Today’s dramatic shift toward an increasingly remote workforce — due in major part to COVID-19 — has extraordinary implications for the leadership training and coaching industries. Gallup Panel data from early April 2020 shows that 62 percent of the U.S. workforce has been or currently is working from home (compared with just 39 percent prior to March). As our communities work to transition back to a new normal, most experts expect remote workforce numbers to remain high. As a result, there’s a need to change the ways people access leadership coaching and training.
Over the past three months, the increase in remote workers has exposed many underlying problems in traditional coaching and leadership training methods. Right now, companies can’t bring speakers into the office for events or workshops, and they can’t send their employees to training seminars. But the issues run deeper than that. Periodic one-and-done trainings and yearly seminars are often not effective because people often struggle to retain the information and skills they learned without regular reinforcement. Companies that are having employees work from home permanently (or support large groups of remote employees) will find it even more challenging to train and coach them.
In-person human coaching can be done remotely via videoconferencing, but it’s often too expensive and time-consuming to be a realistic option at scale for most companies. In practice, this service has been restricted to upper-level management and executives, even though all managers could benefit from it. These video conferencing sessions take up valuable time in days already packed with back-to-back video calls (“Zoom fatigue,” anyone?). And we already know that the No. 1 reason employees don’t engage in workplace learning is because they don’t have the time, according to LinkedIn Learning’s “2018 Workplace Learning Report.” The best types of coaching include regular and consistent “touches,” but unfortunately, most organizations can’t afford that approach. The reality is leadership training needs to evolve.
Digital coaching platforms may offer a solution — they’re lower cost, easier to scale, and most important right now, don’t require getting people in the same physical location. These platforms (more akin to People Analytics Technology) take in data from HR tools, feedback platforms, emails, instant messages (such as Microsoft Teams and Slack for Business) and calendar meeting invites and use it to find patterns and trends. Then they use all of this data to provide real-time analysis and feedback to managers to help them become more self-aware and improve their leadership skills.
This offers several improvements over in-person coaching. First, it requires zero input from the user to get started (because it’s all based on analyzing existing digital data). Second, by providing feedback in the flow of work (using Slack bots or emails for example), these tools reinforce lessons repeatedly over a long period of time to produce actual changes in behavior and improved self-awareness. Some platforms even use artificial intelligence and machine learning engines to measure a user’s digital behaviors, like how often they ask their team members for input and how many messages they send after hours. This kind of analysis can offer valuable insights, like what types of behaviors tend to correlate with more high-performing employees.
While many are rightly concerned about the privacy implications of HR training tools with access to so much personal data, there are HR tech platforms designed to be completely GDPR-compliant. By installing the software on a company’s servers, making it opt-in for the user, and not allowing the vendor or even the HR department to access user data, these platforms can be designed securely and privately.
Perhaps most important from a cost-benefit perspective, digital coaching platforms cost a fraction per user of what in-person training does and can scale up to support everyone who needs it. If implemented correctly, these platforms have the potential to provide all people leaders (especially those at multinational corporations with global teams) with cost-effective coaching (if they want it).
While the U.S. economy will eventually recover, this shift toward digital training and coaching platforms is gaining serious momentum. Research is already suggesting that we’ll be working fewer days per week in the office than in the past. In the short term, digital coaching platforms allow organizations to offer leaders and managers powerful tools for empowerment and support during this health crisis. In the long term, these platforms provide effective coaching that fits into existing workflows with low cost and scalability that democratizes leadership development. It’s time to consider evolving your leadership training.