Remote coaching – Does it work?

by Emer Moloney

What if your coaching niche doesn’t have the population in your state to create a sustainable client base? What if the coach you want to work with lives in another country? Skype and Facebook have offered an opportunity to bring coaches and clients closer than ever before, and in a way that the telephone was falling short. But does it really work? Can it replace the face-to-face coaching session? Emer Moloney explores.

If it wasn’t for remote coaching, I wouldn’t be a coach. I never would have gotten out of my corporate 9-5 and into my dream job. Like many people who need coaching, I was at a massive crossroads in my life, totally stuck with no clue which direction to take. I had been going round and round my predicament in my head, talked to friends and family, but to no avail. I was browsing through my emails and one of them was an invite to a free 60 minute clarity call. At this stage I had never heard of coaching – I just knew I needed clarity! The whole thing was simple to arrange via her online booking system and we had the call a few days later. That call changed my life. Someone listened, asked objective questions, gave me gentle guidance and clarity, and helped me to adjust my mindset to take control of the situation I was in, which I then turned to my advantage.

After that one session, I took a step back to fully evaluate my life and try to turn it in the direction I wanted it to go. I figured out my strengths (compulsively helpful and curious) and turned them to my advantage (retrained as a coach while working full time). Long, long story short, if there’s any doubt about whether remote coaching can work, it can and it does. Most of the coaching I’ve received since has been remote based. In fact, most of the coaching I deliver is done remotely as well.

… coaching is first and foremost about fully and sincerely listening to your client … and I find this actually easier to do on the phone.

Someone not very familiar with remote coaching would probably (and understandably) raise the point – surely you need to meet someone, shake their hand, get good eye contact, build rapport and get a feel for them in order to coach effectively? I think this unarguably can and does help – and I will say face to face has an advantage over remote when it comes to reading body language. However for me, coaching is first and foremost about fully and sincerely listening to your client – listening with a receptive and open mind, and I find this actually easier to do on the phone. There are no distractions, no worrying about what you look like, what they look like, what time is the train home, did you put money in the meter…nothing but the words being said and how they are being said. If you tune in, the voice can be as much of a revealer of emotions as body language – pauses, pitch, hesitancy, choice of words etc. Also, I have found when I am being coached remotely, I am more open and less reserved than when I am in a one on one situation. In some ways it can feel like talking to yourself, only with questions you haven’t come up with, thus giving your brain the opportunity to look at new options and possibilities in a relaxed manner. I also schedule my sessions for 75 minutes, to give more time at the start of the call for us to build rapport and to tune into my client’s state of mind.

A potential stumbling block can be using worksheets/tools with clients such as the Wheel of Life, Value ranking exercises etc. What I do here is email it on beforehand with full instructions, and a bit of an explainer as well in the previous call. Then the client does it as “homework” so to speak, and we work through it together on the next call. This means the time together is used for pure coaching, probing and questioning, so the client actually gets more benefit than if half their session is spent on a worksheet.

The skills and methods used for remote coaching are soon skills that every leader and manager will need.

People are getting busier and the world is online now. The skills and methods used for remote coaching are soon skills that every leader and manager will need. More and more people are working from home or working as part of a global team. Leaders need to be able to coach and manage their teams effectively, with the constraints of not being able to just “grab a coffee” with them. So if that sounds like you, feel free to take the tips at the end of this piece and adapt them for your remote one-to-ones with your staff.

It isn’t going to be for everyone, and, while I find it easy to tune in and assess someone on the phone, I worked in call centres for years, and so have had a lot of experience with that particular side of things. But that’s just practice, so if you are interested, get out there and do it! Or even, stay at home and do it!!

While you are missing the type of rapport that being in a face to face situation brings, with planning, dedication and true active listening, remote coaching is not only possible, but I would argue, just as good as sitting down with someone in a traditional coaching session.

