To Skype or not to Skype

by Chris Calkin

26 January 2017


(Other platforms are available)

When selecting a coach or a mentor it is important that you get the best match to meet your needs. Whether this is the range of experience, similar career, skills and/or knowledge, organisation understanding or leadership, the one issue that should not influence your choice is geography. It is highly unlikely that the best match is going to be just around the corner and a bus ride away. This therefore often means that the right coach or mentor for you is at the other end of the country, or indeed in another country. One of our most experienced practitioners resides in France.

This can make meeting up face to face both expensive and time consuming. HFMA coaches and mentors are, I suspect, fairly unique in that we go to the client. My personal experience of being a coachee was that I went to the coach. The rationale being that it would be very expensive to pay the coaches time and travel. HFMA coaches and mentors travel on their own time and in my case I make full use of my Senior Rail Card and Bus Pass!

I have the privilege of coaching an individual who is at the other end of the country from me. This therefore created both a logistical and a cost problem. The solution was to see if we could make coaching via Skype work for both of us. Of the four coaching sessions we’ve had so far, two have been face to face and two via Skype.

Whilst embracing new technology personally, I felt that at least the first meeting should be face to face. You need to establish that rapport and to check each other out to see, on the one hand, does the coach believes they can help and, from the coachee perspective, have they selected the right individual who can support them effectively. Having had the first face to face, we agreed to give Skype a go. We opted for video rather than audio only.

The first session suffered from some technical problems (shorthand for the coach not knowing, sufficiently, how Skype worked!!). Making sure you have the right e-mail address is one key factor. Many NHS staff have multiple e-mails ­— a personal one, an NHS.net one and then an organisational one. However, once these problem were overcome both sessions worked well. One issue is that most NHS IT systems will not allow Skype. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage is that it means the coachee is away from the office and therefore not liable to be interrupted during the session. The disadvantage for the coachee is that this will normally mean being at home and this cannot be guaranteed to be free from interruptions either.  To reduce the impact of having to Skype from home, we scheduled the Skype sessions for first thing in the morning.

Why was the fourth session not via Skype? We took advantage of both being in London for the HFMA Annual Conference and found some time to have a coaching session.

My conclusion is that Skype works for a coaching session. My personal preference is for the first get to know you session to be face to face. However, I do not think that everybody would feel this to be the case. The sound and picture quality is excellent and enabled a good exchange and discussion. My advice would be to give it a try. Sort out the technology and contact details beforehand. Indeed I wish we had tested out Skype before the real thing just to make sure it all worked. However, if you are an experienced Skype user, this will not be an issue. One byproduct for me personally is that I have started to use Facetime to contact family members.

So do not let distance put you off selecting the right coach or mentor for you. Try it, I think you will be surprised with how effective working via Skype is.