Of the many lessons I’ve learned in remote business management and virtual coaching sessions, here are my top 30 points of process, structure, and engagement that have proven successful in virtual coaching today. This article is for executive coaches who are looking to improve the effectiveness and capability of their remote coaching sessions.

Read time: 15 minutes

For context, I am a serial entrepreneur and began operating businesses remotely nearly 20 years ago. After selling one of my businesses, I started executive coaching in 2010 and since then have personally provided over 7,500+ hours of paid coaching sessions, many of which have been online. On background, I am a lifetime learner and early adopter of technology and have leaned into the online coaching session experience to explore how to create greater value for my coaching clients. With this experience, I’ve seen first-hand the influence remote video technology has had on the evolution of coaching. And, just as I’m sure you have, I’ve found myself continually adapting and experimenting to find the optimal solution for a great, if not more engaging, coaching experience—behind the screen.

So what have I and other virtual coaches learned in this virtual operating environment? For starters, just because you are operating virtually does not mean that you suddenly lose all perspective and form, nor would it be wise to forget what you have learned up to this date. Rather, you are deliberately and intentionally choosing to move into a mode of coaching where geography is removed as an issue, where the time span is shorter, and coaching impact is provided in crisper bites.

Of the many lessons I’ve learned in remote business management and virtual coaching sessions, here are my top 30 points of process, structure, and engagement that have proven successful in virtual coaching today.

Process

  1. Set the expectation. Use a coaching agreement to frame the nature, content, expectations, and guard rails for your coaching relationship. My own form of agreement for executive coaching mirrors the model template provided by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

  2. Forge a partnership. Create authentic partnerships with your coaching clients to facilitate sessions that help raise your client’s best potentials and growth. Figure out what your coaching goals and methods will be and share them with your prospective clients. Define your ‘clubhouse’ rules and expectations for the coaching session. At ePraxis, our goal is to help our coaching clients get unstuck, lift their vision, be more inspired and empowered by partnering with our executive coaches in sessions that are thought-provoking and creatively engaging, curiously examining issues, exploring possibilities, and igniting our clients own power and best selves.

  3. Vary meeting lengths. In a remotely proctored coaching setting, I have found that time demands are greater and shorter meeting lengths are frequently necessary. Consider offering a variety of remote coaching session lengths to accommodate your clients’ schedules. For example, in my remote executive coaching practice, I offer 15 and 30 minute sessions for tactical and booster calls, and 45, 60, 90 minute sessions for more detailed strategic discussions.

  4. Offer coaching packages. Offer packages for remote coaching that allow the client to choose their own coaching journey. For example, my typical coaching agreement outlines an initial exploratory coaching session, followed by a minimum six-month term of coaching, thereafter converting to a month-to-month contract. Some coaches develop 12-month plans or topic specific plans. The point is that defining your coaching offering and plan anchors and expectations and helps coaching clients better understand your process and methods for coaching.

  5. Implement calendar automation. Use an automated calendaring solution like Calendly.com to reduce friction and speed time to appointment. Automated calendaring tools reduce time in scheduling and allow your clients to pick the session(s) they want. In my coaching practice, I have set up a number of Calendly appointment links for 15, 30, 45, 60, and 90 minute sessions. Calendly references my calendar and allows clients to pick a time that works for them in any time zone. These links, easily shareable through email, social media and texting, have improved my own productivity and the client’s experience.

  6. Space your meetings. When scheduling meetings, make sure that you allow sufficient time to refresh, reset, energize, and prepare for your next session. Though it is physically possible to schedule back-to-back sessions (e.g. every 60 min) I recommend putting a minimum of 10-15 minutes between appointments. Alternately, you could create 50 minute coaching sessions, and schedule all appointments on the hour; it’s really up to you. However, if you do not work into your schedule timely breaks needed to rejuvenate yourself you may experience Zoom fatigue.

  7. Use Video Conferencing. Use a coaching communication platform that works for you and the client. For video conferencing, I personally prefer Zoom as it is the simplest to use and most robust solution, however there are others platforms you can use (e.g., Webex, GoToMeeting, Teams, Skype, and many others). Where video would be distracting or impractical, consider using the phone is best. However, using video allows greater context, ability to read and experience emotions, gain greater insights, see triggers and behavior not visible by telesessions, this added insight can help you improve the coaching experience and add greater value to your clients. 

  8. Improve audio quality. Quality audio is important for audio recognition and context. Use a professional microphone (like the Yeti Blue), a headset, or noise extracting microphone. If you have a small room with an echo, barking dogs nearby, or other sound distractions you might explore sound proofing tiles, fabrics, doors, or other measures to clean up and protect your audio experience.

  9. Increased bandwidth. When using video conferencing, having good bandwidth is essential. When the Covid19 pandemic arrived and we were forced for health reasons to stay indoors, I found that I needed to increase bandwidth in places where work from home was required. Having an optic fiber high speed connection is ideal where you can work, download, upload, even very large files in seconds or minutes. Next best is having a fast connection, particularly a high speed wired connection, or a high-speed wireless connection. In advance of your coaching session(s), use a bandwidth speed test (e.g., Google speedtest) to determine your availability of bandwidth that may vary during the daytime. If you are on a shared bandwidth (e.g, DSL connection or fixed bandwidth), explore improving your bandwidth by scheduling your coaching sessions at hours when you have more reliable bandwidth. Frequently, morning sessions have better bandwidth than late afternoon sessions where you may be competing with others surfing the internet and watching videos that take up more bandwidth.

