Digital coaching and the (surprising) effectiveness of virtual platforms

May 19, 2021 - 26 min read

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What is digital coaching?

How does digital coaching work?

Why is digital coaching so relevant today?

Who is digital coaching for?

Benefits of digital coaching

Challenges of digital coaching

Nine things you should consider before starting a digital coaching program

Five successful people who use digital coaching

The future of coaching is digital

Picture your employees satisfied, committed, feeling good and performing better and better every day. It’s possible with the help of digital coaching.

"How," you ask? Digital coaching, often referred to as virtual coaching or mobile coaching, can help raise the bar for your organization, your culture, and your employees' performance and satisfaction. But first, let’s paint a picture.

Envision happy, healthy, motivated employees enthusiastically getting stuff done. Leaders inspire and guide rather than issue orders or instill fear.

Every team member is aware of their strengths and potential. They each work to become the best version of themselves to contribute to the company’s shared vision and achieve their own aspirations.

The whole process is tech-enabled. It’s so smart that it can identify what people need, when they need it, and help employees reach their full potential.

It might sound too good to be true, but this is already a reality for many companies.

Their secret is not magic — it’s digital coaching.

To help you understand the power of digital coaching, let’s first take a look at exactly what it is. We’ll then dive into how you can implement it at your company. 

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What is digital coaching?

Digital coaching is tech-enabled coaching that supports individuals — in both their personal and professional lives — to become the best version of themselves. Even though it is tech-enabled, you are still being coached by a live human!

A good digital coaching platform leverages AI and digital learning to deliver a transformational experience that helps participants to reach their full potential. The technology allows better precision-targeting of interventions to make it more effective and to reach more people than you could accomplish strictly in the analog world. 

Life is unpredictable, and the work environment is ever-changing. A digital coach can help you navigate the challenges thrown at you.

Digital and virtual coaching provides a safe space to discuss your goals and challenges. Some people find the slight distance helps them be even more honest. For most, the fidelity of the virtual experience is such that they connect with their coach and don't feel a loss of physical presence.

Not only does a coach in a digital coaching environment help you explore different parts of yourself, but they can also assist you in designing a personalized development plan.


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Traditional coaching vs. digital coaching

In traditional coaching, coaches meet clients face-to-face. This means clients are limited to coaches in their geographic area. 

But unlike face-to-face coaching, digital coaching brings you all the benefits of traditional coaching, but with a broader access to numerous coaches. 

Instead of being limited to coaches in specific geographic areas, you now have access to top coaches all over the world. This makes it easy to find an expert coach who can help you with your individual needs.

Digital coaching is data-driven and based on scientific research. For example, an online coaching platform can develop a targeted coaching strategy for a whole team. 

To do this, it identifies who is ready for coaching and in which areas. It’s lightyears more efficient than traditional coaching, which relies purely on human assessment.

How does digital coaching work?

When you choose the right platform, the potential of digital coaching for both employers and employees is limitless. 

Online coaching apps can connect you with a global network of coaches, across time zones and in dozens of languages.

This allows employees to choose from a wide range of coaches and specialties to find the perfect fit. Remember, finding the right coach and developing the right relationship is key to a successful coaching experience.

Some coaching platforms even have proprietary AI that can help companies identify the right people for coaching and their specific developmental needs. An algorithm then recommends the specific kind of coach, the type of coaching needed, and curated content. 

Done right, personalized coaching brings out the best in each individual. While goal-setting helps them get clear about their objectives.

Coaches carry out regular assessments of areas of growth to accelerate employee results.

Each employee also receives a curated content library. This contains practical strategies for growth developed by leading behavioral science researchers.

Digital coaching is practical and interactive. Clients receive homework assignments, reading texts, digital reminders, and accountability check-ins.

Through digital coaching, employees learn new skills and discover tools and resources. These help them meet new challenges as they move forward.

Specialist digital coaches help employees set their individual goals. They adapt the coaching program to the individual’s preferred learning style.

Coaches measure progress and empower employees to keep moving forward to achieve their goals. 

The coach can then use this data to adapt the program to both the employee and the organization.


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Why is digital coaching so relevant today?

