2020 is the year of the remote coach. Here’s what that means for your wellness strategy

May 12, 2020 Catherine Conelly

While there were different schools of thought on the benefits of letting employees work remotely before COVID-19, pandemic waits for no one. Ready or not, those companies that were hesitant to loosen the grip on work-from-home policies had no choice but to make it work. And many are learning they absolutely can.

“Doubts about whether workforces can actually be collaborative and productive virtually are kind of being dispelled right now,” says Christine Sherry, vice president of client communications at EXOS. In one survey, 74% of chief financial officers said they expect at least 5% of their employees who previously worked in the office to become remote workers after the pandemic. Some even projected that up to 50% of their workforce will remain remote.

If you’re one of those companies preparing to make remote work a more permanent solution, remote coaching is going to be crucial in continuing to support and engage employees in your wellness services — keeping them healthy and your health care costs down.

Here’s what EXOS has learned about how to make remote coaching successful.

1. Technology is only as strong as the coaches behind it.

You need apps, virtual conferencing, and webinars to connect your remote employees to wellness services. However, the element of human connection is so important. “Technology is a tool used by the coach,” says Sherry. “Alone, it’s not enough to create real change.”

Denise Pagano is a senior director of account development at EXOS who’s been working closely with corporate clients in the U.S. to roll out EXOS’ remote coaching option. She points out that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to keep employees participating. They aren’t just hearing about remote classes in an email blast, and coaches aren’t just leading virtual workouts. They’re making calls to check in with employees while they’re working at home, hosting virtual coffee-with-a-coach sessions, and offering one-on-one consultations.

Taking those extra steps to touch base with employees helps minimize any barriers they have about how to use the technology or any hesitation they might feel about participating. It allows the coach to support employees’ progress in a much more personal way, guiding their next steps and providing accountability.

“Feedback has been fantastic and it centers around still being able to have that human connection with our coaches to address their needs in an informal setting,” says Pagano. Many employees have reached out to coaches saying they appreciate them checking in and thanking them for keeping in touch. Bottom line: When coaches are forming genuine, strong relationships, employees will be more likely to see the value in these services.

When coaches are forming genuine, strong relationships, employees will be more likely to see the value in these services.

2. Success depends on leadership and managers encouraging participation.

Again, it takes more than an email from human resources to engage remote workers in remote classes or other wellness offerings. Without reinforcements, it may get lost in the shuffle. As many newly remote workers are discovering, their hours may blend together, lacking a clear division of work and home.

According to NordVPN, which tracks when people sign in and out of its service, people are working three hours longer while at home during lockdown and shelter-in-place orders. So managers have to be direct and talk to their team about making time for exercise, mindset practices, family time, and self-care. It’s important for managers to be role models of the program and show employees that activities are a welcome part of the company culture.

Reach out to employees directly to let them know you’re going to be taking a class after lunch and hope that they will be, too. Send a chat, email, or mention it before a weekly meeting. Nudge them to sign off at a decent hour. You might even try chatting about a specific nighttime stretch session or yoga class that you tried. “It’s really important for leaders to communicate not only that they’re providing this service, but they actually encourage people to use it, even if that means a meeting with a coach comes during the workday,” says Sherry.

3. It has to be easy for employees to schedule wellness.

A few weeks ago, EXOS CEO Sarah Robb O’Hagan talked to LinkedIn Editors for their Business Unusual series about how to find balance while working at home. “The most important thing we can all do is make sure we make time and schedule our wellness,” she says. And giving users the ability to add a class directly to their calendar was an important feature when rolling out exosathome.com.

Folks are craving the support and guidance, we just need to make sure we communicate effectively and meet them where they’re at.

It’s one thing to include the livestreaming schedule in the company newsletter (also helpful), but when employees can click a link and put it on their calendar, they’re that much more likely to participate and reap the benefits. “Folks are craving the support and guidance, we just need to make sure we communicate effectively and meet them where they’re at,” says Pagano.

One employee at a Fortune 500 company in the financial industry where EXOS has rolled out remote coaching during COVID-19 calls this a “self” appointment. “These virtual classes force us to get up and stay away from our computer screen, even for just 40 minutes,” he says. “At the end of the day, these classes provide me with the same energy that I’m used to when we had the fitness center.”

4. Remote coaching isn’t just about fitness.

EXOS recently hosted an emotional eating webinar for a client that attracted more than 700 employees. The popularity could be chalked up to the fact that mental and physical health are deeply intertwined. How we move and fuel our bodies impacts how we feel, and how we feel impacts how we move and fuel. Strive to make your remote coaching options just as well-rounded.

“Right now, more than ever, a focus on resilience is incredibly important,” says Pagano. That’s why EXOS is offering our members access to resources such as advanced breathing practices and guides on how to get better sleep and improve immunity with food in addition to live workouts.

One employee talked about how much she appreciated the nutrition resources. She and her EXOS dietitian have kept in touch throughout the pandemic. “I’ve noticed the slight changes I’ve made are making a difference,” she said. “I’m really starting to feel healthy. For me, this has had a direct positive effect on my energy, focus, and productivity."

Ultimately, whether an employee is remote or in the office, their energy and productivity bring value to your organization. The question is: How can you help remote employees feel cared about in the same way as in-office employees? 2020 is teaching us that remote coaching has to be accessible and user friendly, part of the culture, and backed by empathetic staff members who understand that wellness is more than working out at a fitness center.

Like what you’re reading? Learn more about why exactly employee well-being is so important right now.

About the Author

Catherine Conelly

Catherine Conelly is a California-based health, fitness, and lifestyle writer.

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