Remote Mentoring Best Practices: How to Make It Work in a Virtual Workspace
The coronavirus pandemic changed our way of life and how we work. Social distancing regulations kept us apart and companies were forced to embrace remote work. While companies like Google have slowly started to reopen their offices, others are allowing employees to continue working from home for the time being. However, with more businesses adapting to remote work, we can safely assume that many will allow this setup permanently.
Even a year into working from home, it’s still not easy for some employees. Without the camaraderie of the office, people might struggle to find the motivation to work. They may feel lonely and isolated without in-person interactions and communication. This calls for companies to adopt effective mentorship programs for remote workers.
Remote mentoring is nothing new, and even before the digital age, people had been practicing it via letters and phones. Now, with advanced technology at our disposal, mentoring remote employees has become easier and convenient.
Why Mentor Employees?
A mentor, who is usually a senior professional in an organization, gives employees technical advice. They help their mentee fully understand their role, guiding them on career growth and development.
Mentors also provide ongoing feedback and support to mentees. They offer a different perspective of what’s going or help the latter overcome tough, work-related challenges. Mentorship has been found to have several positive effects in a work environment, such as:
- Improving employees' sense of belonging
- Improving employee engagement and personal development
- Developing more meaningful workplace relationships
- Improving morale, motivation, and productivity
- Exposing mentees to new opportunities, people, and resources
How to Foster Remote Mentorship Relationship
As noted, one role of a mentor is to provide psychosocial support to mentees and advise them on career development. It's this type of connection that cultivates a productive relationship in the workplace, especially during uncertain times like this. Now, how do you achieve this for distributed employees?
Being a mentor to a set of remote employees is different in many ways compared to meeting face to face. Virtual meetings might feel as though you’re not connecting with the person. Having said that, a good mentor will still:
- Possess good communication skills
- Be an experienced or knowledgeable professional willing to share
- Be a reliable problem solver
- Be available and ready to commit to assisting mentees
There’s no denying that mentoring remotely creates some unique challenges. However, it also presents an opportunity to think outside the box and become more creative in your delivery. In this post, we’ll go through some of the adjustments you need to make to effectively run remote mentorship programs.
Best Practices for Remote Mentors and Mentees
Re-Establish Expectations for Remote Mentoring Relationship
As a mentor, meeting your mentee face-to-face is always better. However, now that in-person meetings are not possible, you have to establish or re-establish expectations for the mentor-mentee relationship. Communication is of paramount importance here, and mentors should take the lead and initiate conversation.
Meanwhile, the mentee should take the first step in determining and prioritizing their goals. The mentoring partners should be open with their needs and define what they are hoping to get out of the relationship. Find out what works best with both your schedules, taking into account the tools of communication you’ll use.
Both the mentor and mentee should be on the same page on many aspects, e.g., communication channels. So, if your team uses Slack for collaboration and messaging, you can opt to use Skype or WhatsApp. Using a separate channel for mentoring will prevent your advice from getting lost in the general work noise.
Both Mentoring Partners Should Be Accountable to Each Other
Even before COVID, scheduling mentoring sessions for office workers was not easy. Now that your team is distributed across the country or globe, the process has become even more complicated. A successful remote mentoring relationship is built on trust. That’s why you and your mentee should be accountable to each other.
If you promised to look into something for your mentor or mentee, do it. If you say you will arrive on time for your remote mentoring meetings, do so. Additionally, be sure to follow up on tasks assigned to each other and share updates on action items.
One of the top challenges mentors face is staying committed, regardless of whether it's face-to-face or digital mentorship. A mentee may become less involved after a few sessions, probably because most of their questions have been answered. Moreover, they may feel they have reached a stage where they no longer require a mentor's help.
It's advisable to stay committed no matter the stage of the mentoring relationship. As a mentee, you may be surprised by the value you can provide your mentors. Mentors, too, have a lot to learn from your ventures, personal and career developments, or perspective of things.
We mentioned earlier that a mentor must possess good communication skills. It's not easy to become comfortable with someone when your relationship is solely online. However, to build a successful mentor-mentee relationship, you must be willing to share your struggles, pain, and failures.
