Coaching was finding its feet on the digital stage long before COVID, but with the increase of remote working, this digital agenda has accelerated. It’s now becoming a more flexible and accessible option for many, but as a service that has traditionally been built on face-to-face, personal relationships, what will the emergence of digital and technological advances mean for coaching?
Here, I take a look at four of the most exciting digital developments that are changing the game in coaching and some predictions of how we think they’ll continue to evolve the state of play…
Digital and online coaching
There has been a dramatic growth in online coaching and it’s clear that it’s here to stay as a more affordable and accessible option. In essence, it follows the same process as in-person delivery and the most important determinant of its success is attributable to the quality of the relationship between coach and coachee. So far, research suggests that online relationships can have the same depth and level of connectedness as in person interactions so the result can be as impressive
My prediction: With this increase of accessibility and affordability, we’ll see more businesses, with all budgets, invest in and reap the benefits of coaching. In particular, I think we’ll see a rise withing SMEs and start-ups who will truly benefit from the strengthening of its people to drive growth.
Apps are making their way into the coaching landscape as an entry level option for many. A more affordable option, they typically use a bank of automated responses. Whilst you may argue that something is better than nothing, when it comes to coaching, the most important ingredients are active listening and powerful questions. Looking beyond what in individual is communicating verbally is where coaches provide real value. In their current state, these apps remain incomparable to real coaching.
Prediction: The robots can’t take over here, but they can be used to enhance what we do. Instead coaching apps could be used in between sessions or as defined pre-work to speed up the beginning of the coaching experience. The International Coaching Federation has backed the benefits of such additional touchpoints between coaching sessions so utilising app in this way could be a fantastic solution to support this.
Virtual reality is already being used in some companies for staff training especially in mechanical and technical roles. Whilst still in its infancy, it could offer some real utility into things like team coaching sessions. For example, you could use it to tackle confront different scenarios to enhance decision making under a range of different simulated circumstances.
My prediction: For this to be useful it needs to be incredibly specific and customised to the individual case and would therefore need huge upfront investments to build up software that would be specialised enough to be of any use. Given that a lot of coaches make use of simulation like chair work, role plays and actors are often brought in development programs to represent life like examples, it’s unlikely the technology is ready and accessible for it to be promptly and widely leveraged. The increased pressure of a VUCA environment would also mean that any software would also require regular tweaking and updates. All-in-all, the cost and practicality of this would be too much for it to work at a mainstream level at any point in the foreseeable future.
Wearable technology is very much part of everyday life with the likes of fitness trackers, smartwatches and even implantable devices. Where this becomes interesting in the coaching space is when wearable tech crosses into the world of neuroscience. For example, Liverpool Football Club has started to use neuroscientific database training which logs the brain activity and neurological responses of players to assess what can be done to offer players a competitive edge.
So, how does this translate into coaching?
There are now examples of companies using neuroscience to better understand their teams. For example, in some cases employees are wearing trackers to measure markers such as heart rate or cortisol levels to see the impact of working patterns on their stress responses and physiology. This use of personal data, when used in the right way, can open up more humanistic and individual centred approaches. When widening this to whole organisations, data trends can be used to identify and monitor issues or enhance organisations.
The World Economic Forum has advocated that in the fifth “industrial revolution humans and machines will dance together metaphorically”. There’s of course a fine ethical line to be walked here but it’s easy to understand the potential power this could have in supporting and developing individuals and organisations.
My prediction: This is an area that will continue to grow and become more sophisticated. Given the implications around data ownership and ethics, there will be caution about using it in coaching interventions at an organisational level and regulation will no doubt need to keep pace. This data offers incredible scope for individuals to develop deeper personal understanding and will help to bring to light below-surface issues.