Remote coaching – pros and cons

  • No travel required for client or coach
  • Flexible for you and for client (I am a parent who works from home and can build my schedule to work around my children where necessary)
  • Less overheads and little to no mileage costs
  • No need to lease premises
  • Simple set up – all you need is good broadband and/or phone reception
  • Many platform options – Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom,  or phone
  • The client is relaxed and comfortable in their own space
  • Much larger available target market by removing geographical restrictions
  • Time flexibility  – evenings and weekends or anytime really that suits is an option – this can be a bonus for attracting clients who have a 9-5 job that they find hard to get away from.

Cons

  • More susceptible to cancellations (I suspect)
  • With Phone-Only coaching you are missing body language queues, and also missing eye contact and the opportunity to give comforting smiles and nods (only for pure phone calls, this isn’t as bad on FaceTime/Skype calls.)
  • Really need to tune in to what is said and what is unsaid.

Tips

1 – Use a booking calendar system so people can book and pay upfront at a time that suits them and obviously you. This saves email back and forth. You can also set it up so they have to fill out a form to give you some information upfront so you have an idea where they are at in their lives and what they hope to get out of coaching. I use Acuity scheduling and would happily recommend – I have heard others using Calendy.

2 – You need decent broadband – the biggest issues I’ve had on any calls have been due to poor reception on either side.

3 – Have a back up contact number for them in case yours or their Skype/Google Hangouts etc is unreliable

4 – Text or email on the day of the call as a reminder/friendly thing to do! People are busy and life happens. It’s up to you what your cancellation or rescheduling policy is, just be sure your clients are fully aware of it upfront.

5 – Be present and mindful – give yourself at least 10 minutes before each session to get grounded, get into the space of service for your client so you are tuned in for them. Check previous notes or their intake form if you have them. Because you are not in the same room as them, it is vital to really be present and tuned into their remote presence, as you need to use your intuition and listening skills to the max. If you are on FaceTime or Skype you do have some visual feedback on their body language and facial expressions that can be very useful when coaching.

6 – Make sure all your equipment – laptop/phone/headphone/notepad/webcam is charged and set up well before your call. Check yourself on camera so you don’t get a fright when the call starts (just me?!) and do an audio check on Skype as well. I would recommend headphones with a good microphone and possibly noise cancelling abilities.

7 – Take notes – this is a personal preference obviously but it’s how I listen well on theses calls. I circle things that are repeated, that jump out, that seem to be coming up again and again. Warn your clients beforehand that they can expect more silence than they are used to in a normal conversation. Explain this is to give them time to think and reflect on the questions they are dealing with. This is vital for pure phone coaching as they can’t see encouraging nods and smiles which are easier in real life.  I’ve often said – I’m smiling, or that’s great, or I’m nodding along here just to bridge that gap. But if they are prepared for the silence it means they don’t panic and use their time wisely.

8 – Be fearless – you are there for your client. You are there to push them and to help them go further and deeper than they could on their own. I realise this stands for all type of coaching, but you need to use intuitive questions – especially when you can’t see them! Summarise what you’ve heard and relay it back to them. Make sure you are following their train of thought. Try and dig into what might be unsaid, any threads you’ve connected from words, silences, sighs, perhaps using questions like “I’m sensing that…”, “It sounds a bit like….” , ”… but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!” Again, let them know beforehand that you will be doing this, then they are comfortable and can let your insights hit them and see if anything comes up for them.

9 – Be on time. This is basic but I’ve had some sessions with remote coaching when I was the coachee and it didn’t start on time. I was so unimpressed and irritated and it’s a terrible mindset to be in before a coaching session. This means good planning beforehand and calendar reminders for yourself – especially when you are working from home as time can slip away with day to day tasks.

Emer Moloney
www.thisisnotlifecoaching.com

Emer Moloney is the heart and soul of thisisnotlifecoaching.com. Emer’s speciality is working with women at a crossroads in life, who need to find the clarity & confidence to choose the best path for them. She works with entrepreneurs, women returning to the workforce, and women wishing to change careers. She is backed up by more than 10 years at leadership level in the corporate world, a Diploma in Personal and Executive Coaching, and personal experience of what it takes to make big changes. From Galway, married to a Corkman and raising two little Dubs, she is passionate, empathetic, supportive and aims to get the best results possible for her amazing clients.