Additionally, as a mentor, you need to be proactive and agree on how to communicate effectively. For example, you can decide to have a call once a week and an email exchange once or twice a week. Video calls are more effective in building a professional relationship because you’ll still get the communication cues you’d get from an in-person meeting.
Most importantly, you should be approachable. Learn to listen to your mentee and create space for personal conversations. Instead of jumping straight to your session, ask about your mentee’s wellbeing and have off-topic conversations for a few minutes. This will not only show you care about the mentee but will also help you find a common ground outside of work.
How to Make Remote Mentoring Work
Whether meetings are done in-person or remotely, it’s the mentor-mentee relationship that matters. Using the traditional mentoring approach may not work in a virtual world. At first, remote mentoring can seem a bit awkward, especially since both parties are getting to know each other. That doesn't mean you can't create an impactful remote mentorship program that works. Here are tips to make remote mentoring work:
Set the Stage
When mentors and mentees understand their expectations, goals, and objectives, it becomes easier to establish a framework for building a relationship. When setting the stage, factor in things like:
- Mentorship duration
- Remote mentoring meeting frequency, e.g., weekly or twice a month
- Goal setting to offer direction for the mentor and mentee
- Establishing clear communication channels and expectations
The goal is to create a framework that will keep both the mentors and mentees connected and committed.
Choose the Right Digital Tools for Mentorship
Using tech tools, such as communication and collaboration tools can help your mentoring participants be successful in their relationship. There are several tools you can use, depending on your industry.
Tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet are best for video conferencing on mobile devices or desktops. Cloud collaboration tools like Slack can help streamline your remote work experience.
A task management tool like Traqq ensures smooth workflow for distributed teams. It makes organizing and tracking weekly or monthly actions efficient. As a mentor, you need to understand the issues facing your mentee to proactively provide support. Since you can’t connect on a personal level, it might take some time for the mentee to open up.
Traqq lets you monitor the individual’s workload, activity, working hours, and overall performance. This visibility can reveal areas of weakness and strength. For example, you can pull up a monthly report of the remote worker’s activities and compare the data. If you notice a drop in performance in Week 2, you can raise the issue and find out if there’s anything you can do to help.
Traqq can also bring to your attention the various apps and websites that your mentee uses frequently. If you notice a lot of time spent on non-work-related websites or apps, you can help them overcome the distractions.
Support Your Mentoring Partner
Mentoring cuts both ways. You both need to find a path to move forward together. You may have to make compromises here and there. At the end of the day, it's all about pushing your mentees to be their best selves.
There are various ways you can support your mentoring partners. We highlight a few:
- Facilitate feedback and recognition – Sharing feedback improves communication and builds better relationships. As a mentor, ask for feedback to check if there’s anything you haven’t covered or something you could’ve done better. This is usually easier in writing. So, you can use feedback forms to get information from mentees. Keep it anonymous to encourage mentees to be candid in their feedback.
- Be understanding – Not everyone will be willing to share more personal aspects of their lives, especially without an in-person connection. It may take time, and you’ll need to be more understanding.
- Be an active listener—Set your own story aside and just listen without interrupting. Also, ask the right questions and prepare to write follow-ups.
- Check in more often than you think you should—Additionally, focus on your mentoring partner’s biggest needs at the time of the call.
- Come prepared—Make sure you're well versed with the software you're going to use, the time zones, topics of discussion, and scheduling.
- Create a support network—Your mentoring partner will benefit more if you help them widen the mentorship circle. By cultivating relationships with professionals from different industries and walks of life, the mentee will have access to a range of skill sets. They will also have access to multiple experts’ life experiences and areas of expertise. This can help them gain the clarity they need to pursue their careers. Ultimately, many mentors mean more empowerment, education, and knowledge.
Remote workers may feel uncertain about what the future of their careers holds, especially in challenging times like this. That’s where remote mentoring comes in. Mentorship programs provide support and comfort to employees who may otherwise be struggling with the isolation and loneliness of remote working.
By committing to mentorship programs, mentees can benefit from expert advice, new connections, and networks. On the other hand, mentors can also benefit from feedback from mentees, as well as the thoughts and experiences shared during their sessions.