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ATD Blog

Mentoring Diverse, Distributed, and Digital Workers

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

There’s no going back. The hybrid and humanized workplace is here to stay. As workplaces became more virtual and remote, the workforce increasingly relied on empathetic connections, supportive recognition, and inclusion. Times of struggle bring to the forefront the necessities and amenities people rely on most. During this challenging time, we’ve seen mentorship play a “pivotal role in safeguarding retention and building organization commitment.”

This is vital to note as organizations prepare for a looming war for talent. A recent Prudential survey found that “a quarter of workers plan on looking for a new job when the threat of the pandemic decreases.” Organizations can better support, engage, and retain their people by using mentoring in creative ways—from onboarding programs for new hires and mentoring circles for community support to flash mentoring for immediate questions and reverse mentoring for inclusive leadership development.

But to meet the evolving needs of businesses, mentoring must adapt to better serve this diverse, distributed, and digital workforce. Let’s explore how to invest in employee development that enables more meaningful connections and creates empathetic workplaces to support the present and future of work.

Mentoring for a Diverse Workforce

As the workforce continues to diversify in terms of race, gender, age, sexuality, neurodiversity, capability, socioeconomics, and beyond, the call for greater inclusion and advancement of employees that represent this diversity grows. When used accordingly, mentoring is a prime vehicle to elevate historically underrepresented employee groups. Mentorship and sponsorship are critical to employee retention, engagement, and satisfaction, especially for people of color and women, both of whom are more likely than their peers to report mentoring as important to their career development.

Mentoring, especially in formats like reverse mentoring and mentoring circles, can break down barriers and grant underrepresented employees access to networks and opportunities that might have been closed to them. Formal mentoring programs with the right structure and practices can build rapport and can create a more inclusive workplace culture in this new normal.


Mentoring for a Distributed Workforce

Employees are in the office, working from their living rooms, spaced out across locations, or some version of all the above. To serve this long-term or transient reality, mentoring must connect people across offices and across meeting preferences. Without the limitations of proximity, mentoring can connect people across an organization that may never have been able to meet and learn from each other before. It’s important that mentoring programs also consider the accessibility of a program, whether through providing multiple languages or accessibility standards that make mentoring available to all who want to participate. With this consideration in place, mentoring and its illustration of employee investment become easier to scale across an entire organization.

In addition, Marianna Tu and Michael Li’s article “What Great Mentorship Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace” states that “remote mentoring can promote equity and build relationships free from the biases we face in person, when we know another’s height, physical ability, or pregnancy status, to name a few examples.”

Virtual mentoring’s ability to cross the divides of the hybrid workplace enables connections to stay focused on the personal or professional topics chosen by the mentoring participants. This better connects people to the resources and skills they need in the time and manner they need them. And as research has shown, resources and access to advancement still matter in this post-pandemic world. Of the quarter of workers thinking of leaving their job, as mentioned in the Prudential survey, 80 percent are concerned about their career growth. Mentoring can help mitigate these concerns while improving employee connectivity and productivity.


Mentoring for a Digital Workforce

When in-person meetings aren’t an option due to social distancing or virtual work, organizations need to motivate global and remote employees to stay connected by using online mentoring programs with integrated communication tools. Just as technology has enabled more flexibility in our workplaces, schools and society at large—from video conferencing platforms (such as Zoom or Google Hangouts) to online collaboration tools (for example, Slack and Microsoft Teams)—virtual mentoring has enabled more flexibility in how mentors and mentees can get and stay connected.

By providing various meeting options in a mentoring program, participants can choose their preferred medium. In addition, formal mentoring programs should come with guidelines and options for communication. This can mean the ability to enable Zoom meetings through a mentoring platform or integrating a mentoring program with the designated organizational communication tool (such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat) so that participants can stay connected using the platforms they’re already using on a daily basis. Providing easy, accessible options for communication will keep employees engaged and satisfied in their mentoring experience.

Establishing or elevating a mentoring program in these ways offers HR leaders the ability to connect to the levers of retention, promotion, development, and productivity in a tangible and measurable way. At the same time, mentoring relationships can be valuable anchors for both mentors and mentees. Through sharing and problem solving, mentoring can help mentors and mentees develop approaches for dealing with unprecedented circumstances as well as provide advice, perspective, and support to the diverse, distributed, and digital workforce.

Want to learn more? Join me during the ATD 2021 International Conference & Exposition for the session How Mentoring Needs to Evolve for a Diverse, Distributed, and Digital Workforce.

About the Author

Seena Mortazavi is the CEO of Chronus, the leader in mentoring software. As a passionate executive focused on leveraging the power of mentoring, he works to drive engagement, retention, and development for some of the world’s largest organizations. Under Seena's leadership, Chronus has created impactful mentoring relationships for over 1.5 million users in more than 200 countries.

Prior to Chronus, Seena spent most of his career at the intersection of IT and financial services. He worked directly with CEOs and business owners to design, launch, and grow financial products across a network of institutions. In addition to a BA in Economics and Computer Science from the University of Western Ontario and an MA from the University of Toronto, Seena completed his MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

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