Has Digital Coaching changed the industry for good?
In 2010, the majority of coaching was delivered through face-to-face sessions. Coaching was personal, expensive and often restricted to only the most senior managers in organisations. Since then, there’s been a gradual movement towards online coaching, as first Skype, and later Zoom, enabled these digital connections.
This movement was accelerated in 2020, with the pandemic, when many who had previously been reticent about online meetings, online learning and working from home, were not only forced into it, but also saw the advantages it offered: work and learning truly went digital (1).
Now, very few people have anxieties about the value of online communications. The evidence from research suggests there are no material differences between face-to-face and digital coaching (2) in terms of experience and outcomes. But what the flip has done is change the way coaching can be delivered, and how organisations now think about coaching.
What are the differences between digital coaching and in person methods?
In person coaching requires a coach (or group of coaches) for a single team, individual, or locality. Each coach has their own briefings and each their own contract. What’s more, the challenges of transportation and travel also mean that costs are significantly higher when it comes to face-to-face coaching. As a result, it can often be restricted to more senior positions within an organisation.
Digital coaching, however, has meant large pools of experienced coaches can be available around the clock to provide coaching, not just to one site but to multiple locations: coaching on demand, available in multiple languages, to all locations and all time zones. Digital coaching also allows for a whole lot more client data on engagement levels, coach ratings and assignment impact, available at the click of a button. This is coaching at scale and is a far more accessible method.
Changing the industry?
So how has digital coaching really changed the industry as a whole? Well, coaching has gone from an industry that’s dominated by small scale providers to a global industry, ready and able to serve enterprise organisations. Simultaneously, enterprise organisations have seized the opportunity to democratise coaching across their organisations; at first to support employees during the challenges of the Pandemic, but now wholeheartedly to drive organisational performance and support personal growth and development.
There is a wide acceptance now that coaching, like training, is a wise investment. Investing in developing the workforce, whether this is at a national level (where higher investment in people development is correlated with national GDP) or at a company level, makes not just for a better place to work, but for a workplace that does better in terms of productivity, performance and profitability.
It’s not surprising then that for companies like Coca-Cola, General Electric, Nestle and Microsoft, coaching is seen as an essential ingredient of their people strategy. What may be surprising is that while over 90% of global enterprises are using coaching, a tiny proportion have yet to leverage the power of coaching. While coaching is not the only tool for people development, it’s now a keyway in which growth can be seen in this area.
What does the future look like for the coaching industry?
The future of coaching is one where technology is at its heart. Digital coaching has become a convenient proposition for organisations to leverage and a convenient tool for employees to use, whether they are working from home or the office, whether they want to access via a mobile or a laptop, and whether they want to speak in English, French or Korean.
As we progress, we are likely to see a stronger integration of coaching in organisations now that it has become more accessible. Approaches such as Focus by EZRA, and Artificial Intelligence tools such as Cai will be key players in pushing this forward, while retaining the core of what coaching is all about: personalised support and a human-to-human conversation.
(1) Schermuly, C. (2022). New Work Utopia. Haufe Lexware Publishing
(2) Michalik, N. & Passmore, J. (2023). The impact of digital coaching. In J. Passmore, S. Diller, S. Isaacson & M. Brantl (eds.) The Digital & AI Coaches Handbook. Abingdon; Routledge.
Jonathan Passmore is SVP EZRA and Professor of coaching and behavioural change at Henley Business School, UK