Remote Coaching – Solutions and Tactics
In Part One of this series, we discussed why working remotely has become so popular lately. We also discussed why remote coaching, training, and mentoring services are of interest to enterprises looking for innovative ways to keep their increasingly distributed teams informed, in sync, and agile.
Of course, this isn’t a simple proposition, as any kind of remote work involves challenges that need to be overcome, and remote coaching has its own set of unique challenges and requirements that need to be addressed. In recent weeks, many organizations have been forced to tackle these challenges head on, with varying results.
In Part Two, we’ll be diving into some specific solutions and tactics Cprime coaches have used to make remote coaching sessions a success. Smart use of technology is a big part of it, but even more important is the way both the coaches and those being coached approach the opportunity. We’ll see how, with the right solutions and tactics, virtual coaching sessions can effectively tackle standups, one-on-one coaching conversations, and even full-scale PI planning meetings with distributed teams.
The challenges that need to be solved
As a quick reminder, the four key challenges we discussed in detail in Part One were:
- Technological hurdles
- Lack of experience with remote work
- Logistical complications
- A general lack of trust in the people involved, or confidence in the process itself
Before describing specific tactics and tools, let’s unpack how successful remote coaches have solved these issues.
There’s no getting around the need for a solid, reliable technological platform that can support a remote coaching program. Our coaches have some favorite solutions we’ll discuss below, but they can work with what’s available in most cases.
During the initial planning discussions, the coach will need to discuss requirements with the client, including any necessary training for team members who need to participate in the coaching sessions but who are not comfortable with the tools to be used. The coach, too, will need to become proficient with the chosen tools if they’re not already, and will need to ensure that any content or materials they need to share with attendees are in a compatible format.
In rare cases, a client’s self-imposed tech limitations may make remote coaching a difficult or even unadvisable option.
Varying time zones, schedules, operating systems, and more can wreak havoc with effective communication and collaboration. Many companies have discovered in recent weeks just how poorly prepared they were in these areas after being forced to support large scale remote work with little time to prepare. But, preparation really is the only key to solving this challenge.
If an organization already has policies and contingency plans in place to ensure distributed teams can remain efficient and productive, then there should be no major logistical issues standing in the way of remote coaching. The coach will review existing policies before the program begins to ensure they work in harmony with what’s established, and to tailor their approach to the team’s expectations.
Lack of experience with remote work
This challenge goes beyond the more manageable technological and logistical barriers to effective remote work. It has far more to do with an organization’s culture and its willingness to experiment and try something new.
If a business relies largely on knowledge workers, but has little or no experience with employees working remotely, even temporarily or occasionally, there’s a very good chance they won’t have the tech or logistics worked out either. More than that, they won’t see the inherent value in exploring remote coaching opportunities.
Of course, even if those being coached are working in a traditional in-office, co-located setting, they can be effectively coached by an expert who’s not there in person. But, again, an organization with little or no experience in remote work will likely view this experience as inferior in some way, and are unlikely to support it.
A lack of trust
Closely tied to the cultural challenge just described, a lack of trust is often at the root of instances where an organization refuses to consider remote coaching as an option, or where it’s approached with a skeptical, wait-and-see approach.
These organizations may already have employees who work remotely, but leadership and management may voice negative opinions about how productive or efficient those employees are. They may feel that remote coaching session attendees are likely to be goofing off, surfing the web, or otherwise failing to take full advantage of the opportunity. They may feel the same way about the coach, too.
In both these cases, even an experienced, highly successful coach will likely struggle to make headway against this kind of bias. However, we’ve found that — like so many other aspects of a successful coaching practice — success lies in the depth and quality of the relationship the coach has built up with the client. If the coach and/or the company they represent has established a solid, trustworthy relationship with the client, their recommendations are more likely to be considered and acted upon. This is true even when doing so may be difficult or painful for the client, because they know the coach has the client’s best interests at heart.
The tools and techniques Cprime coaches rely on
In line with the basic solutions and approaches described above, our most experienced coaches agree that the following tools and techniques make remote coaching sessions as good as, if not better than, in-person events:
The technological backbone of every successful remote coaching program is a reliable video conferencing solution.
Technically, coaching can take place over the phone, or even via text-based chat programs like Slack. And, over the course of a coaching engagement, both those tools will likely be used extensively. (More on that below.) But, for formal coaching sessions — whether with a large group or one-on-one — there’s no substitute for video.
That’s because, as noted above, successful coaching requires a solid relationship. It also depends on clear communication and full engagement on both sides. And, since over 70% of human communication occurs outside the verbal words being spoken, a video conference is truly the next best thing to being together in-person. Done well, it’s just as good as interacting face-to-face.