  10. Continually remind. Use email, text, voice mail and other communication methods to remind your clients of action items and coaching sessions. To further improve the coaching experience with minimal effort, we recommend implementing automation tools that can automatically send these reminders.

  11. Set an agenda. Use a written agenda, and confirm this agenda at the beginning of the coaching session. You can have meaningful coaching sessions that are free flowing and agenda-less, though even these discussions can have agenda points that are idea starters. Ideally, your client should create the coaching agenda and send you their key items for discussion 72 hours in advance. This way, you can prepare your mind and round up support materials to better serve your client during the coaching session. The five typical components of my executive coaching agendas include:
    1. Quick update on what’s going on in the personal life, health, business, and key relationships of the executive
    2. Review of key points to cover in the session, including a review of accountabilities from the last session
    3. Exploration of questions and exercises that uncover how to best serve the client in the current session. Actively listen. Lean into issues. Serve the highest interests of your clients. And if requested, during this portion of the meeting, we provide learning content on the topics of greatest interest to our clients. Throughout the coaching session we track session action-item lists for follow-up.
    4. At the conclusion of the coaching session, rate the coaching session with a rating (1-10) and seek to identify opportunities for improvement
    5. Lastly, confirm your upcoming coaching schedule, ideally set up your next two coaching sessions.

Structure

  1. Always be present. At the beginning of the session invite your coaching client to be present. If they have just come from another busy activity or appear to be only partially present, you as the coach might consider suggesting a mindfulness activity, a meditation, reading, quote, or pondering with some silence to quiet the mind, and get a fresh start on the coaching session. Sometimes, I have suggested to my clients, that their office is a distraction (incoming emails, alerts, people stopping by, etc) and that we may want or need to get away from their computer and desk, and I suggest a walk-and-talk coaching session to break up the office distractions and help them get centered on what we are doing. 

  2. Quiet your mind and listen. Build trust, establish rapport and demonstrate your care and concern by listening intently without distraction. Periodically, we encourage our coaching clients to rephrase, clarify or restate what they have heard to make sure you understand the key issues or themes. 

  3. Engage empathy. Engage your emotional intelligence to better understand and feel the underlying issues that may be challenging your client. Before taking your client emotionally deeper into a sensitive situation or issue, be sure to ask for permission. As a coach, while challenging and difficult issues often surface, we strive to separate the issue from the individual(s) in a no-judgement zone. We can be kind, feel, care, have compassion, and help our clients feel supported, even when we are addressing key issues. Remember to create the safe space where your coaching clients are comfortable being vulnerable.

  4. Be creative. Nothing dulls the coaching senses like repeat activity that drones on by script and become overly predictable and routine. While the coaching session agenda provides guard rails and general expectations, you can increase the energy level, power, and client delight by mindfully considering your client’s needs prior to the session. I like to think of my coaching practice like a restaurant that serves meals hot and fresh that keeps customers coming back. In other words, the “meals” (coaching sessions) are customized to fit the needs and desires of my clients. By changing questions, methods, technical approach, and adding variety to your sessions, you’ll keep your sessions “hot” (timely) and “fresh” (relevant) which will keep your clients coming back for more.

  5. Ignite imagination with quotes. Consider using a quote or two to set up, inspire, engage, or provoke a conversation. Some quotes that I have used in coaching sessions during the Covid19 pandemic include:
    1. What did Winston Churchill mean when he said ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.” What should we be doing now in this crisis, that we could not do at other times? What must we do before this crisis ends?
    2. If Peter Drucker is right, “at its root a business has two functions: innovation and marketing,” what should be doing now in this crisis to pivot, survive, and thrive in terms of innovation and marketing?
    3. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you cannot, you are right.” How might this apply to your situation today?
    4. There is a proverb that says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” What does that mean? If this is true, what merriment or humor could you provide to your team to lift heavy burdens and provide a cathartic release? 

  6. Create remembrance with stories. In your coaching, use stories, parables, and imagery to help your clients understand at a deeper level, and they will retain more.

  7. Use questions to capture and unlock the mind. Ask great questions, and let silence do the heavy lifting. Never ruin a good question with a premature rescue from silence. Examples of good lean-in questions include:
    1. What’s keeping you up at night?
    2. What’s the most important discussion we could have right now?
    3. If you were to redraw the future, what would it look like?
    4. If resources were not a constraint, what should we be doing right now? What is it costing you not to follow this insight right now? How might you fund this initiative right now?
    5. Where is the company going? Is it headed in the right direction?
    6. Where are you going? Are you headed in the right direction?
    7. What’s working well? How do you know? How do you measure this?
    8. What’s not working well? How do you know? What are you measuring?
    9. At its root, your company operates exactly as its designed; given this, 
      1. What are you doing that is not giving you the results you want?
      2. What are you not doing where you are expecting results?
      3. Thinking of your highest purpose and aims, what should you be doing?

