Remote work

Best practices for virtual mentoring programs

Virtual mentoring isn't second-best to in-person mentoring. It has distinct advantages. We break down how to leverage those benefits and mitigate the downsides. This guide has all the best practices for virtual mentorship.

Matthew Reeves

June 28, 2022

Over 1300 New York Times staffers refused to return to the office and even threatened a strike if their organization forced them to do so. As more employees are demanding to work remotely, organizations face a lot of challenges.

Amidst all the challenges we want to hone in on one we’re seeing come up again and again among our customer that are adjusting to remote work: how do you launch mentorship programs when it’s virtual?

For some of these organizations, virtual mentorship is unfamiliar terrain. However, many global organizations have been doing it for years to connect dispersed teams.

Just as in any mentorship program, there are a few things program managers need to determine:

  • What does success look like?
  • What are the objectives of the program?
  • When the program concludes, what should the employees have gained? 

When you know your goals, we can help you sort out the best practices for virtual mentoring that will help you achieve them.

In this article, we'll explain everything you need to know about virtual mentoring, alongside its benefits and challenges. We'll go over the best practices for setting up a virtual mentoring program to help your company foster relationships and improve employee development.

Is virtual mentoring second to in-person mentoring relationships?

When it comes to the effectiveness of mentoring relationships, there is no clear consensus. Some experts believe that virtual mentoring can be just as successful as in-person mentoring, while others argue that the personal connection and face-to-face interactions of in-person mentoring are essential for building trust and developing a strong relationship.

A study by Marianna Tu and Michael Li revealed that virtual mentoring helps eliminate the bias that comes with in-person mentoring. Flexibility is also not always present during in-person mentoring. 

Further, the Department of Education at the Connecticut university believes virtual mentoring can be used to enhance student performance. 

Finally, over the past four years, we have seen hundreds of successful mentoring programs connected virtually via the Together platform. We list a few below:

  • Randstad ReloadYourStrengths program, which aims at developing employees' leadership skills. 
  • The Cooley Academy Mentoring Program helps young lawyers become competent for their new roles in the workplace.
  • New York Life's Empower Mentorship Program helps specific ERGs employees connect with executive leadership.
  • King Game diversity support in workplace mentoring program for females and non-binary employees

Virtual mentoring is not second to in-person mentoring. It is just how and where it takes place that is the difference.

Virtual mentoring In-person mentoring
Cost-effective Real-time conversations
Flexibility Ability to pick up on non-verbal body language
Increases efficiency Easier to have casual conversations and make small talk
A larger pool of mentors and mentees

What are the benefits of mentoring someone virtually?

In this section, we will explain the aforementioned benefits of virtual mentoring. 

Cost-effective 

Mentoring someone virtually reduces the cost of travelling to meet and other miscellaneous expenses. For instance, some companies provide an allowance for food or drink during mentorship meetings. However, this can be avoided during online meetings. 

Flexibility 

With the various available online work tools, it is easier for mentoring program participants to hold meetings at their convenience from anywhere in the world. There are no constraints to a specific day or time in the week, nor are they restricted to a particular meeting setting.

Increase efficiency

Virtual mentoring doesn’t require any invaluable commuting time. Instead, mentors and mentees can hope on a conference call wherever they are and start engaging with one another.

A larger pool of mentors and mentees

Virtual mentorship provides a larger pool of participants because of its flexibility. It allows people to connect with like-minded people and learn from one another without having to be in the same space., especially during group mentoring. 

Authentic relationship

One of the benefits of mentoring someone virtually is that it improves communication between employees and enables them to build authentic mentoring relationships. It helps them know one another better. A lot of people are more open in a remote setting. For example, for protegees who are always frightened to express themselves during in-person mentorship with their superiors, using an online mentoring platform will make them more comfortable and expressive. 

Can connect asychronously

Virtual mentoring provides people with multiple means for communicating and connecting. Besides, all the participants do not have to be online at the same time to take part in the program. It offers asynchronous communication channels, providing everyone with ample time to think through their questions and answers.

 

What are the challenges of mentoring someone virtually?

Virtual mentorship programs have their strengths. However, when you compare face-to-face and digital mentoring, a few elements in the latter make it harder to establish a connection. These include:

Virtual mentoring can be less engaging

As with any virtual communication, there can be a lack of engagement. It is hard to connect online, but there are ways to combat this challenge.

How to mitigate this challenge

  • Regularly check in with your mentee and get to know them on a personal level.
  • Make an effort to be engaged and interested in what they say.
  • Encourage participation by asking questions and soliciting feedback.
  • Focus on their interests and goals.
  • Create opportunities for social interaction outside of the mentoring sessions.

