What I've learnt from 20 years as a virtual coach
People are asking how virtual coaching works. In this strange time of lockdown, isolating, or social distancing, the idea of working 'remotely' becomes more and more the norm. Although as a coach, and for my clients, it really does not feel remote at all.
When it comes to coaching I am very glad that I set up the online and telephone branch of my coaching business years ago. As you will see from recommendations on my website, it has been very successful and here’s why:
1. Geography is not a problem. Whether clients live at a distance in the UK, live abroad, or travel frequently, I coach English-speaking clients from all over the world.
2. The obvious benefit is saving your valuable time spent travelling to and from sessions.
3. No traffic jams, road-works and the weather is of no consequence.
4. You save on travel costs.
5. Cutting carbon emissions on transport is better for the environment.
6. When you are not well enough or able to travel, you can still benefit from coaching.
7. Some clients feel self-conscious face-to-face and feel freer to talk in virtual sessions.
8. Clients can relax and speak to me from the comfort of their own home or hotel room.
Video conferencing seems the obvious way to most closely follow the face-to-face model, and it can work well, but only with a very good connection and matching broadband speed. A video out-of-sync with the voice is more distracting than useful, and we can spend more time trying to fix technology than coaching. On a video call, I set up a standby means of contact: instant messaging, phone or email.
Phone is superior to video in my experience. I can listen carefully to my client because we do not have the distractions of freezing video: “I think it’s a bad signal”, "I can hear you fine but cannot see you“, “Let me try another device”.
I have a reliable landline with good handsets and a tip-top headset which may sound strange to you but brings the client right into my space through my ear. I can listen to tone and inflection of voice, hesitation, what you are saying or perhaps not saying without visual distraction. Have you noticed how the mind can run off into stories about a person’s appearance rather than the content or meaning of what they are saying? The phone cuts that right out.
Instant messaging can work remarkably well and I relish working in this way. I was involved in the early days of delivering online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and my article on this site’s sister company Counselling Directory goes into more depth about the benefits of text, but suffice to say there are many. One of the main positives is a record of the coaching conversation. The transcript is very useful to reflect upon between sessions and to maintain the gains when coaching has ended. Instant messaging also overcomes a problem I encountered recently with a client in lockdown with family: in a situation where you are uncomfortable with being overheard – you won’t be.
Virtual coaching does require a place from which you can connect with me uninterrupted and not distracted. I don’t recommend it, but with no vacant meeting room at work and weather permitting, a client called me from a park. Another client used our session as transition time between work and home by calling from their parked car overlooking Richmond Park. They benefitted so much from this that they took time out most days to stop and stare on the way home. In fact, the car is frequently used as private space for clients.
At home, everyone must understand not to interrupt you whilst in session. Treat the time just as if you were sitting in a room with me where we will not be disturbed. If you are unaccustomed to taking space for yourself – a common coaching topic - it is time to learn the personal development skill of creating healthy personal boundaries. You are entitled to time alone to unwind, reflect, exercise or just be free of the demands of other people.
This will become ever more important for those new to working from home, as other people will need to respect the fact that you are not on a perpetual weekend.
Here’s a Tip: A “Do Not Disturb” hotel-type sign on the outside of a shut door is a fun way to indicate and remind family or roommates that you are unavailable though at home.
Of course, there are confidentiality of data risks which have to be considered and the coaching agreement needs to address this.
When new clients are unsure about virtual sessions but I have no face-to-face availability, I suggest giving phone or internet meetings a trial run. Nine times out of ten, when later I have space to meet in person, they are happy to continue with our virtual sessions. Believe it or not, I can just about remember life without the internet. What a miracle it is when used wisely. Right now, in this 'stay safe, stay at home' world, I cannot imagine how we would manage without it. But we would of course. With our creative brains, we adapt.
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