Virtual Coaching

COVID-19 has forced many leaders and managers to transition to online coaching and development for some time now. Yet, coaching for development within organizations appeared as a trend in 2015 when companies like GE announced they were ditching the annual performance review in favor of more continuous feedback.

Now, five years later, coaching seems to be more than a trend. It seems to be the way organizations are leading and developing their people. Some significant shifts in today’s workforce have led to an increase in online coaching and development:

  • 30 percent of today’s managers are millennials, and this new generation of managers and leaders appear to be shifting the workplace.
  • According to a handful of studies, this millennial generation of managers expect their teams to continue to develop their skills and look toward online means to support their teams’ growth.
  • These millennial managers are also more oriented to giving regular feedback as opposed to annual performance reviews.
  • It is also estimated that by 2028, 73 percent of teams will have at least one remote member — which may be tied to the data point that 69 percent of millennial managers are open to their teams working remotely.

So, beyond responding to the conditions caused by the pandemic, there seems to be a need for leaders and managers to understand how to coach and develop their teams through online mediums. I earlier spent time with two certified coaches exploring best practices to coach and develop employees in online environments.

For starters, here’s a quick definition of coaching to ground our understanding of the topic: “Coaching is a thought-partnership in which the coach inspires one to maximize their personal and professional potential through a strategic and creative process,” (International Coach Federation).

More simply put, coaching is taking people from where they are to where they want to be. It is different than consulting, managing and therapy. Coaching focuses on enabling another person to take action to accomplish their goals. (For more on the differences between coaching and other topics like mentorship, read this article.)

Coaches embody a few key behaviors:

  • Listening. Coaches listen more than respond. They listen for what is unsaid in the conversation by paying attention to what’s implied by the person’s words, tone and body language. They name what they’re observing in a nonjudgmental way and are open to where the conversation takes them.
  • Humility. Coaches understand they do not have the answers and do not share advice in conversations. They approach conversations with a curiosity and willingness to learn from the other person, rather than a seat of expertise.
  • Trust. Coaches earn the right to coach someone by being reliable, credible and by building professional intimacy over time.

Leaders who wish to incorporate coaching in their management practices should do the following:

  1. Be upfront. Articulate your intention to have a coaching conversation. This can mitigate some of the awkwardness that your questions may pose and allow the other person to get in the right mindset for coaching.
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of the person. Make sure any feedback you offer is oriented to observations instead of more subjective assessments. Practically speaking, be sure to use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements.
  3. Start by asking for them to list their priorities. Sometimes, performance coaching conversations are about issues in alignment on goals. Asking the other person to share how they see their priorities not only increases their ownership but clarifies areas you may be in misalignment.

What does coaching look like in practice? Although coaching conversations vary, a few tried and true models can be used to guide coaches in having developmental conversations:

Objective-Reflective-Decisional-Interpretive (ORID):

The description of ORDI
The ORID model is made up of:
Objective questions: gather facts, data, numbers and statistics to set context.
Reflective questions: Elicit emotions and associations to surface personal reactions to the data.
Interpretative questions: Examine assumptions, values and implications to uncover deep meaning.
Decisional questions: Develop options and determine priorities to drive action,

Goal-Reality-Options-Will (GROW):

The illustration of GROW
G is for Goal: What would you like to achieve ?
R is for Reality: What is the current situation?
O is or Options: What can you do to achieve your goals?
W is for Will: What will you do?

And now to the question we haven’t yet discussed: Is coaching and developing employees different in online or in-person settings?

No – not at all. In fact, according to our panel, most coaches prefer phone- or online-only means of communication, as it allows them to focus intently on the other person’s words by eliminating other visual distractions.

What’s the takeaway here? If you’re a team lead, don’t let the shift to online work disrupt your focus on developing your people. Try out a coaching conversation using some of the strategies above. You and the person you’re coaching will be surprised at your outcomes!


Blum, A. (2019, December 18). Council Post: Want To Be A Great Leader? Be A Great Coach. Retrieved from 

Coaching for Professional Development - SHRM Online. (n.d.). 

Kerenzulli. (2019, March 6). 28% of millennials are managers now-here are 5 ways they're changing the office. 

Kruse, K. (2020, January 15). Top 5 Leadership Development Trends For 2020

McCleary, K. (2017, January 30). 5 Must-Knows About Millennial Managers. 

Third Annual "Future Workforce Report" Sheds Light on How Younger Generations are Reshaping the Future of Work. (2019, March 5). 


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.