Why coaching is exploding since COVID-19

Ben Brooks, founder and CEO of software-based employee-coaching product PILOT, uses the analogy of a beehive to describe coaching and career development: The employees are the bees and the hive is their organization–coaches are tasked with helping bees to figure out their place in the company.

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The pandemic, however, turned that analogy on its head: The hive is now distributed, and employees have to manage their own corners of the world, while learning how each fits into the overarching structure of the organization. It’s an unprecedented process that has made coaching and mentoring–now in a virtual setting–more essential than ever, Brooks says.

Ben Brooks

“They help people figure out boundaries,” says Brooks, whose PILOT won the start-up contest Pitchfest at the 2019 HR Technology Conference. “A lot of companies at first thought, ‘We’ll use Zoom and Teams and you just open up your laptop at your kitchen table and that’s your office now, and it’ll be fine.’ But then you have to figure out how to care of kids and how to foster innovation and keep people engaged through a screen and daily meetings.”

As employees grapple with those challenges, many have become like entrepreneurs–managing their environment, interruptions, time. It’s not a shift, Brooks says, that typically can happen overnight; as evidence, numerous studies have pointed to the burnout many employees are facing since the pandemic started, particularly working women.

Those challenges are opening the door for coaching.

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“Coaching can help people realize, ‘Wow, as much as I’ve been nervous to keep my job, I am performing and I do need time off.’ That’s where the role of coaching is different in this new work-from-home paradigm,” says Brooks, who is scheduled to participate in the Women in HR Technology Summit this fall. “When we were in the beehive, it was, ‘How do you succeed in the beehive?’ Now, it’s ‘How do you succeed out on your own?’ ”

As such, coaching is becoming seen as less of a remedy for a problem and more of a “virtuous process and experience that brings out the best in all of us,” Brooks says.

“People right now need to have something positive, something that focuses on them and is about the future.” – Ben Brooks

“When coaching is being given to people who aren’t necessarily problematic of have a particular area for development, it’s an investment that the company is making in their talent,” he adds.

That paradigm shift is helping the field of coaching to better fulfill its potential for advancing career development, Brooks says. The practice too often used to focus simply on the job–helping employees succeed in a current work assignment or project–whereas now it’s being looked to more as a way to enable workers to integrate more satisfaction into their job. Brooks views it as an opportunity to hold a “board meeting for your life.”

Read all of HRE’s coronavirus coverage here.

Brooks predicts a “big, big investment” in career development–through both coaching and mentoring–in the coming months. While unemployment rates are soaring, employers are still hungry for talent with particular skill sets and will be working hard as the pandemic subsides to retain those with the desired skills.

“Unlike the Great Recession and other times where L&D budgets have been slashed, I haven’t been seeing that here,” Brooks says. “I’m seeing companies that know that the world is a different place to be now–diversity, equity and inclusion are top of mind–and they know that employees need more to keep them engaged in a remote work environment.”

Before the pandemic, employers had been excited about the opportunity to get coaching to more employees through virtual channels, Brooks says, but many were risk-averse and taking it slow. Now, the potential of virtual coaching is being fully realized.

In the past few months, PILOT has seen record usage and adoption. Brooks says his own private coaching practice has also seen a sharp trend upward.

“People right now need to have something positive, something that focuses on them and is about the future,” he says.

Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.