The Benefits of Virtual Coaching Conversations & 5 Key Areas for Working with Virtual Groups | By Jennifer Britton

How much time have you spent online or in the virtual space in the last few weeks or months?

A 2015 poll by Gallup found that 37% of employees had telecommuted compared to the 9% who did in 1995 1. And in another recent study, only 22% of the virtual teams surveyed had participated in virtual training 2. So it's likely there are a number of people who are under-served in the virtual space.

So, there is a compelling case for virtual one-on-one as well as virtual team and group coaching work for coaches today. And whether you're meeting with individual clients via a streaming platform like Skype or Zoom, looking to offer virtual group programs eg. webinars, online courses, conference calls, or perhaps working with virtual groups or teams, the options for virtual learning and conversations abound!

And while organizations continue to question whether virtual working is effective for teams (earlier this year IBM "brought in" their workforce, returning to a co-located model), for many organizations, virtual and remote teams remain a global reality. Therefore, having the best virtual conversations possible is essential.

The Benefits of Virtual Conversations for Coaches can include:

  1. Scaling your work and serving a wider market place. It's not always be feasible to meet clients in person, so virtual conversations expand our business opportunities and help our coaching voice get out into the world. This is especially true if you serve a global audience.
  2. Creating opportunities for daytime sessions. In larger urban centers, traffic and commute times can hinder the ability for coaches to have in person sessions during the day.
  3. When coaching groups, bringing together a wider cross section of clients. Part of the beauty of coaching groups is the diversity of new ideas and approaches that can be sparked. Coaching groups virtually increases these opportunities.
  4. The flexibility of being able to work from almost anywhere, any time. Many coaches want to incorporate a more mobile lifestyle. Working virtually provides this flexibility and make it easier to be present for clients at times which are more convenient for us.
  5. Reducing your carbon footprint. As an environmentalist by training, I continue to be inspired by the opportunities technology affords. Britain's Open University, one of the pioneers in the distance learning field found that e-learning consumes 90% less energy than traditional courses. They found that the amount of CO2 emissions (per student) is also reduced by up to 85%  3

The Benefits of Virtual Conversations for Clients can include:

  1. Different timezones and virtual technologies offer more options for meeting with the coach outside of regular hours eg. early in the morning or later at night.
  2. Expanding options for people living in remote communities where face-to-face coaching services aren't available.
  3. Just-in-time learning when clients need it, rather than having to wait for a specific training session to come around.
  4. Virtual group program clients may enjoy connecting with peers from a wider cross-section providing anonymity, expanding (positive) vulnerability and boosting engagement. In addition, our clients also have the opportunity to learn from people from different cultures whom they might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.
  5. Finally, for clients in highly competitive industries, virtual groups allow them to connect with others from the same industry in different parts of the world and provide an important peer network and learning experience.

5 Key Areas to Consider as You Get Started with Virtual Programs:

Many coaches are curious about what they need to consider as they grow their work virtually. Here are four things you will always want to keep in mind, whether it's your first or thousandth virtual session:

  1. Get comfortable in the virtual realm yourself. Take time to explore what is possible. What style or virtual meeting "room" do you want to create for yourself? View others in action. Notice what you like, and don't like. What platforms do you think will be best suited to your clients? New technologies and options are always opening up for connecting to others.
  2. Expand your own learning. There's always opportunity for learning more and improving your virtual group facilitation skills. In particular, expand your understanding of different cultures and how people from different cultures may wish to be supported.
  3. What's the context you want to create? While technology allows us to bring large groups together, consider who you want to work with - and how. Are you the type of person who wants to deliver a virtual 500 person keynote or are you more comfortable in convening a more intimate 8 person group coaching process?
  4. Consider how you will build trust and connection. While many platforms exist, those with video streaming services can be more useful in boosting trust - and helping feel clients feel more connected to you and each other. At the same time, video can create a barrier for participation if people don't have good enough internet service.
  5. Set expectations and create ground rules early on. One of the most tempting traps in virtual work is that your clients may be multi-tasking and not fully engaged during your coaching conversation. So it's important to bring people into the virtual "room" early on and get them involved in the dialogue through chat, breakouts or using annotation. Annotation, where people use their own virtual pen or keyboard to draw and comment on the screen, is a virtual facilitation strategy that is often overlooked.

Wrap-up

In closing, integrating more virtual options for you and your clients can offer many benefits. As for other industries, technological disruption is reshaping how work and conversations are undertaken. Online or virtual platforms are important vehicles for building relationships, accelerating results and expanding conversations, especially as most coaches are solo entrepreneurs working from home.

What are the reasons you might add virtual coaching into your mix? What opportunities do you want to create for yourself and others?

Check out the different virtual options and see what's a good fit for you. And think about what's going to work best for your clients - what creates an "enabling" space rather than a "disempowering" space.

In my newest book, Effective Virtual Conversations, I explore some of the reasons why having virtual conversations makes a compelling business case, and how they can be done differently to avoid "Death by Conference Call". For example one of the risks of virtual events is creating a one-way monologue from a "talking head". Being talked at doesn't work when people are "in the room" - and it doesn't work virtually either.

So, it's important to consider how you will create an engaging learning context. A tip is to invite people to consider "What's in it for me?"(WIIFM) at each and every call. For example you could ask, "What's important about today's topic for you?" or "What benefit would making a change in this area bring to you?"

Also *NEW* Virtual Facilitation Essentials Program: A 5 week virtual class to help coaches, trainers and leaders create more engaging virtual events and offerings whether a webinar, online course, virtual group and team coaching or simply to hold better conference calls. Course starts Monday November 6th 2017 at 1:30pm ET and will run for 5 weeks.

Contributing author: Jennifer Britton is well known for her work in the group and team coaching arenas and is passionate about helping others excel in their work with teams and groups. She's also been working in the virtual space since the early 1990s, as a leader and as a coach. Jennifer's newest book, Effective Virtual Conversations, debuted as a #1 New Release on Amazon this summer. It focuses on how to create more engaging and impactful virtual conversations in today's digitally disrupted world. Jennifer is also the author of Effective Group Coaching (Wiley, 2009) and From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching (Jossey-Bass, 2014). In addition to offering ICF approved Continuing Coach Education, she also is the creator of the Conversation Sparker Cards™. Jennifer is also a Prism Award Winner for her work in developing a coaching culture within the healthcare sector. Pick up an autographed copy of Effective Virtual Conversations or sign up here to get the latest updates and bonuses!

1 http://www.gallup.com/poll/184649/telecommuting-work-climbs.aspx (accessed 2/26/2017)
2 http://cdn.culturewizard.com/PDF/Trends_in_VT_Report_4-17-2016.pdf Study by R3, Culture Wizard
3 https://elearningindustry.com/top-10-e-learning-statistics-for-2014-you-need-to-know  (accessed 2/27/2017)

 

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