3 Ways to Coach a Hybrid Workforce
Flexible work options are here to stay: Here's how your company can tailor its coaching to fine-tune new-era performance.
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Just a few years ago, coaching in corporate environments was typically a face-to-face exercise. Coaches or managers might meet with employees to help them prepare for a milestone, such as a customer presentation or a sales call. The coach might even shadow employees during their presentation and sit down afterward to review performance and polish key skills.
In recent years, though, coaching has undergone a dramatic change. While remote coaching was used before the pandemic, no less than 83% of coaches have since increased their use of audio/video platforms in response to work-from-home models, according to the International Coaching Federation. And these work dynamics are likely here to stay: In fact, more than 70% of workers surveyed in the 2021 Work Trend Index (30,000-plus people in 31 countries) indicated that they want flexible work options to continue post-pandemic.
Clearly then, companies face new challenges, including how to offer coaching tailored to drive success among a hybrid workforce — ensuring its quality, consistency and continuity when some employees are remote, some are in-office and some are a mix of both? The quick answer is that people, processes and technology all have roles to play.
Here are three considerations for coaching such a workforce:
1. Offer on-demand training resources
Coaches help employees develop new competencies, hone skills and overcome challenges, but that takes time; it can't just transpire in limited live sessions. So, use live coaching smartly, and combine it with an on-demand approach to training. For example, if a coach is helping an employee who struggles with public speaking, he or she can talk through strategies for overcoming anxiety and role-play various scenarios that trigger it during face-to-face or live virtual sessions.
The best results will come after sustained individual practice, so the coach should also provide public speaking resources (videos, tutorials, etc.) and assignments through the company's learning platform.
Combining coaching with training resources in this way is especially useful for a hybrid workforce because:
• Learning modules and resources can be accessed conveniently, anytime and anywhere.
• Coaches can use the learning platform to see if employees have accessed the materials. (When? How much? And for quizzes, how did they score?)
• Face-to-face coaching sessions are less likely to happen consistently in a hybrid work environment. By keeping the learning momentum going between live sessions, you make every minute of them count.
Employees should be focused on improving their skills and solving challenges they face: finding the right learning resources to do so should be the least of their concerns.
Related: The #1 Thing We Look for in Applicants: Coachability
2. Coach leaders and managers
A hybrid environment is a dynamic one. As workers go about their fast-paced days, it's easy to lose track of long-term goals as they focus on immediate ones. It's a leader's job to show them the bigger picture.
But knowing how to focus and lead workers remotely often isn't an innate skill. Consequently, it's important to train leaders and managers in how to lead and coach hybrid teams. Among the important skills they'll need to master:
• Building a cohesive culture in the absence of face-to-face group activities.
• Breaking barriers imposed by their own biases regarding hybrid workers. A leader can't effectively manage remote employees if they unknowingly (or knowingly) favor in-office ones.
• Being more intentional about creating learning opportunities. (Before the pandemic, casual office interactions often led to brief and impromptu coaching sessions on an as-needed basis.)
• Effectively coaching (both on their own and as a supplement to any corporate coaches/consultants) and delivering feedback to employees. To that end, companies should help leaders and managers make time to prioritize coaching even within their busy days.
Most of all, leaders will have to practice active listening in a virtual environment (as it can be easy to misinterpret gestures or words when coaching online) and structure coaching sessions tailored to that dynamic. For example, what I like to do is, first, listen to an employee (such as after they've given a presentation), then use their impressions and concerns as a guide for further questions. In this way, they have an opportunity to figure out what went well (and what might be improved) and I can see if they're already aware of potential solutions. Also, I like to ask, "Will this be important in a year's time?" to drive prioritization and clarify any long-term impacts of current actions.
Related: Why Active Listening Is a Critical Skill for Founders and Entrepreneurs
3. Be open-minded when it comes to delivering coaching
Forget the idea that coaching can only happen in a specific environment or not at all! Coaching a hybrid team means being open to testing different delivery methods and being flexible. Besides in-person coaching, there's also:
• Synchronous online coaching, where virtual sessions occur live (such as through web conferencing tools).
• Asynchronous coaching, where communications between the coach and learner don't happen live. Sessions might be conducted through email, direct messaging or even back-and-forth video messages.
• A blended approach, with in-person, synchronous online and asynchronous components.
Mixing coaching formats often works well in hybrid work environments. For example, you can set up a flow that starts with a face-to-face meeting to prioritize goal-setting, then incorporate Zoom sessions for highly interactive exercises. Round out the instruction with asynchronous sessions, where employees can record themselves practicing the skills they've learned.
How is feedback best delivered? Coaches can communicate it through email, video, Slack and even text messages. Implementing such a hybrid flow takes some trial and error, but is highly effective when done right.
Related: 6 Steps to Offering Tough Feedback, and Why It's a Crucial Skill for Every Leader
Hybrid coaching: total results
Coaching is a strategic priority for organizations today, and both beneficial for and attractive to employees at all levels. In today's corporate environment, it should accommodate flexible work schedules and be embedded within the corporate culture. Adopting various methods of delivering sessions ensures that all employees can benefit from them, no matter where and when they choose to work.
Hybrid work is here to stay. The question is, are you ready to create high-impact coaching opportunities for your hybrid team?