Updated: Dec 20, 2020
My switch to online three months ago seemed effortless. I love tech, I love to learn new ways of doing things, and I was already working with a lot of my further afield clients online anyway.
My 30 second commute to my office was a joy. All of a sudden, I had a lot more time each day to do things that I don't normally get the chance to do. I completed some brilliant courses online, gained further accreditations, read loads of books, and designed resources for my business to make things easier for when things returned to normal.
I have been working throughout the lockdown, so when one of my clients wanted to meet face-to-face I didn't think twice about it. I was excited to actually see a real life three-dimensional client again! As the day got closer however, I did start to realise that the session seemed a lot more significant.
We had the option of a walking based coaching session outside or, if the weather was bad, working together in a large, private, well ventilated room where we were able to maintain a minimum distance of being 2m apart. Agreements were made about not shaking hands in advance and I knew that I wouldn't be able to use the physical coaching tools I carry around in my work bag.
The morning arrived, I packed my hand gel and off I went. It was chucking it down, so meeting inside was the best option.
First surprise was... I haven't driven on a motorway for three months! In fact, I've hardly driven the car. I felt a buzz of nervous excitement as I started to hurtle down the motorway. 70 mph starts to feel very fast when you've only been walking and cycling for months.
Second surprise was, I got to our meeting place which would normally be busy and filled with people, but there was just one person in reception. Large, usually buzzing places which are empty are really quite eerie.
I met my client and we weaved through the building to our meeting space which was a huge room which would normally be filled with up to 200 people. We took up residence on some comfy sofas in the corner of the room near the floor to ceiling windows as we didn't know where the light switches were!
I was surprised by how self-conscious I was, and whilst the coaching session was a normal and productive conversation, us not being able to shake hands, being in a massive empty room and being an unusual distance from each other did make the experience very different. Did it affect the coaching experience? I hope not too much. It did however become a significantly more conscious exercise for me.
I share all this for two reasons:
Firstly, I am a social, confident and pretty chilled kind of chap and yet, getting back into the 'physical world' was noticeable. I've been working all of this time and expected my switch to face-to-face to be as easy as my switch to online. That's the challenge however... We're not switching back to what it was like before. There's all kinds of very unnatural things which are different. The weird empty offices and rooms. The distance between us. Not shaking hands. The conscious effort of doing the right thing. All of these things are small but cumulatively significant. I am sure we'll all get into the swing of it, but it did make me think of how hard it will be for those who have been furloughed. If I've not stopped working and found it weird, then I bet it's going to be exceptionally odd for people who have not been working for 3-6 months.
Secondly, I think sharing stuff like this is a nice thing to do. It gives me, other coaches and all of our clients the opportunity to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The experience is unusual. It will take time and it's okay to acknowledge that we're all adjusting. From my survey of about 20 coaches, I'm the first to have done a face-to-face session since lockdown started, so I figured it was worth sharing my experience!
My top tips for doing your first face-to-face meeting are:
Only do things which you're 100% comfortable with. If you're not ready to do face-to-face meetings, give yourself some more time. You'll know when it's right to ease yourself back in.
Don't expect it to feel totally normal. It's going to be different.
Have a really clear understanding about where you're going and how that fits with you. Will you be able to maintain an appropriate level of social distance for the environment? How many people will be there? Are you required to use a mask? Will you use the lift or stairs?
Agree in advance how you'll do things so you don't find yourself shunning an outstretched hand which wouldn't be the best start to a coaching (or any other professional) conversation.
Acknowledge with your client that the meeting is unusual, but both commit to working with that. Life is a big experiment.
Consciously appraise the experience after the meeting. Is there anything you'd do differently next time? Is it getting easier or more difficult?
Thanks for reading the blog. I hope that it's helpful for both coaches and clients, and I get to see more of you face to face soon!