My blog this morning was inspired from an article that I read on Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled, "When you have to coach remotely." The article talked about the importance of context and the difficulty of holding an intimate coaching experience online. The author recommended calling out the difficulty of the situation and formalizing the process (with structure).
As a Vistage Chair and executive coach located in Park City, UT, and I regularly coach executives around the globe using remote video conferencing technology when: (a) my clients' executive business travel interrupts our regularly monthly meeting schedule; (b) when my clients do not live locally; and (c) when it is necessary for speed to pull together quick 'tiger' teams of executives and employees to work on specific executive or company issues.
There are many tools to help one coach remotely via any of the available online solutions (e.g. Webex, GotoMeeting, GoogleHangouts, and Skype); and coaching remotely using these tools can have value, though I have found some tools are more helpful than others in coaching.
For example, in my executive coaching one-to-one sessions, if we are remotely connecting, I prefer Google-Hangouts as their interface is simple, data exchange is easy,and there are numerous features to help you keep attention and energy in the meeting. For example, I was coaching one of my clients and he appeared to be distracted and not paying attention; so in GoogleHangouts I clicked the application feature for special effects and added a dog face to my own face on the video image; the feature effect was up for several seconds before my client realized the comical change; he started laughing, and it called attention to the fact that he was not paying attention; it brought him back to the conversation, and I clicked 'off' the feature, and we continued our session. So I applaud GoogleHangouts for realizing that people online can become distracted more easily by events, and these simple tools of Google Effects can help capture attention, add some laughter to the meeting, and keep people focused. For those interested in learning more about GoogleHangout Effects, here is a good article.
When multiple people are involved in the coaching, for example doing a multi-person tiger team or panel interview, I find that the higher end commercial packages work best, and are easy to use; I subscribe to the Cisco/Webex service and it works seamlessly for me as multiple individuals can participate remotely and we can all see each other clearly on the conference. My only improvement suggestion for Webex is one snag -- the service frequently updates their software requiring all participants to log-in early and get any app refreshes prior to the meeting; it would be better if their system updated seamlessly without user intervention, helping make this great platform more accessible for users and saving time -- one of the reasons people use online conferencing for coaching.
Finally, I have found that the fact that you are meeting remotely online, should not mean that your relationship should be remote; it is vitally important to conduct preliminaries and 'catch up' or 'check-in' at the beginning of the coaching session to capture attention, focus, participation, and keep the human relationship going. If I had a choice, I would prefer always to meet one-to-one in person, however the online video conference technology does make a suitable alternative when in-person meetings are impossible.