Research shows that digital, face-to-face coaching is just as effective as in-person coaching since the most critical factor in the coaching program’s success is the relationship between coach and client. With a high-quality, credentialed, certified, dedicated coach — and a high-quality technology platform — there's no loss of efficacy in the experience of "digital."

The right coach will help you achieve your goals, whether you meet them in person or online.

Digital coaching is growing in popularity. According to Allied Market Research, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in demand for digital coaching

That’s why digital coaching is now the preferred method of coaching among young people and entrepreneurs.

Many businesses are also turning to digital coaching over traditional training programs. They understand that it has greater benefits for the individual and the organization.


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 Who is digital coaching for?

Everyone in your organization can benefit from digital coaching. Let’s take a look at how.

Junior staff 

Digital coaching platforms use AI to help managers spot individuals with potential. 

This allows them to plan strategic coaching programs that contribute to the goals of both the employee and the organization.

Middle management

Many organizations have realized the value of creating a company culture of coaching. 

By training middle management in coaching skills, they can help them maximize their team’s performance. 

Managers can teach their teammates problem-solving skills. They encourage employee development by guiding and asking questions rather than giving orders.

Executives and leaders

Organizations have long understood the importance of leadership coaching and executive coaching.

According to the Institute of Coaching, 70% of people who receive executive coaching report improved performance, relationships, and communication skills.

They also found 86% of companies report that leadership development coaching has a good return on investment.

Executive coaching reduces procrastination and helps leaders achieve their goals more quickly.


But it’s not just businesses that are waking up to the power of digital coaching. 

Many individuals are now signing up for personal coaching to help them excel in all areas of their lives — from health and relationships to work and career.

Hiring a coach can help you overcome challenges and achieve your goals. 

It can also help you develop new skills, such as problem-solving, and become more resilient during change.


Coaches need coaches, too. As the digital coaching market booms, professional coaches need to follow their own advice to stay ahead of competitors and on top of their game.

Benefits of digital coaching

Digital coaching has benefits for both employees and your organization. Let's take a look at four of the main ones for each.

Benefits for the individual

  1. Digital coaching fosters a growth mindset 

Having a growth mindset can lead to positive changes that help employees focus on their goals and achieve them.

A digital coach can help them clarify their priorities and values. They provide strategies and techniques that make employees more effective at problem-solving.

According to research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, people who maintain a growth mindset are more likely to tackle complex challenges.


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  1. Digital coaching encourages personal growth

Through digital coaching, employees learn to focus on factors within their control, such as:

  • Mindset
  • Relationships
  • Time management

Digital coaching is personalized, and employees actively participate in the process. This makes it more effective than traditional training programs.

  1. Digital coaching improves employee physical and mental health

Digital coaching gives employees access to a diverse range of expert coaches. They specialize not only in performance at work but also in areas such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Sleep 
  • Weight loss

Digital coaching platforms provide their clients with a content library. It’s full of practical strategies for improving their physical and mental health.

  1. Digital coaching increases adaptability in a changing environment

Digital coaching can increase employees' sense of ownership over their professional and personal lives. 

This makes them more resilient and inclined to embrace changes. It also motivates them to be the best versions of themselves for their own good and that of their team.

Benefits for the organization

  1. Digital coaching improves individual and team performance

BetterUp data shows that organizations benefit from a 31% improvement in team performance after implementing digital coaching. 

Group digital coaching sessions strengthen team cohesion and jump-start behavior changes. 

Regular assessments help employees understand their key areas of strength to develop. This helps them achieve more in less time.

  1. Digital coaching decreases burnout

The human element is at the core of digital coaching and makes employees feel fully supported. 

According to BetterUp, their clients found that employees who received personalized digital coaching experienced a 52% decrease in burnout

  1. Digital coaching helps retain top talent

BetterUp client Castlight says digital coaching has been a critical factor in retaining their top talent. 

Digital coaching gives managers feedback on their employees’ skills, attitudes, and weaknesses. This helps you get the most out of every team member.

  1. Digital coaching helps you monitor progress

Digital coaching platforms are data-driven and monitor the progress of the coaching program. 

They use real-time dashboards, reports, and statistics to measure the impact for both the business and the individual.

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Challenges of digital coaching

  1. Exciting but sudden changes

A digital coaching program often requires employees to make changes that take them out of their comfort zone. 

These changes are exciting but can also pose a challenge. Coaches work with companies and employees to help them overcome this time of transition.

  1. Lack of commitment

If management doesn’t take the digital coaching program seriously, neither will their employees. This, however, can also be true for in-person coaching.

Executives and managers must therefore approach this process with commitment and support. 

Digital coaching platforms involve managers in coaching, and as a result, they are more committed to their employees’ progress.

  1. Measuring outcomes

Some managers may hesitate to invest in coaching for their employees as they’re unsure how to measure the return on investment.

Relying on a professional digital coaching company may be the solution. 

They can provide insights about: 

  • How employees use their time on the platform
  • The content they engage with
  • The top practice areas
  • How they evaluate the digital coaching experience 

They also provide regular reports containing evidence about the impact of coaching on their employees. 

  1. Technical issues

Living in the digital age means relying on technology, which can sometimes fail for unforeseen reasons.

We can partially prevent this by using reliable connections, software, and devices.

Managers must ensure employees have all the equipment they need to minimize the risk of technical issues.


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Nine things you should consider before starting a digital coaching program

If you and your team members are ready to embark on a digital coaching experience, use the questions below to select the best coach for the job.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. What are my goals?

You will set goals as part of the coaching process. However, you should also think about what you want to achieve before starting a digital coaching program.

Ask yourself where you see yourself in one, five, or 10 years from now — and don’t be afraid to dream big!

Keeping these goals in mind will help you select the right digital coaching program for you.

  1. What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Digital coaching can help you work on your strengths to maximize your potential. 

Look for ways your strengths match your goals and aim to focus on the ones most likely to help you achieve them.

It’s also essential to be aware of your weaknesses and blind spots to address any gaps in your development.

  1. What kind of coach do I want?

Some people like a coach who’s tough on them, while others prefer a gentler approach. 

Think about what kind of relationship you want to have with your digital coach before you start interviewing.

Questions to ask your potential coach

Ask your potential coach the following questions to determine whether they are a good fit for you.

  1. Where did you train?

Coaching is still an unregulated sector, meaning pretty much anyone can call themselves a coach.

Look for a qualified coach who specializes in the area you need help with. 

For example, if you’re looking for a health coach, hire someone who’s been through a professional health coach training program.

  1. What do you look for in a client?

This question will give you a better idea of how the coach works, who they work with, and whether they have experience helping people similar to you.

  1. Why are you the right coach for me?

Every coach is unique, no matter where they trained or what credentials they have. 

Each one brings their personal experience and perspective to the mix. Look for someone who aligns with your worldview and values.

  1. Have you been in my shoes?

A coach who has had similar experiences can empathize with your situation and guide you to solutions.

  1. Can you share some of your relevant experiences with me?

Asking for examples of success stories with previous clients can give you a better idea of the coach’s approach and whether they can help you.

  1. Do you have your own coach?

The answer to this question will show you whether they walk the talk.


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Five successful people who use digital coaching

1. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google

Schmidt told Fortune he initially resisted the idea of hiring a coach

“My argument was: how could a coach advise me if I'm the best person in the world at this? But that's not what a coach does. The coach doesn't have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to be your best.” 

2. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

Gates is such a coaching convert that he gave a TED talk highlighting the benefits of coaching:


3. Oprah Winfrey, TV star

Winfrey attributes part of her astronomical success to the help of her life coach, Martha Beck.

She is a strong advocate of the benefits of coaching and regularly encourages her fans and followers to work with a life coach.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio, Hollywood actor

DiCaprio came a long way from his “Titanic” days to take home his first Oscar for Best Actor for his role in “The Revenant” in 2016.

DiCaprio has not spoken openly about coaching, but his work with world-renowned celebrity life coach Tony Robbins undoubtedly contributed to his success.

5. Serena Williams, star tennis player

Record-breaking tennis star Williams is also in Tony Robbins’ little black book of celebrity clients.

Her 23 grand slam singles titles — more than anyone else in the Open era — prove the power of combining talent and coaching.


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The future of coaching is digital

Digital coaching can make you, your employees, and your leaders healthier, happier, and more effective in your work.

It improves organizational efficiency. It also reduces costs associated with problems such as employee burnout

If you’re ready to embrace digital coaching and take your company into the future, discover how BetterUp’s expert coaches can help you.


Published May 19, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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