  8. Use sentence stems. Mine for deeper insights with sentence stems that can help your client express their challenges. Examples of sentence stems include:
    1. I’m wondering…
    2. I’m puzzled…
    3. Tell me more…
    4. Can you repeat...
    5. Show me…
    6. Illustrate for me…
    7. Can you give me an example…
    8. And then what?
    9. What I’m hearing, then… Is that correct?

Engagement

  1. Increase your leverage with tools and diagnostic instruments. Tools can be helpful instruments in your coaching sessions to help increase curiosity, exploration of issues, and help your clients understand their narratives, themes, issues, opportunities, and growth potentials. Many coaching tools are available including psychometric assessments and other tools, surveys, case studies, books, stories, exercises, illustrations, and many other forms of self-discovery.

  2. Challenge your clients to grow and record commitments. Executive coaches are often viewed as agitators, provokers, or  ‘chief tormentors’ as my dear friend Richard Bosworth used to say. In a skillful way, we do our best work when we take our clients to their pains and help them understand and deal with real issues that might be blinding them. We help release them from their fears, anxieties, and build courage for them to show up as their best selves. In your sessions, do not confuse being a friend with being a coach. Yes, over time my coaching clients become dear friends, however; our friendship does not get in the way of dealing with real issues or holding one accountable. Write down what your clients will be held accountable to achieve before your next coaching session.

  3. Write notes. With permission from my coaching clients, I write notes to document key facts, figures, issues, and observations. These are confidential and important for creating context and tracking the journey of your coaching clients. While some coaches keep these indefinitely, my personal business best practice is to keep only those records that are necessary for continued context and continuity. Typically, I will keep only the last 12-24 months of records (whatever is denoted in our contract), and thereafter I routinely delete or shred notices for prior periods. This practice further reinforces the confidentiality of discussions and reduces liability of the coach.

  4. Identify and track improvements, and celebrate successes. Keep a journal or track in your notes metrics of importance and key decisions, milestones, and breakthroughs. These are helpful in the session, and are useful later on to help clients understand the journey’s they have travelled in their coaching experience. It is also helpful for you as a coach to help create a Return On Investment (ROI) calculation for your coaching sessions.

  5. Monitor the energy in the room. Whether physically present or virtually online, track the energy level of your clients and their sessions to identify any potential distractions. If you find a distraction, dig into it as it may be the greatest help you can provide your clients. When you sense the energy or attention waning, call a timeout. Take a pause, ask a question, stand up or sit down; break up the routine. Sometimes it would be best to take a 5 minute break and come back and get re-centered. Personally, I like using Zoom sessions because I can see and read body language, follow the eyes of my client and see when they start to get disengaged or distracted.
     
  6. Manage your own energy as a coach. Stand up, move around and keep water or a beverage near you. Standing desks help keep you on your feet and your energy at its peak during your session. There are clever desks and lifts that have risers for desktops and PC’s to allow you to sit or stand, and move around so that you can be more engaged and focused.

  7. End coaching sessions with scheduling. At the close of your coaching session, confirm your next two coaching session times, so that in the event the next session gets cancelled or postponed you already have your next session scheduled.

  8. Send your clients suggested content. Thereafter, as you come across an article, concept, or idea that would be helpful to your client, send it to them. Just because you are remote does not mean that your customers and clients should think you are remote. 

  9. Ask for leads. Happy customers are the best referral source for your next customer, so remember to ask for leads. To improve referrals, you might even think of offering a reward. It’s all up to you and your creativity.

  10. Sharpen your saw. Covey was right when he said that being curious and a lifetime learner is important. The more you learn as a coach, the more you ponder and improve your coaching craft, the sharper your saw and acumen, and the better you will be in your ability to help your clients unleash their full potential at quicker speeds. Think of the lumberjack that starts a project by first sharpening a saw. While this may initially take time, the cutting of a tree or limb is short work for a sharp saw. The same can be said of the mind. Prepare yourself, your skill set, and your mindset to do great work.

  11. Get yourself a coach. Finding your own coach will keep you sharp, in touch with what’s real, and can guide your steps like a wise Sherpa helping you navigate a high mountain. There is an old lawyer saying that goes, “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,” and I believe the same can be said of coaches. While you can do much self-healing independently, you can go further with a coach, so I encourage you to find one that gets you and who you are, one who can ignite your spirit, and hold you accountable, lift your vision, challenge your assumptions, and help your feet travel to where your highest expectations dare to tread.  


Whether you are an elite, experienced, new or in-training coach, my most valuable point is that all should get a coach. If you can’t find a great coach, find a great peer group. And, if you can’t find a great coach or peer group, reach out to me and let’s find you one. In my practice today, I am coaching coaches and I’m coaching business executives. While you can do much self-healing independently, you can go further with a coach, so find one that gets you and who you are, and one who can ignite your spirit, and hold you accountable, lift your vision, challenge your assumptions, and help your feet travel to where your highest expectations dare to tread.