Remote working is on the increase, yet collaborative teamwork remains essential, especially in such challenging times. This is where coaching comes into its own, says Alistair Shepherd, founder of Saberr


Coaching has traditionally been high-touch and required a significant financial investment, so it’s usually reserved for senior executives and their teams. However, organisations are becoming more concerned about how they create a teaming culture and see coaching as a way to achieve this – helping leaders shift from an individual mind set to a team mind set.

Collaborative teamwork is essential at all levels of an organisation to meet the changing challenges of our times; especially in remote teams where some members may never have met in person.

Remote coaching can be extremely flexible, agile and cost-effective. Having meaningful coaching conversations at a distance is becoming a necessary skill. But for a coach, engaging with a remote team isn’t always straightforward, with added considerations including coordinating time zones, finding easy-to-use technology to facilitate sessions and working with a team who might not know anything about each other outside of their day-to-day roles.

Yet remote coaching is going to be an essential skill for tomorrow’s coaching community. According to LinkedIn, “flexible is the new normal”. The tech industry is leading the charge with 72% of professionals working remotely and other industries following close behind.

The biggest challenge remote workers face, however, is team bonding and this is where the opportunity arises for coaches to help.


A revolution in coaching

“Coaching has achieved a lot, but it’s become a very expensive personal development for the already highly privileged. How do we enable coaching to create a far greater and longer lasting impact way beyond the individual client or individual teams?”, says Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School.

There’s now a huge demand to coach at scale. Sometimes, when I’m telling a coach about remote coaching technology for the first time, they’ll say, “surely CoachBot can’t have the same impact as having an experienced coach in the room?”

Probably not, but, most of the time, that was never going to be a realistic option due to cost, time or logistical constraints. Remote coaching is increasingly affordable and convenient for companies to roll out at scale and it allows the whole organisation to benefit. So, what’s the best way to approach remote team coaching?


How to coach a remote team

Invest in the right technology. This is important to consider before you start to coach remote teams. Think about the type of teams you work with – what technology do they have access to? Does everyone have good Wi-Fi and video conferencing? Next, it’s time to think about the practicalities that are part and parcel of a face-to-face session but become a bit more difficult remotely, such as capturing input from the team, ensuring everyone is involved and creating something for them to take away at the end of the session.


Getting started

Set some ground rules to increase engagement and explain that the coaching session is important and that you expect participation. According to a Salesforce study, 97% of employees and executives surveyed believe a lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of a task or project, so dedicating time to coaching is as (if not more) important as responding to emails.


Start every meeting with an icebreaker

Gallup has consistently found that having a good friend at work leads to better performance. Building these types of relationships in remote teams is more difficult so it’s important to spend time on informal communication.

Start every meeting with an icebreaker even if you’ve been working together for some time. Slowly you’ll learn more about the team and they’ll learn what they have in common. Tools like CoachBot have been proven to increase psychological safety within teams by over 40%. It’s designed to enable coaches and teams to facilitate sessions from within the tool but ensures the focus is on the coaching and team collaboration rather than engaging with the tool itself.


Set the scene

In a face-to-face team coaching session, you wouldn’t jump to the first agenda item/task. You’d set the scene, explain what’s most important for today and encourage participation. The same principle applies for remote coaching sessions.


Personal profiles

How do personality and values play out at work? They affect the way teams communicate and the way they prefer to receive feedback. Invite your teams to create a one-page personal profile to share, encouraging more open communication and discussion. Statements on the profile could include:

  • What drives me to do a good job
  • Parts of the job I love
  • Bits I try to avoid
  • A story about where my values come from
  • The best way to communicate with me is…
  • My alternative career: if money and skill were no object, I would be…

This can be the first step your teams take in building trust. It’s a chance to find common ground and very quickly learn a lot more about colleagues beyond their skills. You will find that teams refer to these documents on a regular basis so it’s useful for them to be accessible to all.


Establish team norms

Usually behaviour norms aren’t conscious or agreed; they develop and transform over time. However, research shows that working as a team to formally define norms can have positive benefits for the team. Norms are a fantastic basis for providing control and security within relationships and increased psychological safety, particularly in virtual teams. A good place to start is to ensure the team has specific norms around the way they communicate.


Make it sustainable

Organisations have recognised that to retain their best talent they need to provide meaningful learning and progression for their remote teams, which is good news for coaches. Your practice might need to adapt to remote learning patterns, for example, shorter and more regular sessions for incremental and longer lasting benefits.

After a short session during a normal working day it’s easier to put the coaching to work and see the benefit straight away. Today, experts like Josh Bersin champion micro-learning in the flow of work because more learning is retained and put into practice.

The tools we mentioned also enable accountability and regular check-ins. As ‘Gen Z’ enters the workplace seeking more flexible working arrangements and technology to learn on-demand at the touch of a button, remote coaching is where companies and coaches need to be.


Mini case study

Some of the teams using CoachBot had never met face-to-face. For these teams, meetings were about tasks and troubleshooting. The team knew each other on a surface level and had a good understanding of each other’s skills but there was little interaction beyond that.

Managers of these teams told us they were struggling to create a more open honest conversation with their remote direct reports. Using CoachBot made it far easier for this to happen, both in their one-to-ones and through team reflections. They also said that CoachBot helped them get to know each other better and that it’s very useful in their day-to-day work.

After six months of using CoachBot teams see an average 26% improvement in performance as a result of a better understanding of each other and their goals.

Alistair Shepherd is the founder of Saberr


Top Tips

  • Invest in the right technology First impressions go a long way so a slick start will create a long-lasting outcome
  • Remove distractions An ever-growing inbox is always a distraction, especially for remote workers. Ensure video is on and explain why the coaching session should be everyone’s top priority
  • Get to know each other One of the biggest struggles managers of remote teams have is creating trust within the team. Understanding a little more about each other can be a great basis for trust
  • Make it last Remote coaching means shorter sessions and regular check ins. Using technology to facilitate learning in the flow of work means constant progression for a generation that values learning


Sources and a reading list

  • Peter Hawkins is Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School University of Reading UK and Chairman of Renewal Associates, Honorary President of both the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) and the Association of Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS).