Best Practices: Remote Coaching During Times of Disruption and Uncertainty

A woman with short red hair wearing a sage-colored blazer over an ecru blouse holds a remote coaching meeting via laptop. She wears square black eyeglasses and uses a wheelchair. She sits at a white table in front of a brick wall. On the tabletop is a white coffee mug, a notebook and pen, two small flower vases, and a basket of office supplies.

* The Hogan Coaching Network (HCN) is comprised of approximately 50 coaches worldwide who are experts in both the Hogan instruments and in coaching. Even prior to the pandemic, they did the vast majority of their feedback and coaching calls remotely, and their customer satisfaction ratings are routinely over 4.5 on a 5-point scale. So, who better than a member of the HCN to author a blog on effective remote coaching? In her article below, Cynthia Cuffie, an accomplished HCN coach, combines her own tips and advice with those from other HCN members to ensure a productive and effective remote session.    

In any coaching session, whether remote or in person, it is important for the coach to provide an environment that is comfortable, safe, thought provoking, and informative. This sounds simple, but because the coach and coachee often have only a short period of time to connect, it requires planning, attention to the conversation, and adaptability.

So what do you do when there are factors beyond your control, such as a global pandemic or increasing calls for social and racial justice? While coaching was done remotely before the start of the pandemic, the use of video conferencing has increased exponentially in the past year. Today with video conferencing, we find ourselves sharing our personal worlds. Our homes have become offices, and our families have become officemates. These situations have added an intensity to the remote coaching experience that even the most seasoned coaches find challenging.

The article leverages the collective expertise of the global Hogan Coaching Network to share best practices for coaching remotely (table 1). Many of the best practices featured will be helpful in a variety of coaching situations, from the simplest coaching conversation to the delivery of a Hogan Assessment feedback session.

Table 1: Best Practices for Remote Coaching During Times of Disruption and Uncertainty  
Before the Session  
1. Set the Tone and Expectation: The Invitation  
2. Do Your Homework  
3. Prepare Yourself
During the Session  
4. Establish a Connection  
5. Review Confidentiality Boundaries  
6. Embrace Technology  
7. Explain the Process  
8. Set the Context  
9. Review and Discuss Hogan Assessment Data (Hogan Feedback Session)  
Wrap-up and After the Session  
10. Summarize Key Findings and Discuss Future Actions  

Let’s delve deeper into each of these best practices.

Set the Tone and Expectation: The Invitation

The invitation is an opportunity for the coach to set the tone and expectations for the coaching session. The invitation should be concise, warm, and informative. Provide a brief description of what will occur during the session and give instructions regarding what document(s) the coachee should have available for reference. Instruct the coachee to print required documents whenever possible or be prepared to take brief notes if printing is not possible or if digital is preferred. Share your expectations of document review before and after the session.

Let the coachee know you are looking forward to the session. While a video meeting may be your standard or preferred coaching communication method, always give the coachee an option to participate by phone only — no questions asked. Even if the coachee opts for a video conference session, have your phone ready during the session in case the coachee wants or needs to change their mind.

Do Your Homework

In the age of social media, it is often easy and helpful to find some information about the coachee before the session. Many times, LinkedIn or another site will have background and context information. This should be approached as a brief exercise based on strategic curiosity and not as a detailed research project.

Review any relevant information that may provide clues regarding the coachee’s motivators and willingness to accept feedback. Try to stick to objective information. If you are conducting a Hogan feedback session, look for validity, clues about the coachee’s receptiveness to feedback, and data patterns. For example, people with very high Adjustment scores on the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) may discount feedback. Conversely, people with low Adjustment scores on the HPI may be overly self-critical.

Prepare Yourself

Test technology (e.g., audio, video, computer readiness) at least 15 minutes before scheduled sessions. Give yourself a break for at least 30 minutes between contiguous sessions. This allows time for preparation, reflection, and technology testing. Additionally, an adequate break between sessions allows coaches to minimize any stressors that may have arisen during a prior session. Stay abreast of current events so that you can be prepared to address concerns effectively.

Being self-aware is important for coaches. Ideally, during a coaching session, coaches need to be fully present, perceptive, flexible, curious, active listeners, clear and diplomatic in communication, willing to accept some tension, and resistant to providing solutions without adequate exploration of ideas by the coachee.

Establish a Connection

If using video conferencing, make sure you and the coachee can clearly see and hear each other. Make eye contact. Make sure your background is calming and bright. Meet the coachee where they are emotionally. It may be helpful to start with a grounding exercise. For example, ask the coachee to give three words describing how they are doing. Acknowledge if they appear rushed, distracted, or anxious. Try to make the coachee comfortable by letting them know it is OK if they need a moment to wind down or take care of something first. Take note of the physical surroundings of the coachee. If it appears as if they may not be able to speak freely, ask if they are comfortable speaking at this time. If not, consider an alternative time. Acknowledge that there may be unexpected distractions in the virtual world, and that is OK. Share your brief background and acknowledge your limitations in the virtual world. Whenever possible, try to include some information about yourself that may help build rapport.

