Coaching a Distributed Workforce: New Tech, New Tools and a New Path Forward

As work life shifts away from co-location and core schedules, coaches need to adapt to the new distributed work model. Here are how new technologies and new approaches are helping coaches maintain high performance across fresh boundaries
By Ingrid Johnson

It seems like a fairy-tale world to many corporate coaches … the magical “once upon a time” when their populations worked similar schedules in a central location. Now, even within a single team, there may be office locations spread across continents and core schedules that seem to slide around the clock like something created by Salvador Dali. How can effective coaching and training be delivered in an environment like this, where the only constant seems to be a state of flux?

It turns out the same technologies enabling a remote, 24/7 workforce can also bring high-quality coaching to the furthest corners of the work world at any time of day. By leveraging the newest technologies to deliver personalized coaching from a distance, provide real-time performance feedback and allow for scale, it is possible for organizations to enable a meaningful coaching culture using digital tools.

Leaving Traditional Office Geography Behind … for Good
With a few notable exceptions such as IBM’s re-housing push, companies are increasingly leaving traditional work geographies behind. They’re downsizing corporate spaces in favor of work-from-home arrangements, letting teams operate in fully remote mode for months or even years at a stretch, and allowing flex-time schedules to dominate the calendar to stretch teams over the 24-hour spectrum. This eliminates the traditional coaching space for in-house teams.

As a result, coaching in an environment like this loses much of its spontaneity. It’s hard to drop in on workers six time zones away, or casually host an office training session in someone else’s living room.

Yet it’s not all bad news. This increasing abandonment of the traditional office space offers coaches a chance to build a culture of intentional coaching moments, which can be more effective than leaving coaching in a flow state, according to studies by Chief Learning Officer.

The advantage is that coaches can earn a regular spot on the team calendar, especially for performance feedback conversations that would have been left for “the next time I see you” in a traditional geography. Plus, by bringing the need for dedicated coaching time up with managers, coaches can open up conversations that might have been ignored in the past about the real coaching needs (and subsequent time commitments) of the total group.

Top Tech Tools Integrated In Personalized Digital Coaching
As part of bringing coaching into the formal group calendar, coaches can now leverage some of the latest tech tools to digitally deliver personalized individual and group coaching. It’s not just about online classrooms, shared conference lines, and grainy video chats – the latest tools now offer integrated systems for measuring progress, meeting “face to face” in high definition, and linking private training events to public team goals, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Some of the most impactful tools presently available to coaches include the advanced features of apps employees may already be using. In fact, according to Coach.com, opting away from intense corporate learning systems in favor of more customizable and casual apps can lead to better adoption of coaching tools by distributed team members.

For example, while Google Docs are familiar and valuable to distributed teams, few are taking advantage of Google Hangouts, which permits free group calls to be scheduled in advance and recorded or transcribed for later review, all at no charge. Similarly, the popular messaging platform Slack allows for free group video and audio calls worldwide. By choosing these kinds of daily-use tools, coaches can lower resistance to adoption and skip the extra training needed to move a remote team onto a new learning platform.

But what about situations where documents need to be shared in real time, or a whiteboard would be needed for an impactful group session? Again, the solutions are more affordable and accessible than might be imagined. Leading tools include Baiboard (free unlimited use, accommodates screen share with up to 40 users at once); Scribblar (up to $39 per month depending on classrooms used; also allows sessions to be archived, revisited, and shared); or the full e-learning suite WizIQ, which has its own virtual classroom and integrates with many popular corporate classroom systems.

With these tools, digital learning transforms from a one-way dialogue (watch this webinar) back to the same interactive feel that makes in-person coaching events so impactful. Despite barriers of distance, coaches can recreate the two-way, nurturing and encouraging conversations that happened before teams scattered. Plus, for a very minimal cost, it becomes possible to record and offer sessions for review, a benefit often not kept up in face-to-face coaching events and one that can be very useful in teams running a 24/7 floating core schedule.

Enabling a Meaningful Digital Coaching Culture
New tech tools like these – and others too numerous to mention – help enable a meaningful digital coaching culture.

It’s no longer necessary to reinvent the wheel for each new remote team. Coaches can instead search out and find the tools that resonate best with each person or group. Then, with familiar and proven tools at hand, it’s possible to leverage them up to scale a coach’s reach around the world and maintain high standards for program delivery.

The power of this new always-available accessibility to high-quality coaching can’t be understated as organizations seek to enable a meaningful digital coaching culture. No, apps like FaceTime haven’t traditionally been work tools. But, in a one-on-one distributed coaching world, allowing fun, familiar tools like this to play a part in building connections can make all the difference. Plus, when both coaches and the organization are willing to experiment and adapt, it sends a loud, clear message that coaching matters, the organization cares, and help is available whenever employees are working.

Delivering this message – and the quality coaching that goes with it – ensures that no matter what fresh boundaries of time or distance arise, distributed workforces can get the help they need to succeed.

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