When Virtual Coaching Works Well and When it Fails

When Virtual Coaching Works Well and When it Fails



By Corinne Williams, Senior Vice President, Organisation Solutions

Virtual coaching is so 2021. According to a 2021 International Coaching Federation Global Study, an overwhelming 83% of coaches reported that the proportion of their coaching done virtually had increased since the pandemic began.

As Head of our Global Coaching practice and an executive coach myself, this reflects my personal experience. We have coached leaders all around the world for many years—by phone, on teleconference platforms, via WhatsApp calls, and others. It has sometimes been by design, as the best coach for the job has been in a different physical location, or by default, for example as leaders move countries with a role change or promotion.

Now, 99% of our coaching has gone virtual, and many of our clients are asking if distance affects coaching success. Specifically, is virtual coaching less effective than face-to-face? Research shows that while the medium per se does not play a big role, there are other factors that affect how successful virtual coaching can be.

The quality of coaches and the relationships really matter. Therefore, if virtual coaching is implemented only to bring costs down, you especially need to understand the quality of the coaches involved. To choose a coach with the highest probability of helping you or your leaders make serious development progress, focus on the 2Cs of a good coaching relationship: Chemistry and Connection.


1) Chemistry
The rapport between the leader and coach sets the foundation for success. This doesn’t mean that they need to particularly like one another. In fact, many of the most effective relationships are between coaches and leaders who are very different from one another. Virtual coaching is less successful when the leader finds it difficult to build that trust virtually. This may be due to personal preference, cultural norms, or even the technology available.

If virtual is the only option for a leader with a face-to-face preference, enhance success by selecting a coach with high credibility. The leader needs to be confident that the coach is good at what they do and will add value to their development. For credibility, coaches must be competent and qualified. This should go without saying, but unfortunately there are still many coaches who are practicing without qualifications and with very limited expertise.

2) Connection
For business leaders, it helps if their coaches “get it.” Coaching is often more successful when the coach understands the context in which the leader is leading. This helps them understand the leader’s challenges, provide ideas, and target questions to help them grow their capabilities to meet their goals.

Therefore, while it seems a benefit of virtual coaching is tapping into a global pool of options, be careful choose a coach who understands the leader’s reality. This is particularly important if the leader is from a high context culture. For instance, in our team we have a Korean coach who is based in Germany and successfully coaches leaders in Korea virtually due to her deep understanding of that environment.

Another very different type of connection is the literal connection between coach and leader. Face-to-face communication is easy and clear, while with virtual coaching, technology plays a key role in success. Bad reception and Wi-Fi that cuts out are sure-fire ways to waste potential and value in coaching. Ask about the coach’s plan to manage technology glitches. Make sure they have clear backup plans to address any issues.


Whether coaching is virtual or face-to-face, we are passionate about combining our extensive business experience with science to deliver the very best business results for every one of the leaders we coach.

To find out more about our great coaches, and how we set coaching up for success, please Contact me.



Corinne Williams is Senior Vice President, Leader Services at Organisation Solutions. She has over 20 years’ experience in building leader and organisational capability. As part of her role, she leads the global coaching practice and provides coaching to global and top regional leaders. Prior to Organisation Solutions, Corinne held senior roles at Standard Chartered Bank and Shell in Europe and Asia. Contact Corinne




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