Lack of non-verbal communication

Much of our communication is non-verbal, which is hard to pick up on virtually. This is especially true when mentoring occurs over emails, chats, or even phone calls. A lot can get lost in translation.

How to mitigate this challenge

  • Try to have video calls.
  • Be clear and concise in your communication.

Technology issues

One of the challenges of mentoring someone virtually is making sure you have the right tools. If you company doesn’t have the right mentorship platform or conferencing tools, it can make it harder to connect.

How to mitigate this challenge

  • Make sure you use an effective mentoring platform to manage your relationship.
  • Schedule your sessions on the platform so they include customizable agendas.
  • Connect your calendar tools so you’re reminded of upcoming sessions.

Wrong pairing

Despite the strong matching algorithm that most mentoring platforms use, participants can still be wrongly paired for several reasons. The learning styles of the paired team may not match, or the connection is just not there. 

How to mitigate this challenge

  • Allow mentors and mentees to provide feedback on their match.
  • Promptly rematch participants when there isn’t a good fit.

Examples of virtual mentoring at work

You can have members in a mentoring group meet monthly to discuss challenges and learnings. Here, they can have formal and informal conversations, discuss and set goals, and help each other achieve these goals. 

Or, you could have a mentoring program specifically designed to uplift the women in your workforce. Here, women from diverse backgrounds meet virtually as an employee resource group and share common experiences and advice. 

You could also have one-on-one mentoring. For instance, an executive sets up conference calls monthly with a rising star in the company to discuss their career track, goals, barriers, habits, and more. Or, you may pair new and seasoned employees together to help the new ones with their onboarding process.

10 best practices for mentoring someone virtually 

Mentoring from a distance can seem daunting. But by preparing beforehand and equipping yourself to deal with potential hurdles, you can cultivate a successful mentorship. 

As a mentor, some things to keep in mind with virtual mentoring include:

Be prepared and make a plan

Before your video or voice call, create a plan about what you and your mentee will discuss. Write down some questions you want to ask your mentor or mentee. For instance, ask about career goals, what they want to get out of the program, and what issues they’d like to tackle. 

As a mentor, you may want to do some research to suggest ways that your mentee can reach their goals. It is also important to stay flexible and be willing to talk about issues that are not on the agenda. 

Consider setting SMART goals

Setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive (SMART) goals will ensure mentors and mentee have a clearly defined plan for the path ahead. Your mentoring activities and sessions can then revolve around these goals. It is also important to check in on these goals every few sessions; your mentee may have achieved a goal or would like to re-prioritize them.

Connect often 

It is essential to stay connected and remain accessible. Develop a reliable schedule that allows you and your mentee to connect on a regular, convenient frequency. Choose a method that works best for both of you, but try to be flexible. 

Stay focused during meetings

For virtual mentoring to succeed, both parties must be invested. So, it is essential to demonstrate your interest and commitment. Whether it is a video call, phone call, you convert video to mp4, or email, stay focused when communicating with your mentee. Practice active listening and reduce distractions or interruptions during the call. This can help you build trust and connection with one another. 

Be open-minded and flexible

As a mentor, you are required to impart knowledge and advice to your mentees. However, occasionally, you may learn something from them as well. When you open your mind to what mentees say – as with reverse mentoring – you may discover new and creative ways to close the generation gap or support DEI.

Give honest and actionable feedback

One of the most important aspects of being a mentor is providing advice and guidance to your mentee. And while some may be tempted to spout philosophical wisdom, honest feedback and actionable steps will help your mentees more.

Ask for feedback

With the spirit of learning and growing, ask for feedback on how you are doing as a mentor. How has your guidance helped them grow? Is your mentoring style effective? In what ways have they incorporated your feedback? Are you communicative, responsive, and reachable? And so on. 

Actionable feedback from your mentee not only ensures you do good by your mentee but also helps you succeed as a mentor.

Be respectful of each other's time

Since you and your mentee may be located in different time zones, be respectful of each other's time and make sure to schedule sessions at a convenient time. Also, try not to cancel or reschedule appointments frequently, as this can disrupt the flow of the mentorship. Lastly, end sessions on time so both parties can attend to their other commitments.

