Over the past five years, the general interest in online coaching has grown enormously and so, more and more people ask me how it differs from real-life coaching. Some also express doubts, wondering whether online coaching can really work. After all, coaching is strongly based on empathy and trust. So, Masha, – they say – how do you intend to achieve that sense of closeness, that personal trust, in an online chat?
Closeness despite the distance
I have to admit I had the same doubts when I first started coaching people online some twelve years ago. I had just moved to Malaysia, so my clients suggested continuing our coaching dialogs from a distance. There was simply no other way. And yes: Today, after more than 1,000 online coaching sessions, I can tell you it does work. I strongly recommend you look into the matter and see for yourself whether online coaching might perhaps add substantial value in your situation. It has so many things going for it!
In a business world where digital natives have climbed to the top positions and where the use of digital technologies has become an integral part of everyday work, it is hard to imagine a working life without any online coaching. I also believe that the rapidly increasing interest is a consequence of the evolution of different forms of work – just think of digital transformation and agile approaches. In addition, networked collaboration structures enable high-end companies to operate even in remote rural areas. They clearly benefit from online coaching programs.
So, how do you create a sense of closeness when communicating across large distances?
Best of two worlds
In essence, online coaching isn’t that different from real-life coaching. In a manner of speaking, it's just a different vessel for the same content – provided you observe a few basic principles to establish that sense of closeness.
For instance, it is extremely important to me that I meet a client personally, at least once, before starting an online coaching assignment. Preferably this will be when we have our first talk about the project or when we agree on the details and terms of the assignment. I also strongly believe in blended coaching – the combination of real-life and online approaches. It is not my intention to portray online coaching as the best option under any circumstance. No: the most effective approach is having a sound balance between both worlds.
Granddad in New York, granddaughter in Vienna
The odds of forging a close connection will be particularly good if you use all digital channels. Make sure you have access to the necessary tools, so you can gather lots of joint experiences and impressions. In terms of content, you can support this by sharing the same presentations or charts on your screens; in terms of personal contact, you can establish rituals. For instance, with one client in South Africa I start every session by having a cup of coffee together.
Just think how families do this, how they stay in touch even over great distances. Imagine how, for instance, a man living in New York has regular Skype calls with his granddaughter in Vienna, Austria. You can apply the same principle in the business environment.
Last but not least, don't forget to have regular evaluations of your online coaching sessions, just as you would in the analog world. Using digital means, you can even have shorter intervals and tighter feedback loops, which is an enormous advantage. My coachees will sometimes send me a brief feedback right after a session, either out of sheer enthusiasm or because a situation has upset them. This way, we identify opportunities for help and self-help in quicker, smaller entities. Sometimes I will find a virtual smile in my mailbox afterwards ... and we all know how smiles can create a sense of closeness, not only in the digital world. ;-)