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Coaching at a distance: Five tips for successful virtual coaching

Since March 2020, companies around the world have accelerated their efforts in encouraging work-from-home employees to stay motivated and productive while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

But the shift to remote work has come with its fair share of challenges, and current research suggests we may be in it for the long haul. A survey conducted by TELUS International found that just 17% of technology leaders anticipate being back in the office full-time within the next six months.

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In other words, a remote or hybrid workforce is likely here to stay, and that means it's critical to continue designing opportunities for employees to learn, grow, acquire new skills and access coaching in a remote environment.

At TELUS International, we've held one million coaching sessions this year alone, 91% of which were completed in a ‘work anywhere’ environment. As a result, we have deep, first-hand knowledge of the best practices that can help your company adapt to virtual onboarding, training, upskilling and more. Read on for five expert tips for coaching in a remote workplace.

1. Foster a caring culture

Having a strong remote employee coaching program starts with a caring corporate culture that’s committed to investing in the growth and learning of the team.

According to Katterli Brinkman, senior global coaching manager at TELUS International, the location of the coaching session doesn't matter so much as a culture that acknowledges the importance of coaching and mentorship. "Whether your team is remote, hybrid or in-person, it's important to emphasize personal and professional development as key contributors to the success of team members, and of the company," says Brinkman.

Companies grow when their employees grow, so encouraging learning and development is an investment that pays dividends.

2. Prioritize accountability and commitment

Given the importance of employee performance, and the limitations associated with overseeing remote workers, you'll want to make an extra effort to incorporate regular coaching into your team's routine. Set a regular cadence for casual check-ins as well as formal coaching sessions so your team can continue to thrive, says Brinkman.

Remember: 'Out of sight, out of mind,' and without the visual reminder that comes with working in an office, it’s easy for coaching sessions to fall lower and lower on the to-do list. Set expectations and ensure accountability with your team by ensuring coaching sessions are a priority.

3. Spotlight technology

With Zoom birthday parties and other online celebrations now a common occurrence, it can be easy to take for granted people’s comfort level in tech-based communications tools. As a leader, you might need to put your IT hat on to coach your workers effectively. Expect some basic troubleshooting now and then, especially at the start of a remote coaching session, and consider adding relevant ‘how-to’ guides to your knowledge base for team members just getting started.

It’s also critical to keep your IT department in the loop to help close gaps quickly, and equip your employees with the tools and platforms they need to succeed. "One year after our work-from-home initiative began, almost every TELUS International team member now has access to video collaboration equipment (tablets, webcams, laptops) to make coaching a more personable experience," says Brinkman.

4. Be flexible with employees

While remote coaching is a great alternative to its in-person counterpart, it's always a good idea to remain flexible with your employees. Not everyone is happy in front of the camera, so bear that in mind. Simply giving your team the option to turn off their webcam can help them feel much more at ease and willing to participate.

5. Keep a pulse on engagement

As with any program, soliciting feedback from those involved is vital. Your strategies for coaching in the workplace will only improve if you reach out regularly to make sure everyone is getting what they need. Relationship-building is just as important as providing the tools, equipment and culture for success.

Employee satisfaction and engagement surveys are a great resource for this, as they allow you to gauge whether performance trends are going in the right direction. "The goal is to create and maintain a human connection in a remote coaching environment," says Brinkman. "Keeping a pulse on the human factor is key."

Coaching may have traditionally been a face-to-face endeavor, but when done right, virtual coaching can be just as effective in enabling your employees to develop their skills, engage with their teams and improve productivity metrics.

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