Review Confidentiality Boundaries

Confirm your understanding of the confidentiality boundaries of the coaching session. Generally, coaching discussions are completely confidential. However, if there are agreements with the coachee’s sponsor and/or employer that may require some sharing of information, be transparent with the coachee.

Embrace Technology

This section is intended to provide general guidance regarding how to enhance the remote coaching experience with the use of technology. Details regarding optimization of different platforms can be found on the websites of the platforms. Try to honor the coachee’s preferred video platform whenever possible. (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype). This is especially important in making international connections.

Use a hardwired connection for better connection stability if possible. Be prepared for the unexpected. Have simple backup solutions to commonly observed technical glitches. Explain to the coachee early in the session that you have a backup plan if needed. For example, share telephone numbers or agree to email each other regarding reconnecting if video or telephone connections fail. Let the coachee know that if all connections fail, a future connection will be established, and you will recontact them by email as soon as possible.

The view is important. As mentioned previously, make sure your view is bright, calming, and has minimal background distractions. Be aware that Zoom virtual backgrounds can sometimes compromise connection quality. Keep camera at eye level to maintain eye contact and avoid distortions. Play with different distances from the screen so that you can refer to your notes and materials without the coachee viewing these materials.

Be expressive. Don’t be afraid to move. Body language does come across even if there is a limited view. Remember to smile (again, be natural!). Ask the coachee if they are comfortable with screensharing. If you plan to use screensharing, have documents readily accessible on your desktop to avoid searching for files.

Explain the Process

Take time in the beginning of the coaching session to briefly explain the process and what to expect during the session. Make sure you ask the coachee to share their expectations. Assure them that you will address their expectations so that you don’t appear to have an inflexible, predetermined agenda. If you are providing Hogan feedback during the session, let the coachee know that their results will be explained in the context of their role. The goal is to try to remove as much of the unknown as possible to minimize stress.

Remind the coachee of the materials each of you will need to refer to during the session. Be prepared to explain where the materials can be located quickly if the coachee does not have the materials readily available. Be prepared to share data or send materials if the coachee does not have access to necessary materials.

To encourage active participation by the coachee, explain that the session is a dialogue. Using open-ended questions and encouraging sharing of examples applicable to situations will help encourage active participation. Also, let them know they should feel free to ask questions.

Set the Context

Regardless of the situation, putting the coaching discussion into the context of something grounds the discussion. If conducting a Hogan feedback session, putting their Hogan assessment results into the context of their role is important. To do this, ask the client to briefly explain their role, career path and aspirations, and strengths and challenges. Ask questions about their initial reaction to their data, such as “Is there any data that is surprising, confusing, or conflicting?” Not only will this information help focus the feedback conversation, but it will also quickly provide insight regarding their communication style and potential additional areas of interest.

If a coachee has not looked at their data before the coaching session, assure them they will have an effective session. Discourage coachees from reading reports during the session. Encourage taking brief notes but emphasize the importance of engaging in the conversation.

Review and Discuss Hogan Assessment Data (Hogan Feedback Sessions)

Use the Hogan Flash Report as an anchoring document. If you are screensharing, use annotation features to help focus the discussion. This will also allow you to provide the coachee with an annotated document after the session.

How you approach the feedback session should take into account the coachee’s Hogan profile. For example, a person who is low on the HPI Prudence scale and high on the HPI Inquisitive scale may be more interested in focusing on big picture concepts and exploring different possible behaviors, whereas a person who is high on the HPI Prudence scale and low on the HPI Inquisitive scale, may prefer to focus on details and offer very little in the way of exploring new behaviors.

Making data connections is important. Look and listen for signs of impatience, boredom, or distractions. When discussing concepts, be sure to rephrase to confirm your understanding and ask appropriate follow-up questions. Periodically during the discussion, ask questions to gauge the coachee’s reaction to results. For example, “Does that resonate with you?” or “Have you ever experienced reactions like that to your behavior before?” Coaching is about coachee discovery; however, suggestions should be provided by the coach. Make sure your suggestions are relevant to the coachee’s reality in this virtual world. Ask about the feasibility of suggestions. Meet them where they are.

Summarize Key Findings and Discuss of Future Actions

As the coaching session comes to a close, ask the coachee how they feel. This will provide an additional opportunity to identify and resolve potential outstanding issues or questions. This is also a good time to ask the coachee to summarize key takeaways for future actions. If they need help getting started, ask them to consider these questions:

  • What will you continue doing? These are strengths to leverage.
  • What will you stop doing? These are opportunities for growth.
  • What will you start doing? These development opportunities.

Be clear about future contact sessions if applicable. Share additional resources if appropriate. Lastly, but importantly, thank the coachee for their willingness to share with you.

* The Hogan Coaching Network (HCN) is comprised of approximately 50 coaches worldwide who are experts in both the Hogan instruments and in coaching. Even prior to the pandemic, they did the vast majority of their feedback and coaching calls remotely, and their customer satisfaction ratings are routinely over 4.5 on a 5-point scale. So, who better than a member of the HCN to author a blog on effective remote coaching? In her article below, Cynthia Cuffie, an accomplished HCN coach, combines her own tips and advice with those from other HCN members to ensure a productive and effective remote session.