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Coaching in the Workplace: What is it and How Can You do it Remotely?

Kristen Ruttgaizer

November 25, 2020 · 4 min read
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Many organizations are taking the coaching mindset from the sports field to the office to bring out the best in employees and teams.

Managers are going beyond performance management and evaluation to forge mentor-like relationships through employee coaching. A recent study by the Human Capital Institute and the International Coach Federation found 83 percent of organizations plan to expand the use of coaching skills among their managers and leaders over the next five years.

The reason for this shift is straightforward: 54 percent of companies with a strong coaching culture are classified as high-performing organizations, compared with only 29 percent of those without a strong coaching culture.

In the COVID-19 world of remote work, coaching employees is more critical than ever to sustain engagement, productivity, and a thriving culture. Even before the pandemic, employees were looking for richer relationships with managers. According to Gallup, coaching in the workplace is a necessity to engage and retain today’s workforce.

Before we get into best practices for effective coaching in the workplace, let’s start with a clear explanation of exactly what this management approach involves.

What is coaching in the workplace?

Above all, employee coaching is about strengthening the employee-manager relationship. The research shows that managers who communicate well with employees build trust, which ultimately benefits the bottom line. Coaching is just a specialized way of communicating with employees.

Looking to brush up on your manager-employee communication skills? Check out 5 Communications Mistakes Managers Make — and How to Fix Them.

To be clear, employee coaching is not micromanagement, counselling, teaching, training, or discipline. The Harvard Business Review defines it as a method of unlocking employees’ potential to maximize their own performance that draws on nine leadership skills:

  • Listening
  • Questioning
  • Giving specific and timely feedback
  • Assisting with goal setting
  • Showing empathy
  • Letting the employee arrive at their own solution
  • Recognizing and pointing out strengths
  • Providing structure
  • Encouraging a solution-focused approach

Now let’s look at some practical tips for implementing employee coaching at your organization.

10 best practices for effective coaching in the workplace

1. Make coaching a priority

As with many things in the remote work environment, employee coaching needs to be scheduled and intentional. Until you can resume informal in-person chats and lunchtime walks, book virtual meetings dedicated exclusively to coaching employees at regular intervals – at least monthly, but more often if possible. Turn your cameras on and encourage employees to find a more comfortable spot than their desks.

2. Agree on the goals

Take a step back before you start coaching. Do you have a firm grasp on the employee’s goals — how they want to grow in their current role, their most pressing current challenges, and where they see themselves in the future? Ask pointed questions and listen well. Then dive in, while maintaining an open dialogue.

3. Set expectations

Ask employees to come prepared for each meeting with questions, examples of recent work challenges, and new ideas for professional development. Emphasize that coaching is a two-way street. Employees shouldn’t expect to be a passive recipient of your experience and expertise. You could even suggest some resources to help them bring their A-game, such as Crucial Conversations training.

4. Personalize your approach

Employee coaching is never one-size-fits-all. Tailor your tactics to fit each person’s unique needs, communication styles and preferences. The focus can range from specific skill development and relationship building to personal wellbeing, or you can incorporate all these things in a more holistic approach. Some employees prefer to document their coaching experience with goals roadmaps, while other prefer to keep the interaction conversational. Plan to be flexible.

5. Be specific

You can’t coach employees if you haven’t directly observed how they work. Draw on your pre-pandemic memories, if possible, but also pay close attention to how they operate in the virtual workplace. Then bring these concrete examples into your coaching to explore what worked and what didn’t. It will demonstrate your investment in the coaching process and give employees a chance to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in real-life scenarios.

6. Nurture a coaching culture

Try to never let a coaching moment go by. While those dedicated meetings are vital, don’t be afraid to offer ad hoc guidance when you see an opportunity — provided there’s adequate privacy to suit an employee’s comfort level. Immediate feedback often resonates more than advice given after the fact. In a coaching culture, employee coaching is valued and promoted in the broader culture.

7. Use positive reinforcement

Even if employees aren’t interested in directly tracking their progress in a visual format, remember that building confidence is part of coaching. Look for opportunities to recognize employees for operationalizing your guidance. You might even consider using your online recognition center.

8. Keep it real

Nobody wants coaching that sounds like it’s straight from a textbook. Everyone has a unique style — use yours. A sense of humour and a dash of humility can go a long way. Share a laugh by recounting a story where you failed miserably. It’ll humanize you and strengthen the coaching relationship.

9. Get the whole team on the same page

In a strong coaching culture, coaching happens not just between managers and employees, but between managers and teams, and between team members. Consistency is everything. The key messages on employee development, continual learning, and growth opportunities — which could be centralized in a team room — should be the same for everyone.

For more on how to use your intranet to highlight employee development, check out The Employee Lifecycle: How to Use Your Intranet to Make Every Moment Matter.

10. Revisit goals

On a regular basis, monthly to quarterly, review the shared goals you set with employees during their coaching sessions. Are they still relevant? Has the employee moved in a different direction? Do you see new potential in them? If so, set new goals together.

It’s all too easy to let the “extras” slide when everyone is working remotely. Make coaching in the workplace an essential on your to-do list. Because the more an employee grows and improves, the better the team and the stronger the whole organization.