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Coaching in Virtual Reality (VR)

We've certainly all become pretty familiar with coaching over Teams/Zoom, but what might the future have in store?

You've guessed it... Coaching in either augmented or virtual reality! An opportunity for two (or more) people to feel like they're physically together, but without actually being in the same room.

I've been pretty curious about this over the last two years, not least because of how we've all needed to work over successive lock downs, and I've had the chance to work with a couple of my clients in VR. Yes, you guessed right, both worked in the tech sector and are natural early adopters, but what might coaching in AR/VR be like more broadly?

Armed with both curiosity and an Oculus Quest 2, I joined MetaCoach organised by two coaches Toby and Josh.

What platform did you use?

For the coaching sessions I've delivered in the past, I've used Spatial, but on this occasion we used MeetinVR. Technology is developing in this space so quickly and my experience with the more recently released app, MeetinVR, was great. Onboarding for this app is pretty quick and after five minutes, I was able to grasp most of the functionality.

Does being a cartoon character feel weird?

Sadly, the technology can't yet present us with realistic avatars (although that might be uncanny valley territory) so we have to settle with pre-designed avatars. There's a few to chose from, and I opted for the one which was the most like me - which only had a mild resemblance (as you'll see from the video below) but it was the best on offer!

Can you coach in the meta-verse?

In my view, yes you can. Whilst you can't see facial expressions, you can hear ever part of someone's voice clearly. There was definitely something about sitting in a big airy room on top of a mountain, or high up on a sky scraper looking out over a city that was incredibly immersive. It offered an expansive or serene environment which felt inspiring or relaxing. One of the additional advantages of working in the meta-verse is the fact that two people can stand next to each other, despite being miles apart, and work up things on a digital whiteboard with post-its or digital markers. This can simulate loads of activities that we might work with in the normal coaching world.

Even more exceptional is the ability to draw in 3D space. We utilised this facility to draw a huge timeline in the room to help navigate a path from current day to a specific goal. The timeline was then populated with barriers that might get in the way (drawn by the client) and all the steps that would enable the goal to be realised. Walking along a timeline that has actually been designed by a client in three dimensional space is again hugely immersive, and creates significant opportunity for both association and disassociation techniques in the coaching process. As a fun build, you can also grab pictures that you've drawn (like a barrier) and throw it to one side which makes the graphic disappear - hopefully a great metaphor for what the client might be able to do in the real world!

I love the idea that these rooms have permanence, meaning that you can rejoin a room a month later and all your post-its, whiteboard notes and 3D drawings will remain exactly where you left them. There aren't many offices that could make that possible!

What Didn't really work (Yet)?

As the technology stands at the moment, bringing in 3D objects or 2D pictures from an external source can make the environment glitch a little. Generally it still worked well, but a stable virtual room is as important as a stable zoom connection when delivering coaching. Technology blips can really interrupt the flow of someone's thinking. These little glitches however will be ironed out in no time as the app matures. There is also of course the temptation to over-engineer the session with everything that might be possible. My sense is that having an amazing environment, two people sitting together and the occasional use of a post-it/whiteboard/3D drawing is more than enough for one session. I'm still very up for experimenting though and seeing what else might be possible.

Where next?

Well, we're still very much in the experimentation phase. Coaches working with other coaches to explore the possible. Lots of collaboration and meeting apps are landing every month, so this space could start to become very interesting, very quickly.

Virtual Reality is already being used in the treatment of phobias, PTSD and anxiety disorders (Rothbaum et al., 2002; Parsons and Rizzo, 2008; Beidel et al., 2017) where specific environments or stimuli are generated in the virtual world, whilst the therapist sits next to the patient. As the technology has now improved to allow remote virtual collaboration, it is absolutely possible for two people to work together in a coaching session. All we might need is really intuitive apps and a shift from regarding a VR/AR headset as being something more than a gaming device.

If you're a curious coach who fancies joining in, you can sign up to keep track of the developments and learning here:

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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