Coaching in lockdown: Online vs virtual pt2

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay conclude their piece on how to make a success of online coaching.

Tips on running a successful virtual coaching session

Be conscious of time

Just as in face-to-face coaching sessions, it is important to start on time and keep to the allocated timing for the session. Many leaders today find themselves in back to back conference calls, so agreeing a time in the week to hold the session when the coachee will have some thinking space is also important.

Take a pause if necessary

Holding a two-hour coaching session online can be pretty intense, so contract up front whether you will take a pause half way through. Be prepared to reflect back as coach on the energy levels you notice during the session. Offering the coachee the chance to take a break or get a drink may be appropriate to restore momentum.

Look out for body language cues, levels of interaction and silence

Having a picture of the coachee directly in front of you throughout the session allows the coach to focus, not just on what is being said, but also how it is said. Be conscious as coach of body language, how the coachee is sitting, their levels of engagement and silences. 

Be conscious as coach of body language, how the coachee is sitting, their levels of engagement and silences. 

These cues can provide you with insights into what the coachee is thinking about the topic which you can use to reflect back and help generate self- awareness.

Use video-conferencing facilities to aid the session where appropriate

Most video conferencing facilities allow you to share your screen and use a whiteboard. This can be helpful if you want to discuss models or share information, however, make sure that you are familiar with their use and they don’t become a distraction. It may be easier to mail information during the session or afterwards rather than getting caught up in the technology.

Be clear on actions and follow up

As with all coaching, the coachee takes responsibility for their actions so do ensure that you leave a virtual coaching session with clear agreement from the coachee on next steps and commitments.


Online coaching in action

Global virtual coaching

A global company in the FMCG sector wanted to roll out 360-degree feedback followed by coaching to its leadership population worldwide. Having selected coaches who spoke a range of languages, the coaching programme was implemented via a series of virtual coaching sessions using Microsoft Teams. 

Each leader was offered three x two hour virtual coaching sessions over a period of three months to help them create and implement a plan of action based on the feedback. The results of the programme were very encouraging with leaders reporting that the coaching was timely, thought provoking and action orientated.

From face to face to online

A public sector organisation had commissioned a series of coaching sessions for their senior leader population. The series had begun in February before lockdown. Some coaching sessions had just begun, and others were scheduled in the diary when the pandemic broke. 

The coaching programme continued during and after lockdown by video conferencing. The organisation then asked each coachee to rate the coaching that they had received. Interestingly, there was no difference in the ratings of the coachees who had begun their sessions face-to-face and then turned to virtual coaching and the coachees who had received coaching solely on-line. 

The organisation concluded that the quality of the coaches was important: a good coach brings the same level of encouragement and challenge irrespective of the medium that they use.



Coaching online provides a flexible and individually tailored approach to development for managers and leaders in this period of uncertainty. To get the most from each online coaching session, consider using this checklist each time to help you set up and run a virtual coaching session.


Remote and online coaching checklist


In place

Needs work-notes

1. Consider the possible technology options



2. Prepare the setting and the mechanics



3. Make time for personal preparation



4. Guide the level of preparation for the coachee



5. Recognise how to deal with distractions



6. Clear your mind beforehand for maximum attentiveness



7. Assist your coachee also to concentrate and be receptive



8. Agree ground rules and expectations



9. Concentrate and pick up cues



10. Maintain energy levels



11. End the session clearly and positively




You can read part one of this piece here


About the author

Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cranfield School of Management’s Centre for Executive Development and Sarah Cook is managing director of The Stairway Consultancy. They can be contacted at and at


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