Managing Smart: How to Coach in a Virtual Setting

Thursday, June 18, 2020

By Liz Suarez, Senior Director, Organizational Development and Human Resources, and Certified Professional Coach

In the past few months, our role as supervisors has changed from in-person to virtual due to COVID-19. Our responsibility to develop, engage and retain talent has not changed; however, the way to lead employees in this remote setting has forced us to rapidly evolve with events outside of our control. The leader’s coaching skills in a virtual setting somewhat differ from the skills previously relied on.

In January, we offered tips for managing performance. While these tips are still relevant, today we’ll focus on coaching for performance development in a virtual setting.

The term “development” has to do with providing opportunities, closing the skills gap and nurturing individuals’ strengths required to perform the job effectively. Coaching for development is not disciplinary in nature. It is a partnership between the supervisor and the individual.

Whether you are a seasoned supervisor or new in your role at Valencia, the fact is that coaching for development in a virtual setting feels different than face-to-face, but is it really that different?

Coaching for Performance Development

As a coach, the leader is a facilitator of growth who partners with individuals to help them reach peak performance. Coaching is an informal process in which the coach presents facts, asks questions and engages in open conversations geared to learn how to assist the employee in developing his or her performance.

The facts presented could be clear examples based on direct observations or relevant feedback received from other parties in the course of daily work interactions. Coaching may include conversations about job-related performance or potential career-derailing behaviors at the early onset.

During the conversation, the coach’s main goal is to come into the conversation fully centered and with a clear mind and willful intention to truly partner with the individual in developing the performance or to redirect a behavior.

So what changes in a virtual setting? It does not seem to be different, right? And yet, virtual presence is critical for the desired outcome.

As stated very eloquently by Erica Dhawan, founder and CEO of Cotential, a global organization that helps companies leaders, and managers leverage 21st-century collaboration skills and behaviors to improve performance, it is important to note that virtual presence causes us to create impressions. Thus, awareness of our virtual presence is critical to connect with individuals during a coaching conversation.

Below are some things to consider prior to the coaching session:

What are the facts to be presented?

  • Choice of words – A general script may help with choosing the most appropriate words to convey the developmental message.
  • Mode of delivery – In a virtual setting, there are more options for delivery. However, the preferred option is the one that connects the individuals “face to face.”
  • Time of day – Strategically choose a time without distractions. As employees work from home with families around often, this is a must to consider.
  • The written messages before and after the session – Ensure the employee knows the purpose of the session.

How do you build trust and collaboration during the coaching session?

  • Be generous with information – Under normal circumstances limited information causes confusion. In a virtual setting, clarity is a gift.
  • State your frame of mind – Where are you coming from? What are your emotions around the topic? What is being impacted that requires the conversation?
  • Slow down – Rushing to it creates more anxiety to you and the individual receiving the coaching.
  • Assume the best – Confirm that your interpretation is correct. If not, state so and communicate how this impacts the conversation clearly.
  • Say what you mean – What are you proud of? What is a challenge for you? How can you support the individual?

In conclusion, digital presence is of paramount importance in the unprecedented times we are experiencing nowadays and the main difference between in-person and virtual coaching. Therefore, be visibly present. Communicate directly and clearly. Be authentic and confident in your approach. And trust fully.


As always, members of the Organizational Development and Human Resources team (ODHR) are here to assist you as you work and lead the way in developing, engaging and retaining talent using different methodologies for such purposes. Contact us at or call the HR4U helpline at 407-299-5000, extension HR4U (4748).

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