Coaching Employees in the Remote and Hybrid Work Environment
Over the past year and half, the abrupt and sustained dislocation of work practices has led us to question the nature of how we work. This uncertainty is evident by the number of articles, blogs and news stories with various and conflicting points of view on the best practices across industries or for specific organizations.
The unplanned and indefinite length of the workforce’s shift to remote work has manifested itself into three phases to date:
- Phase 1: Adjustment period with intersection of work and life.
- Phase 2: Optimization phase with practices and technologies to be productive remotely.
- Phase 3: Overworked stage with employees not shutting, down leading to stress.
As we see a gradual return to pre-pandemic ways of working, we are likely entering a fourth phase. In this phase, the pre-existing best practices for managers, teams and individuals to work effectively together are being informed by the lessons we learned during this forced change. Take coaching as one example.
How Coaching Has Changed
Performance coaching conversations generally happen between a manager and employee and focus on working through a situation or developing a particular strength. Pre-pandemic, these discussions would typically take place in a shared office or during travel to a common location.
These meetings were in person for all of the right reasons, including the potentially sensitive nature of the discussion and to maximize the ability to gauge the other person’s sometimes subtle reactions. Once that discussion ended, it was highly likely that follow-up discussion or actions would also take place on site and in person.
Considering the newness of remote and hybrid work contexts, management skills like performance coaching were forced to adapt without forming best practices. This set the stage to adapt, innovate and integrate what we've learned from hybrid work into new and potentially more effective practices.
Let’s take the coaching conversation and restructure it given the various options available to us now:
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VirtualThe numerous virtual meeting platforms have created a virtual proximity that has helped overcome the limits of physical distance, yielding positive results for one-on-ones, team meetings or firm-wide town halls. In the same way, video conferencing can be an effective way to engage with a team member through coaching. Being able to see one another is a benefit that audio-only calls can't compete with. Provided the technology and internet bandwidth cooperate, this virtual meeting room can provide the appropriate environment for this important discussion.
On-SiteMore traditionally but with a slight twist, managers and team members can plan intentional collaboration in the office by using the “clubhouse model” for post-pandemic work described in this recent Harvard Business Review article. The clubhouse model prioritizes in-office time for meetings to accomplish specific tasks, either via one-on-one conversations or as a team. The use of this planned time for a coaching conversation is another way to elevate the importance of this coaching interaction to build trust and collaboratively work towards the desired performance outcomes.
Sometimes a more informal setting is the right approach for coaching. Off-site meetings are best when you're looking for the benefits of being in person but avoiding the baggage of the office. Meeting for coffee, going for a walk or engaging in an activity together can be an effective way to be together in person without the formality of the office environment.
I had one of the best coaching conversations with a colleague while taking turns hitting golf balls at the driving range. There was something quite helpful about engaging in a physical activity and helping each other with the common goal of striking the ball well that led us to being less in our heads. We debriefed the coaching situation and our golf acumen at the same time.
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Consider an Integrated Approach to CoachingAs with all things related to people management and leadership, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach, and with coaching in particular, it's rarely one-and-done. It usually takes several discussions to experiment, revise approaches and build muscle memory. To that end, virtual, on-site and off-site options for coaching can be integrated.
For example, as you plan a coaching conversation, start by meeting in person and off site to keep things less formal. Then, follow up with a virtual coaching session and then meet again on a day when both parties are in the office.
There are numerous ways to approach coaching conversations, and in the post-pandemic world we can blend the established methods with new practices so that coaching can most effectively enhance performance.
About the Author
David DeFilippo is the principal consultant and coach at DeFilippo Leadership, Inc., where he focuses on executive coaching, leadership development and talent management.