A year ago, colleagues in HR and talent management were asking each other how to coach in a fully remote environment. They wanted to maintain the coaching culture they had worked so hard to establish and create a sense of normalcy, connection, and productivity in the face of a crisis. Today, with 95 percent of companies moving to hybrid models, HR and talent managers are coming to us with a new, possibly more difficult question: how do we coach in a hybrid workplace?
Our conditions may be new, but from my perspective, the solution is not. My three recommendations for coaching in a hybrid workplace go back to the timeless, core elements of coaching.
Try to Be a Little More CaringThe idea of caring in the workplace has been around for ages. We used to call it respect. However, the challenges employees are dealing with are different. Two years ago, having a child on your lap in a Zoom call might have been taken as unprofessional. Today, it’s a necessity for some. Behind what you see as a leader is the frustration of a work-at-home parent trying to focus on one thing when they are forced to focus on many.
Another reason I feel being caring is the first step toward coaching in a hybrid workplace is because this work environment new and more challenging model to coach under.
Researchers, such as Brian Kropp at Gartner, claim that managing under a hybrid model is more difficult than doing it remotely because of the “unevenness” and “variability” for managers and teams. Others claim hybrid workplaces more easily fall victim to unfairness, bias, or imbalanced power, which can damage relationships, collaboration, and productivity.
For managers embarking on this “coaching in a hybrid workplace” journey, adding more care into the process could help them put themselves in their employees’ shoes, see and mitigate possible bias, and cultivate relationships amid inconsistency.
Try to Have More Candor in Your ConversationsCandor is another timeless element of coaching. Honesty and coaching go hand in hand. I’ve found that a coaching relationship is neither effective nor lasting without trust, and trust usually won’t exist without honesty. While some believe that it’s harder to develop trust in a virtual or hybrid model, I would argue that it’s not only possible but it’s vital.
According to a 2020 study by The Workforce Institute, 52 percent of employees said managers earn their trust by being dependable and 34 precent said their trust is earned by being honest. It was nearly the same ratio when coming from the manager’s perspective. Thirty-six percent look for honesty in employees, and forty-eight percent look for dependability. Whether virtual, hybrid, or in person, we can build trust in deed (dependability) and in word (honesty).
However, being candid in our conversations can go wrong quite quickly. When words are used as a weapon (or without care), the recipient may develop defensiveness, embarrassment, or anger. If you can speak candidly and carefully, the person should leave with a new perspective, feeling more enlightened; they’ll say something like “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
Especially in a hybrid model where our conversations span multiple platforms, we may always remember the point of being a little more candid as a coach on every platform. We don’t want the coachee to feel that “virtually, everything is always copesetic, but face-to-face is where I hear the real story.” We’re here to create awareness or give perspective to the coachee, and we want every conversation to be valuable.
In Everything You Do and Say, Ensure It Is ConstructiveSimply put, being constructive is “getting stuff done.” It’s being productive, effective, and useful. What is the point of coaching if it is not constructive? That’s why we can use this timeless principle to guide our choices as managers or leaders looking to build a positive and purposeful hybrid workplace.
On a small scale, asking ourselves, “Is this constructive?” or “How can I be more helpful with this problem?” before speaking with others is a simple way to start coaching more in a hybrid workplace. On a large scale, honing in on productivity can help alleviate some of the issues associated with remote and hybrid models, such as Zoom fatigue and maximizing in-person work time. Overall, using this coaching principle to guide our choices and mindset can be a crucial stepping stone toward cultivating a coaching-friendly hybrid workplace.
Recently, Gartner shared that 78 percent of HR leaders identified leaders’ mindsets as a greater challenge than their skill sets in driving the success of a hybrid workforce model. I recommend these three coaching principles as a starting point because of where they are rooted—in our mind. As leaders become more conscious of coaching—to be more caring, candid, and constructive—they will see a rise in coaching behaviors in themselves and throughout hybrid workplaces.