Is e-coaching comparable to face-to-face coaching? Lessons learned

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The present circumstances have compelled a number of coaches and trainers to take their activities online. Opinions vary from online contact ʻnot being quite the one’ to e-coaching, e-training and e-counselling working just fine and as required.

What are the lessons to be learned from this intense period? Liisa Raudsepp, Coach and Trainer at Tripod, shares her experience.

The start of the emergency situation meant rapid change also in coaching and training, both for service providers and customers. There were those who cancelled all appointments because of uncertainty and insecurity. There were also those who rushed to rescue everything possible and take all of their projects online. The key words both for professionals and clients were quick learning and adjustment.

Is e-counselling or e-coaching comparable to face-to-face coaching?

Based on my experience, I can say the following:

  • Individual counselling and coaching online have worked very well, I cannot tell any difference; I have had both good and excellent outcomes. In a supervision session, one of the attending coaches summed it up so that ‘If you could do it already before, the electronic environment is not a stumbling block.
  • Some coaches say that in case of an already established customer relationship, online sessions work fine. My experience is also that the processes that were started online have been successful.
  • Group coaching and training, however, have required a lot more preparation and effort because:
    • when using electronic channels, people’s ability to focus is more limited; group work must be designed to be dynamic and varied. The attraction to engage in something else is greater;
    • the training/coaching process must be planned in greater detail, there is less room for spontaneity; pace, variety and interaction must be planned for;
    • the instructor must be more energetic, too, because the synergy level may drop, some people need not feel comfortable talking to a camera and do not express themselves so freely;
    • big groups can be a challenge. Just as in real life, in e-coaching you need to work more in small teams of two and three. You should keep in mind to limit the presentations of small teams to five at most and the time to be used for each to ten minutes (or less); otherwise, the participants can wear out. In case the teams have worked on a similar subject, you can ask the presenters to only tell what was unique in their work and not to repeat similarities.

The software or program that you use is, by all means, important, too.

When working one-on-one, it is usually not an issue, although video and audio quality can vary considerably. However, marked differences appear when working with groups. Be aware that it takes more time to familiarise yourself with programs that offer a number of features; another question is how easy it is for your clients to work with the program, and whether previous user experience is necessary or not.

Based on my experience to date, I would say that the most user-friendly program that offers quality is Zoom. Although Zoom has had security issues they have continually worked to improve. Zoom has been great in delivering webinars, and training sessions as well as group coaching and supervision.

Microsoft Teams seems to be the most complex program so far. We had lots of confusion during breakout sessions even though we had spent excessive time learning about the program beforehand. It is not that intuitive and simple, there are various possibilities to ‘get lost’ in the program. The time spent on technical issues has been the longest compared to other programs.

Based on the experience so far, I can say that the successful use of electronic channels certainly requires thorough preparations regarding the programs:

– for webinars, you should also instruct your panellists and speakers. Rehearse several times to learn about technical nuances;

– plan training sessions in greater detail;

– instruct attendees thoroughly;

– plan time for telling about technical features both at the beginning and during group sessions.

There is a popular opinion that working via electronic channels will be held in so high regard that few people wish to return to the office. Nonetheless, people still long for real human contact. The emergency situation has taught us that both ways of working can be efficiently applied, provided that the coach/trainer and client are adequately prepared for using them.