Our coaches choose Zoom as their video conferencing solution of choice for its ease of use, flexibility, and reliability. But, they’ve hosted successful remote coaching sessions on Google Hangouts/Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and most other popular enterprise solutions. The most important key features include:
- Clear video/audio quality
- Fast, reliable connection
- Adequate attendance limits (in most cases this is based on the subscription)
- Screen sharing
- Real-time chat or (better yet) a means for attendees to “raise their hand” to participate, ask questions, etc.
Some other features that are integrated into various video conferencing solutions are “nice-to-haves” but not necessarily vital. These include polling, virtual whiteboarding, and more extensive collaboration tools.
In most cases, if the video conferencing solution doesn’t include these and the coach wants attendees to use them, other apps can fill the need without taking away from the real-time value of each session. Or, if other apps just need to be displayed during a video conference, the screen sharing feature allows for that.
Another vital technological pillar of successful remote coaching programs are tools designed to facilitate collaboration among distributed teams. These come in a few different flavors:
- Real-time collaboration – These are the virtual equivalent of the ubiquitous whiteboard or (you’re really dating yourself!) bulletin boards found in every agile office or conference room. As things are discussed, the coach and others can make notes, draw, scratch things out, or whatever they need to do to help get their ideas across or document decisions temporarily.
- Zoom, Skype, and a few other conferencing solutions have a simple virtual whiteboard included.
- Other popular shared document providers can work for visual collaboration in a pinch too, with Microsoft OneNote being a surprising recommendation.
- Trello needs to be mentioned here as it offers a highly visual and collaborative project and task management tool in a comfortable kanban-style interface.
- Finally, we want to draw your attention to a really exciting solution called Weave. It’s a collaboration solution specifically designed for distributed agile teams and recently acquired by Scaled Agile, the people behind SAFe. It’s loaded with helpful SAFe-based templates that can be used in just about any agile coaching circumstance imaginable.
- File and document collaboration – While these tools don’t necessarily need to shine in real-time circumstances — like during a remote coaching session — they’re still vital to the coaching program’s success. With shared access to the same digital content, everyone involved in the program can view and edit documentation, notes, recordings, and more. This keeps everyone on the same page, helps reinforce what’s been learned or decided, and helps track the progress being made.
- DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and similar cloud-based storage services are a perfect repository.
- Google Docs and Microsoft Office Online are the two biggest players in the collaborative document field, and each are part of larger ecosystems that include many of the tools discussed in this article. If you choose one, you’re probably best off choosing from within that ecosystem going forward.
- A personal favorite among our coaches is Confluence, the highly flexible and powerful knowledge management system from Atlassian. Many agile organizations are already plugged into the Atlassian stack through one or more tools like Jira, Trello, or Bitbucket, in which case Confluence is a natural choice for file and document collaboration during a coaching engagement.
- Agile-specific tools – A few of the collaboration tools mentioned above are geared specifically toward agile organizations, but there are two more tools that our coaches love to leverage (assuming the clients are users):
- Jira is the industry gold standard for agile project and task management in development organizations. For coaching purposes, the best instruction and guidance are based in real-world examples, so it makes sense to build coaching sessions around actual tasks, projects, and epics appearing in Jira. The same Jira reports attendees are already familiar with can serve to track KPIs around the success of the coaching program itself.
- Taking that idea a step further, Jira Align offers an expanded suite of reports, visuals, and what-if scenarios that can augment nearly any coaching situation. Our coaches have been able to use Jira Align functionality (along with Zoom and a few other apps listed above) to facilitate entire PI planning meetings that were 100% remote.
- Ongoing conversation – The final piece of this puzzle fills the gaps between formal coaching sessions, which will be held via video conference whenever possible. These tools are not optimal for long or in-depth conversations, and they’re very limited when it comes to visuals and other sources of engagement. But, what they do offer is a quick, simple, effective way to maintain that connection between the coach and individuals, and between team members who are all being coached. That connection is vital to maintaining the strong relationship that’s so important to success.
- Instant chat apps are not new (Yahoo Messenger anyone?), but the latest generation of these tools have become nearly indispensable for many organizations. Microsoft Teams is a worthy contender, but Slack holds a special place in our coaches’ hearts. In fact, Slack has the potential to serve as the central hub connecting an organization’s entire collaboration tech stack.
In Part Three of this series on Cprime’s remote services, we’ll look at remote training. To explore remote coaching and training services further, click the button below.