advice or best practices that you believe would support your peers.

20 Comments

  1. Barbara Hosier

    Hello everyone. Just wanted to share my experience of using technology for coaching. A recent client lived too far away for a face to face session so we agree to try using mobile phones instead. We both found this a very good method. We agreed beforehand that my client would tell me where she was and that would form part of the visualisation part of the session. Clearly she would select somewhere she wouldn’t be overheard or disturbed – a local park was ideal.

    Im not a great fan of skype or Zoom any of the other visual online service as I find the images quite distracting, they are sometimes out of sync or may have distracting backgrounds. The one to one of the mobile or landline with just a voice to work with can be very personal and intimate. (That of course could be a problem in itself so be aware and take care).

    I suggest this method of coaching requires agreement of both parties, as would face to face meetings. I trained as a Samaritan volunteer many years ago and during our training, much emphasis was placed on the value of phone calls, listening to the silences and not being distracted by visual issues. I hope my comments will be useful to anyone who hasn’t tried coaching by phone – also your clients may be in the same boat and a bit anxious too.

    Reply
    • Barke Kamuss

      Virtual coach is a norm in these times that we are living. I give my clients options and most times, what’s app voice, and video calls are widespread.

      They are people who are camera shy or do not like to see their image on the camera, and that is alright as they can turn off the camera and still see me if I need to share screen until they build trust with me and having a camera and when the client can turn on the camera so we can both interact as a team.

      Reply
      • Tracy Gravesande

        Hi Barke,

        It’s great to hear that you provide your clients with options and to know that the most frequent choice is the use of technology as the channel for coaching.

        You’re correct, many people are camera shy, so providing clients with the option of being able to turn off their camera is so very important. Has it been your experience that most of these camera shy clients eventually overcome this shyness?

        Best,

        Tracy

        Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Dear Barbara,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of using your client’s location as part of the visualisation part of the session. What a great idea.
      I have worked with a number of coaches who prefer to coach using the phone rather than utilising video conferencing technology. I think that your insights from your Training as a Samaritan volunteer are extremely valuable and I am sure will help others – after all, listening to the silences and not being distracted are critical when coaching.

      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
  2. Alexandra Smith

    Hello, This is indeed a great time for coaches to step into a new space with their clients. I prefer being able to see my clients, and I find Zoom has more functionality and clearer visuals than Skype. As my coaching methodology is EQ based being in touch with the somatic information from the client is central to outcomes. Indeed if you buy a licence with Zoom you can do team coaching too.

    Another thought……………I am volunteering pro bono coaching to professionals like teachers to support their efforts with the children of the nation. If anyone would like to join in a small Giving Back Commitment community please get in touch through:
    http://www.swanconsulting.co.uk

    Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Hello Alexandra,

      I’m so pleased that you see this as an opportunity for coaches to continue to support their clients. I like the term “step into a new space with their clients”. It resonates strongly with me. Thanks also for letting us know about the limitations of Skype. Zoom has certainly come into its own suddenly.

      Your offer of pro bono coaching to teachers is wonderful. I hope that others will join you in this. Would it be acceptable for us to share this information with the CPDSO Community? We are running weekly webinars, so could include this information in our communications.

      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
      • Seyram Avotri

        Hi everyone, I am Seyram a Mental Health professionals who does some wellness coaching for clients in Ghana. Coaching in my country is now gaining grounds. I am looking forward to start something virtual because of the lock down, but how can I recruit clients since technology is a major hitch for the clientele.
        I need Ideas thanks.

        Reply
  3. Martyn Ellis - Personal Best Learning & Development

    Hello everyone. I agree that coaches can use the different technology options available to continue to practice just as effectively during the global pandemic and it feels like it when meeting face to face isn’t an option it has never been easier to stay connected with people.

    I’ve used Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype and Go To Meetings in the last couple of weeks and whilst they all have their own little quirks they all work pretty well, as long as there’s a stable broadband connection.

    On a personal note I prefer to coach when I can observe the coachee’s body language, so I always start a session with my camera switched on, however I recognise that this isn’t necessarily the preferred option for everyone so I always respect the coachee’s preferences.

    I’m also conscious of not having anything that could be a distraction on view. Remembering to switch all phones in the house to silent is something that I’m still getting used to.

    I always tell other people in the house that I will have my video camera switched on and how long the session should last to minimise the risk of someone unwittingly finding themselves interrupting a coaching session. Closing doors firmly shut is another “do not disturb” practice I’m still getting used to.

    I’ve developed some of these habits through recalling the experience a BBC reporter had when it all went horribly wrong:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh4f9AYRCZY

    Nobody remembers what he said but you can’t help but raise a smile!

    Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Hi Martyn,
      Thank you for adding to the list of technoloqy options.

      There certainly is so much to remember now, and you’ve highlighted some key points, such as switching the phones off or putting to silent and remembering to tell everyone in the house that you’ll be coaching, not taking it for granted they will know.

      Thanks for reminding us about the BBC reporter. Seeing that I was transported back to when I first saw it and indeed it made me laugh again.

      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth O'Shea

    Hi everyone.
    There are some great points on the blog.
    It can be really difficult for us ‘technophobes’ to start doing online sessions for clients.
    I am a parenting coach, and I have been using Skype for about 6 years via my website http://www.parent4success.com. That allows me to have clients throughout the whole of the UK and in other countries. I do about 50% of my sessions on Skype, so have had to get used to it.
    The most important thing is to practice before you start. Get a friend or family member to download Skype, and run a session with him/her. They can confirm if your microphone and video are set up correctly, and how you look on the screen.
    Try to explain to your friend (verbally) what to do, if there are issues with the technology. For instance, if you can’t see them, explain that if they wiggle their mouse or touch their screen a little video icon will appear. Encourage them to click on that, so you can see them. Do the same if you can’t hear them. They need to click on the ‘microphone’ icon.
    It can be disconcerting at first, to see your face on the screen. So do a few ‘trial’ sessions to get used to your own face appearing.
    Also, if your client finds it really distracting looking at their own video, they can turn it off. If they do, you will just see an ‘icon’ or a circle with their initials. It can help to pretend that you are looking at their face. Make a habit of looking at the camera. They will feel you are looking at them, even though you can’t see them. It can be disconcerting at first, but soon you’ll find it becomes second nature.
    One other useful thing to note is that you can share your screen on Skype (or Zoom) If you wiggle your mouse or touch your screen there is a ‘share screen’ option on the right hand side. That can help if you want to show your client any notes you have prepared for the session.
    Good luck, and just remember that this could be the start of expanding your business!
    Warm wishes,
    Elizabeth

    Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Hi Elizabeth,
      I’m sure you’re no technophobe, having used Skype to engage in coaching for six years. I would think you were one of the early adopters. At the end of this time, there will be very few professionals who will be able to say they are technophobes. Talk about being thrown in the deep end. Nothing like a paradigm shift.

      Thank you for sharing those tips for using Skype, I know they will be appreciated by anyone who may currently consider themselves to be technophobes, and you’ve also provided tips and reminders for those who have been using technology for coaching before this period.

      One point which I hope everyone picks up from what you’ve shared is that by going online, the opportunity to attract global clients, or clients who are not geographically close to you increases exponentially. Such an important insight.

      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
  5. Emma Louise O'Brien

    Hi everyone,

    This is a great article with lots of useful tips and techniques, thank you for sharing. I have been working as a Career Transition Coach for the last 10 years at Renovo, coaching my clients remotely during this time via telephone, email and video technologies. I coach clients across all industries up to CEO level. I personally like Zoom, Join Me, SKYPE and Microsoft Teams. I do also deliver face to face appointments, however occasionally I find these can become too modular. The most value comes from the virtual sessions. This is due to the fact you can work in real time and provide regular and timely access. This approach has strengthened my relationships with my clients, allowing them to access more short bursts of coaching as and when they require it.

    In a world that is continually changing, offering flexibility will be key and could work as a unique selling point for any Coach. You can ‘virtually’ meet your clients wherever they are located and at any time of the day. You can increase the number of clients you work with by removing travel times, which in turn will be more cost effective too. If you are a Coach who delivers workshops, I recommend ‘Go to Webinar/Go to Meeting’ to host these. With most of these platforms you have the option to record each session so your client can refer back to what has been covered at any point.

    On a final note, by offering virtual coaching you are demonstrating you are open change and embrace modern methodologies. You will also be encouraging your clients to change too and become more familiar with the technologies they are likely to encounter both inside and outside of work.

    Emma Louise O’Brien, Head Of Career Coaching at Renovo The Outplacement Specialists (www.renovo.uk.com)

    Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Hello Emma,
      I’m pleased you found the article to be helpful.
      Thank you for outlining the benefits of adopting technology to support coaching. A key theme that is emerging is the utilising technology provides a coach with greater opportunities to increase their client base, to complete just in time coaching. Your final paragraph says so much. It illustrates the coach as a true agent of change simply by their behaviour. I found that to be extremely impactful. I’m pleased you took the time to respond.
      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
  6. Julie Brown

    Thank you. This is a helpful article and serves as a reminder to me of how far we have come in terms of technology available to us.
    I prefer to use Zoom because many of my client’s are young adults so from a Safeguarding perspective I am more comfortable with it. Young adults are completely at home with technology so it works well. We can share documents on screen too, which is a real advantage compared to years gone by.

    Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Hi Julie,
      I’m pleased you found the article to be helpful.
      You’ve raised an important point in relation to working with different generations. Now with five generations in the workplace for the first time in history, we all need to be able to respond to the way the generations prefer to communicate. Of course, that has been turned on its head in the last month or so. However, that being said, it is valuable to have your insights, experience and confirmation that using technology is effective with young adults in a coaching situation.

      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
  7. Sarah Clark

    Fabulous article !

    I have coached online for many years and would suggest always having a back up system at the ready and a phone number in case of glitches. At all times keep the coachee informed of what is going on, if it takes longer to start the session as technology can play up let them know you will add an extra 5 mins to the session. If you are having any technical glitches let them know and work out an alternative. Start the session as you would a face to face session and use the last 5 mins to identify actions and seek feedback on the session as you would usually. I hope this is helpful. Sarah

    Reply
    • Tracy Gravesande

      Hi Sarah,
      Thank you for pointing out the importance of a backup system at the ready.
      I also like the reminder of keeping the coachee informed about what is going on. So easily overlooked.
      Most helpful reminders and tips.

      Best,

      Tracy

      Reply
  8. Troy Martin

    Great article Sophie, some really good ideas here.

    I am a fitness and nutrition coach, half of my business is online already. I help Ben Coomber run his online Fat Loss For Life program, proving in group coaching for the members. I also write fitness and nutrition articles for some fitness websites. But the other half of my business is in person training or nutrition consulting. That has changed, let me explain how I made the transition.

    I spoke to all my regular clients and asked them if they would be happy to do remote training instead of coming to see me in person. All of them responded in the affirmative, which was great.

    I did not change my prices, instead I provided more value for their money.

    I then set up a WhatsApp group and added all my clients. In there I share daily exercise and nutrition tips, recipes and general uplifting banter. Every client who needs one and hadn’t previously had one has been provided with home workouts and training templates. I even shared some exclusive power point recordings of a nutrition webinar that I usually sell. This way the clients all feel special and well looked after.

    As for the training sessions, I do these via zoom. I copy and paste that days workout into the chat box and then watch the client perform the exercises, giving clear and concise verbal cues throughout. My clients have all enjoyed the sessions and found the social contact to be as important to them as the exercise itself. One client decided to double his usual training and is now training twice a week with me, instead of one, to help break the boredom.

    I have two husband and wife teams who each see me individually in normal times. Now, instead of doing one hour each per week, they are doing two thirty minutes couples workouts with me over zoom. Again, this is as much about social contact as it is about the fitness.

    In addition to all this I have a Patreon account (www/patreon.com/tmfitness), because I produce a lot of free content online and some of my followers have increased their pledge to help me out. This was given without any prompting from me.

    It’s worked out well for me. I am in a good routine, my business hasn’t dropped off and I am providing essential health and wellbeing support to my clients in a time of high stress and anxiety.

    Good luck everyone.

    Reply
  9. Andrew Edwards

    Great advice and timely reminders. Notwithstanding the increased angst of our clients, we coaches are often dealing with our own added stresses brought about by Covid 19. I find that a ‘buffer’ zone of mental prep prior to a coaching session is really useful…

    Working in the fields of ‘Confidence’, ‘Relationships’ and ‘Mental Resilience’ I must be sure to continue practicing what I preach. If I ‘ain’t coping, how can I be authentic with my beleaguered clients!

    One challenge I had recently with a particularly introverted client: I asked her to read a shared document on screen, which she did. I didn’t want to interrupt her and had no real awareness of her reading speed… I waited and waited… She had her eyes fixed on the screen. Eventually (after about three times the ‘normal’ time I might expect a client to take) I ventured “How are you getting on?”

    “I finished three minutes ago and was waiting for you to ask me about it…” Came the reply.

    I have since ‘framed’ such requests with – “…and you let me know when you have finished!”. Something so simple, eh? We live and learn!

    Reply
  10. Adrian Dumont-Namin

    Hi guys,
    I likewise found the article interesting and informative.
    I really agree that coaching is in a brilliant position to utilise new technology and I think it might be useful to bring to mind that the ‘original’ coaching as it evolved in USA in the early 80’s pretty much brought coaching via telephone as a norm and thus already contained this element of remote/distance working. It is a wonderful profession to be involved with and I think along with the real desire to help people and the right skill set we can really make a difference to people’s lives. I love being a coach and am grateful for the great,mostly online community that we have.
    I wish everybody the best and good luck in helping people now and always.

    Reply

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Date: 24th March 2020
Author: Tracy Gravesande