End on a positive note

No matter how the mentoring session went, it should always end on a positive note. Thank your mentee for their time and effort. Congratulate them on their successes (even small wins). And let them know that you are always available to talk. This will leave a lasting impression and motivate

Virtual mentoring activities

Your virtual mentorship program may be based on one-on-one meetings, peer interactions, or group meetings. Either way, your teams will need activities to add to their agenda or use as ice-breakers. Here are some virtual mentoring activities for the type of program you run:

One-on-one mentoring activities 

Since traditional one-on-one mentorship programs must focus on the mentee’s development, here are some activities that can help them grow:

  • Check-ins – Ask your mentee about a positive and negative experience of their week
  • Ask Questions – Ask great questions to ask mentees in the getting-to-know-you part.
  • Skill Development – Run a mini-workshop on a skill your mentee wants to learn or improve.
  • Career Mapping – Help your mentee map out the steps needed to get to their ultimate career goal.
  • Job Shadowing – Let your mentee shadow or accompany you as you complete a task.
  • Project-based Learning – Give your mentee the opportunity to work on a project they are curious about. 
  • Small Victories – Set achievable milestones and help your mentee celebrate small wins.
  • Current Events – Create a safe space to discuss current events within the industry or the state of the world.

Peer mentoring activities

If you choose to pair employees of similar rank or positions together, you may need some peer mentoring activities to help them get started:

  • Elevator Pitch Sessions – Help each other craft the right elevator pitch through feedback and revision.
  • Problem-Solving Sessions – Meet up regularly to brainstorm solutions to workplace challenges.
  • Knowledge-Sharing – Share skills and knowledge and help the other learn new skills.

Group activities 

Group mentorship programs help teams improve their relationship, cooperation, and teamwork. This is also a good space for feedback, knowledge-sharing, and community-building. Here are a few group mentoring activities:

  • Career Exploration – Help mentees explore different options available, such as job research and networking.
  • Team Building – Identify common goals and work towards them together through brainstorming and problem-solving.
  • Industry News – Keep the group up-to-date on current events related to their industry or position through articles, videos, and other material.

Planning a virtual mentoring program at work? 

If you're starting a remote mentorship program, it is important to guide both mentors and mentees through the virtual mentoring experience. From setting boundaries to managing expectations to increasing accountability, here are some ways to improve and enhance a virtual mentoring program:

Have clear expectations

Mentors and mentees should establish their expectations when starting a virtual mentorship. This is particularly important if the mentorship is transitioning from an in-person one to a virtual one. Discuss how often you will communicate or meet, what communication format to use, and availability. 

Set goals

As mentioned above, having goals is also a vital part of the virtual mentoring experience. Mentees should be transparent with their mentors about what they want to achieve during the mentorship. Help them identify what challenges they need to overcome and what milestones they want to reach. 

Then, the mentor and mentee can create a plan to accomplish these goals. It’s important to note that for the goals to be realized, there has to be an effective pairing. Together’s platform uses an algorithm that helps organizations pair their mentors and mentees based on aligned goals and skills.

Accountability

Stress the importance of not missing meetings or neglecting messages. The mentor and mentee need to understand how the mentorship is mutually beneficial and be respectful of each other's time and needs. In the end, with Together's reporting feature, you can measure the numbers of those who signups, complete their goals, whose pairing is effective, and much more.

Establish boundaries

Boundaries are a key component of any relationship, and mentorship is no different. A mentor and mentee should establish clear guidelines covering communication, meetings, and conduct. 

And since mentorship does not have to focus solely on professional issues, mentees should feel comfortable sharing personal challenges with their mentors. Boundaries can help keep the mentorship program on track and focused. 

Be proactive

A connection can be challenging to cultivate when it comes to remote-first workplaces. And keeping track of the progress of each mentorship can be trickier from a distance. 

So, mentors and mentees should try and be proactive regarding staying in touch. Send a quick message or email to check in with one another. Workplace mentoring program managers should also check in on mentors and mentees. 

Utilize technology and software

As an organization, you should provide access to technology and software for those in a virtual mentoring program to succeed. Mentoring software like Together can make it easy to manage your remote mentoring program. With the capability to integrate with video tools your organization already uses, Together makes running a virtual workplace mentoring program easy by bringing you everything you need in one place. 

Get feedback from participants

Virtual mentoring program managers have various tools to collect feedback from participants. This feedback can help improve the mentoring program and shed light on any challenges or issues that need to be solved. Mentors and mentees should be invited to share their thoughts and comments via an online form or email. 

Get started with Together’s virtual mentorship platform

Regardless of the style of mentoring program you currently have, there is always a way to add digital or more face-to-face elements to it. This can help cultivate the mentorship and add a new level of connection between the mentor and mentee. 

Together makes it easy to run a mentorship program for your remote-first workplace. You can build a program that works for your team’s needs. Within one online platform, you can assign pairs or groups, suggest agendas and activities, track mentorship, and collect feedback. Want to learn more? Contact us for a free demo today.

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Want incredible results from your mentorship program? Then download our comprehensive list of best practices.

We draw these best practices from the first-hand experience of program managers like you and our own expertise. This white paper is a comprehensive guide that will be your roadmap to building a world-class mentoring program.