Remote mentoring: A different way to build a relationship
Article revised on 24 September 2020
Everyone agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to flatten the curve have shaken up how businesses function. Whether they were ready or not, many had to rapidly pivot to teleworking. For some businesses, this may become a permanent feature. That means that we need to rethink certain practices, such as mentoring. Is it possible to mentor remotely? Yes, provided you have the right tools. A well-designed program for remote mentoring can become the key to solving a number of organizational challenges.
Remote mentoring: Who can benefit?
Think about Luke, who was hired just a month ago, and has to learn to do his job remotely, without personal contact with the colleagues who are best suited to transfer the knowledge he needs. Or Aicha, who was recently promoted to a management role and must learn to supervise a team of 25 people under completely different circumstances. Or Justin, who needs to upgrade his skills on a data processing system. Or Marie, who is returning to her position after a maternity leave.
These are all situations where a boost from a mentor could help these individuals conquer challenges that can have an impact on the organization’s performance. Why? Because left to themselves, sooner or later each of these employees may end up feeling overwhelmed and disengaged, as well as be at risk of making errors due to a lack of knowledge or skills.
Partnerships benefiting the whole organization
A mentor shares precious knowledge. A mentoree becomes more confident and skilled. Partnerships formed in the framework of a mentoring program benefit the whole organization above and beyond the practical side of sharing knowledge. Remote mentoring also contributes to:
- Counteracting the feeling of isolation experienced by some employees who prefer working onsite with their colleagues.
- Retaining employees who had to be temporarily laid off but will be gladly recalled by the organization once things pick up.
- Cultivating the feeling of belonging within the organization and sustaining important human relationships on the job.
- Maintaining engagement by the troops.
- Preventing silos and strengthening collaboration and synergy, in spite of remote working conditions.
- Equipping employees whose tasks will be changed when things are back to normal since the organization will have pivoted to digital functioning in a big way.
- Supporting integration of new employees hired during or after the lockdown to replace employees who have moved on.
- Upgrading the overall performance of the organization by developing new skills and continuing to innovate.
- Sharpening the leadership and management skills of mentors.
Challenges specific to virtual mentoring and the keys to overcoming them
In spite of everyone’s good will, and even though there are numerous technological tools for mitigating the lack of face-to-face meetings, remote mentoring does have its challenges: It’s difficult to have chemistry between the mentor and the mentoree, there’s no follow-up between meetings, people can become detached during the online meetings or within the partnership, etc.
- Building an authentic relationship. If it’s possible to organize a face-to-face meeting first, that’s ideal. Otherwise, use video right from the start because it allows the two people to establish a connection. It allows each to see the body language of the other and is more like a face-to-face meeting. Some experts suggest overcoming the lack of visual cues by showing the room in which each person is located, to help give a better idea of the person to whom they are speaking. Does technology rub you the wrong way? Then a telephone conversation would be better than nothing.
- Demonstrate interest in the mentoree. The mentor would do well to take notes during the meeting and read them before the next meeting, to recall more easily the details of the conversation. It’s a good way to maintain the thread and demonstrate that the mentoree’s experiences and reality are seen as important.
- Maintain contact between meetings. This is particularly important for a remote partnership. Over time, mentors and mentorees may feel isolated and lose interest and motivation. Regular interaction can help maintain enthusiasm and sustain the relationship. Texting the person to find out what’s new, sending an interesting article by email and posting a message on the mentoree’s wall in social media are just a few ways to strengthen the ties.
- Be diligent about answering the mentoree’s questions. Respond promptly so that he or she can advance to the next stage and make progress rapidly. Doing so is also a good way to sustain motivation.
- Make a schedule for meetings or set a time at least one week in advance. This is essential for getting prepared, deciding what subjects to discuss, getting the necessary tools and documentation together, etc. It’s also a good method for preventing excuses such as “I’m too busy.” If the meeting does have to be rescheduled, it’s preferable if it can take place the same week. Ensure that both members of the partnership have access to an environment that is suitable for conversation and where they won’t be disturbed.
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