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Skype Coaching Pushes the Boundaries

This article appeared as a For vs. Against piece in HR Zone on 17th March 2017.  The counter position to Skype Coaching can be found on the HR Zone website here.

Coaching is recognised as one of the most powerful developmental interventions in helping people to make sense of new learning. Its focus is not only on the acquisition of new skills, but also on bringing about behavioural change. A coach helps us to reflect impartially on our actions, motives and feelings and, in so doing, we better understand not just what happened, but why it happened and how our behaviours and those of others play out in the working environment.

Coaching is akin to a personal workshop in which our own development, rather than the homogenised needs of many, is the focus. In education, we know that smaller class sizes offer more ‘me‘ time resulting in a more engaged student development experience. Unfortunately, the model isn’t scalable. Just as governments cannot afford a model that focuses on personal tuition, businesses are similarly constrained.

In an ideal world, face-to-face coaching for employees would be the development intervention of choice. In reality, it’s the preserve of only 5% of the workforce – the executive elite. Its benefits are clearly understood, but it’s seen as too expensive an option to make universally available. Cost therefore constrains wider participation thereby compromising the development of many.

In adopting Skype as a medium to conduct a coaching conversation, we have found a methodology that creates an affordable and accessible platform upon which the coaching relationship can flourish. It democratises learning such that it can be made available to the many rather than remain the preserve of the few.

It’s more affordable because, unlike face-to-face coaching, you only pay for the coach’s time. There are no travel time and journey costs. It’s more accessible because Skype sessions are easier to schedule and, in our experience, tend to be of shorter duration, occurring more regularly than face-to-face coaching.

However, technology is only the enabler to coaching. First and foremost, coaching is about building a relationship and establishing a rapport between coach and coachee that fosters security, respect and challenge. People are pro-social and will likely form better relationships where all cues are in evidence. Not just the verbal cues of language and intonation, but also the non-verbal ones of posture, facial expression and eye movement. Coaches and coachees must read these cues to be able to reconcile what we are seeing with what we are hearing. As with face-to-face coaching, these all contribute towards the whole picture, and can be observed via Skype.

In practice, we’ve also found it easier to connect with multi-site businesses. We’ve had a situation where one coach conducted two coaching sessions in one day, with one coachee based in Sydney, the other in Sheffield. Whilst coaching is about the individual, it’s also about being aware of organisational goals and standards. The ability to cross country borders and timelines without compromising quality and ensuring consistency of message is important when providing coaching support to a large body of coachees from the one company.

With a coaching movement capable of reaching out to a broader and more diverse audience, it’s important to understand the evolving needs this new demographic represents. Individual development and growth remains the overriding priority, particularly for those operating at the sharp end of the business.

Early evidence supports our claim that Skype coaching is both impactful and invaluable. It compliments rather than replaces traditional face-to-face coaching. Importantly, it extends the reach of coaching deeper into the organisation, helping to embed new learning and bring about change. Feedback from companies and coachees alike confirm that it is highly regarded by a demographic who wouldn’t previously have been offered the help and support of their own coach.


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