Being remote or unable to engage your mentor or mentee in-person is no reason to halt your mentoring relationship. Whether your connection is always remote or you’re forced to engage virtually due to travel, health concerns, or otherwise, it’s crucial to keep mentoring consistent and productive.
A mentoring relationship can provide comfort and support to employees beyond the subjects of career development and networking. Mentoring and mentoring programs can serve as emotional and psychological comfort for long-term wellbeing—personally and professionally.
To keep current connections on track during uncertain times, here are some virtual mentoring tips for mentors and mentees as well as guidance for those running effective mentoring programs.
Best Practices for Virtual Mentors and MenteesMentors and mentees often need to be guided through their virtual mentoring relationships in order to build a more fruitful mentoring experience.
If you are moving to a virtual mentoring relationship for the first time or for an interim period, it’s a great time to establish or re-establish expectations for the relationship. Without being able to meet in person, you might decide it’s best to have a call once a week and an email exchange once or twice a week. Make sure both the mentor and mentee understand what each wants and expects. Find what works with both of your schedules, taking into consideration which tool of communication you’ll use and how much availability you’ll make for each other.
Be Open With Your Needs
Be transparent about what you need from your mentoring relationship. Make it clear what goals you have and what you are hoping to get out of the relationship. This will help shape conversations during meetings. Not every discussion has to be solely work-focused. If you’re feeling uneasy with how things are going at work or weighed upon by other matters (your mental health, physical health, or life outside of work) make sure to be open with your mentor or mentee about these issues. You can work through things together and determine which priorities you’ll cover in your meetings.
Be Accountable to Each Other
A mentor and mentee relationship revolves around trust. You’re often relying on each other to make the situation beneficial for both parties. If you said you would look into a certain situation for your mentor or mentee, do it. Follow up on tasks you assigned one another. Establish upcoming projects, steps, or actions for both of you before your next meeting and give updates on what you are both working on.
Tips for Running Virtual Mentoring ProgramsWhen physical distance is a reality for your mentoring program participants, it’s important for program owners to focus efforts on maintaining high engagement.
Check in Regularly
When participants are virtual or remote, program owners should check in regularly. Sending updates about the program will remind participants of their commitment to the program and help them feel more connected to what’s going on outside their personal mentoring connection. Emails and digital nudges are also a great way to remind mentors and mentees to engage with each other. With everything else going on in our worlds, it’s easy for participants to let their connections fall by the wayside. Prompt mentors and mentees to set that next meeting, reply to that lingering email, or make that forgotten phone call.
Remind Participants of Digital Connection Tools
It’s always good to remind participants of the various connection tools available within your mentoring program. Virtual distance can cause participants to feel they don’t have ways to engage. Reiterate the formats supported within your mentoring program—digital instant messengers like Slack, video conferencing through Zoom or Skype, or good old-fashioned telephone calls. Mentors and mentees can decide what tool each pair is comfortable using.
Provide Conversation Starters
While the theory of mentoring is simple enough, sometimes the process of mentoring someone is not always as intuitive as we would think. Give your mentors and mentees the resources they need to be productive within their mentoring relationships. This can be in the form of conversation starters for their next meeting, webinar training sessions—like Lean in Energy devised—or goal templates they can fill out together the next time they connect. By providing the right resources and prompts, you can help remove barriers for your participants.
Mentoring is about relationships—human-to-human connection. Mentors and mentees should put this empathetic perspective first. Whether you’re connecting in real life or virtually, remember to engage genuinely and intentionally to facilitate productive mentoring for your mentor, mentee, or organization.