September 15, 2021

The remote coaching trend accelerated during the pandemic, as many organizations relied on digital assistance for the growing work from home economy Although remote coaching existed previously, the 2020 ICF Global Coaching Study shows that the majority of coach practitioners have increased their use of audio-video platforms (74%) since March 2020. Can remote coaching work? And if yes, how?

History and Impact of Traditional Coaching

As a relatively new field, business coaching began in the late 1960s and wasn’t popularized until the 1980s. Industry pioneers include organizations like Personnel Dimensions, Inc., followed by folks like John Whitmore, Laura Whitworth, and Thomas Leonard. Early coaching models like GROW and the Co-Active Model have since been studied for their effectiveness and limitations. Prior to the current movement to democratize professional coaching (i.e. offering coaching at all levels of an organization), coaching was only accessible to executives. Early 2000s literature defines coaching as, “…a short-term relationship between an executive and a consultant (from inside or outside the organization). . .created to achieve specific, mutually agreed-upon performance.” Although minimal research exists on the ROI of coaching in the 70s and 80s, research published by Manchester Review in 2001 reveals positive results. The report states that “…when calculated conservatively, ROI (for the 43 participants who estimated it) averaged nearly $100,000 or 5.7 times the initial investment in coaching.” Do similar results exist for today’s remote coaching services?

Why does remote coaching work?

When comparing in-person coaching and remote coaching practices, a 2011 study revealed no significant difference in terms of building relationships and finding solutions. Research shows that remote coaching can benefit businesses by improving employee well-being, strengthening an employee’s sense of purpose, improving engagement, and boosting the impact of virtual learning, among many other benefits. So yes, remote coaching can absolutely work. Here’s how.

Remote coaching influences mental health and psychological well-being

Remote coaching is a powerful tool for not only supporting one’s development, but improving employees’ mental health and well-being. This is especially critical in our ever growing distributed nature of work where there are new and different stressors each day. Having access to a coach when you need to tackle an issue, enables employees to get the support they need, when they need it. Studies demonstrate that virtual one-on-one coaching can improve psychological well-being in coachees by strengthening their self-awareness and emotional regulation abilities. By fostering social connection, one-on-one coaching can also minimize feelings of isolation—an existing problem exacerbated by the pandemic.

Remote coaching strengthens employee sense of purpose

For employees, sense of purpose can create personal fulfillment by assigning meaning to day-to-day work. Fortunately, CoachHub data shows that 91% of coachees increased their sense of purpose after digital coaching. Coaching can help employees understand how they contribute to an organization, which can strengthen their sense of purpose.

Remote coaching improves employee engagement

In January 2021, employee engagement was 39%, up from 36% the previous year. Although employee engagement has slowly increased over the past decade, this means that 61% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged. Fortunately, generalized data shows that employee engagement is positively affected by remote coaching and 96% of CoachHub users identify as engaged (compared to only 30% engagement with current e-learning platforms).

Follow-up coaching boosts virtual learning

In Gartner’s 2021 study on the impact of virtual learning, researchers found that when compared to virtual learning on its own, employees were 1.5 times more likely to apply a newly learned skill when they also received post-training coaching. This happens because coaching helps contextualize skills that otherwise feel generic.

How does remote coaching work?

In its simplest form, digital coaching helps a coachee overcome a challenge with the support of a coach. Important elements of remote coaching include its logistical structure, individualized approach, the coach-coachee match, and a focus on growth and development. This is what remote coaching can look like.

1. Remote coaching structure

Remote coaching is centered on regular one-on-one coaching sessions with a business coach conducted via video or phone. Although there’s no standardized meeting frequency across the industry, many coaching relationships include bi-weekly sessions. Beyond live sessions, remote coaching can also include micro-learnings—exercises done outside of session like self-assessments and journaling exercises—along with SMS/text messaging between scheduled calls.

2. Certified remote coaches

Since anyone can technically call themselves a coach, certifications provide an easy way for clients to distinguish among remote coaching options. Major regulatory organizations include the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC), among others. Coaching certifications are also useful because they help quantify a coach’s experience. For example, all CoachHub coaches have completed a minimum of 500 hours of coaching, have more than six years of managerial experience, and are a member of a major organization.

3. Coach-coachee matching

Digital coaching solutions like CoachHub use AI technology to pair coachees with the most appropriate coach. Matching processes are often based on things like the coach’s expertise​, immediate business needs, and the requirements of the position, department, and industry, as well as coachee preferences. One study found that a client‐coach relationship can benefit from complementary styles (e.g. managerial, learning) and relevant job‐related credibility. After an organization selects who is going to participate in the coaching process, research shows how valuable the matching stage can be.

4. Individualized, theory-based approach

The best remote coaching is tailored to the unique needs of each coachee and informed by research. Most coaching relationships include an initial phase focused on goal-creation, followed by conversations about challenges or setbacks, plus ongoing reflection. CoachHub uses a holistic coaching framework focused on two key facets, growing as a person and as a leader, but coaching frameworks will vary depending on the coach and digital coaching solution.

5. Processing, reflection, and behavioral change

Regardless of the specific coaching framework, the overarching goal of remote coaching is similar: provide space for coachees to process and reflect, and inspire behavioral change within an organization. For example, if a company wants to create a more inclusive workforce, digital coaching can be used to help coachees become more self-reflective and aware of their unconscious biases. These behavioral changes can lead to an increased sense of belonging and improved fairness in the organization.

6. Growth and development

Since the coaching process is solutions- and goal-oriented, measurement is an important aspect of remote coaching. Coachees often track their own progress by monitoring their progress toward defined goals and milestones. Organizations often measure the impact of coaching by conducting surveys and focus groups to assess things like well-being and employee engagement.

Researchers suggest that “Although financial ROI may well be an attractive metric for some managers and organisations, it is proposed that frameworks such as the WBEF (Well-Being and Engagement Framework) and goal attainment can provide a far more comprehensive and meaningful metric than financial ROI.”

Remote Coaching Works for Employees At Every Level

Unlike early iterations of coaching, today’s remote coaching is not a tool solely meant to fix poor performance in the C-Suite. Remote coaching is a powerful tool for career development for employees at every level of an organization. As reported by Forbes, “Virtual coaching is how many survived and thrived during the pandemic. There’s no going back now.”

Studies show that remote coaching can positively impact everything from employee mental health and well-being to improved communications among teams. Coaching relationships can also help create psychologically safe spaces and stronger company culture overall.

Remote coaching works when it’s individualized and tailored to the distinct needs of each coachee. And it’s particularly successful when offered by certified coaches who leverage user-friendly technology. 

Research indicates that remote coaching has a clear impact. Not only does remote coaching minimize logistical costs associated with traditional coaching (e.g. travel, booking rooms), its remote nature creates increased flexibility for coaches and coachees, allowing leaders to offer coaching at a greater scale throughout their organization.