What is virtual mentoring?
Virtual mentoring programs are a more structured way to connect mentors and mentees. In a remote-first workforce, it can be challenging to have the water cooler conversations that lead to informal mentorship or learning opportunities. As organizations move towards more remote workplaces, many do not want to lose the benefits that come with workplace mentoring programs.
The good news is that technology can help bridge the gap for mentors who are not able to meet face-to-face on a regular basis. This means that organizations can continue to build a robust mentoring program with a remote workforce.
What are the benefits of virtual mentoring to the organization?
Virtual mentoring can take on different challenges when an organization is dealing with remote employees. However, it is no less important. Virtual mentoring offers many benefits to an organization, including:
- Reduced turnover rate
- Higher employee engagement
- Enhanced skill development
- Professional and personal growth
- Succession planning
Whether your company is transitioning to a virtual workplace due to COVID-19 or if there is a long history as a remote organization, workplace mentoring can offer support and comfort to employees in addition to professional growth.
Putting the best practices into your virtual mentoring program can help you achieve more success and reap the benefits that come with a virtual mentoring program.
The pros and cons of virtual mentoring
Mentorships are often successful due to the connection the mentor and mentee develop over time. These connections can be made whether in-person or remotely. But they do have their own benefits and drawbacks.
When it comes to virtual mentoring, there are a number of advantages, such as
- Lower costs associated with the organization running the program.
- Improved access to qualified mentors across the globe.
- Fewer limitations in time, space, and location.
Although remote mentorship programs have their strengths there are still elements that make it harder for the connection between a mentor and a mentee to be made. These include:
- Less engagement because it’s virtual.
- Much of our communication is non-verbal which is hard to pick up on virtually.
- Informal conversations are harder to initiate because virtual conversations are expected to have an agenda.
How do you mentor someone virtually?
Mentoring from a distance can be a challenge but by equipping yourself to deal with the hurdles and working on staying connected, you can cultivate a successful mentorship. Some things to keep in mind with mentoring include:
It is important to stay connected regardless of the method you use. Whether you are able to organize a regular video call or need to rely on voice calls, develop a reliable schedule that allows you and your mentor/mentee to connect every week or every couple of weeks. This time can be used to track the mentee’s progress, discuss challenges they are facing or help them problem-solve.
Stay focused during meetings
Whether it is a video call, phone call or email, whenever you communicate with your mentor/mentee try to stay focused on the conversation. Reduce distractions and interruptions during the call. This can help you build trust and connection with one another.
Make a plan
Prior to your video or voice call, create a plan about what you and your mentor/mentee want to discuss. Consider it an agenda for the call. However, you should still stay flexible and be willing to talk about issues that were not on the agenda.
Whether you are a mentor or mentee, it helps to come to a meeting prepared. Write down some questions you want to ask your mentor. As a mentor, you may want to do some research so you can suggest ways that your mentee can reach their goals. For example, perhaps there was an online course that you heard about that will help your mentee further develop one of their skills or talents. Be sure to mention it and even get the course details for them.
Best Practices for Virtual Mentoring Programs
It is important to guide both mentors and mentees through the virtual mentoring experience. From setting some 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 or re-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.
It may take some time for a mentor or mentee to adjust. Having some clear expectations about how often they will communicate or meet, what format they will use to communicate, such as email, text messages, phone calls, or virtual meetings, and if there are any changes to availability is a great way to start a virtual mentorship.
Just as a face-to-face mentorship revolves around goal-setting, 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.
It is also helpful if a mentee understands what challenges they will need to overcome to accomplish their goals. This could be something from lack of experience or education or even a physical disability. Once those obstacles are identified, it is easier for the mentor and mentee to create a plan to overcome them.
Stress the importance of not missing meetings or neglecting messages. Both the mentor and mentee need to understand how the mentorship is mutually beneficial and be respectful of each other’s time and needs.
Boundaries are a key component of any relationship and the mentorship is no different. A mentor and mentee should establish clear guidelines that cover issues like communication, meetings, and conduct. Mentorship does not have to focus solely on professional issues.
If the mentee is having some personal challenges they should feel free to share them with their mentor. But it is important not to create a toxic environment for mentorship. This is where it is important to have boundaries as they can keep the mentorship on track and focused.
A connection can be challenging to cultivate when it comes to virtual workplaces. Mentors and mentees in virtual mentoring programs should try and be proactive when it comes to staying in touch.
Sending a quick message or email to check-in with one another is also a great way to build trust. Workplace mentoring program managers should also make a point of reach out to mentors and mentees to check-in. Keeping track of the progress of each mentorship can be trickier from a distance but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
As an organization, it is important to provide access to tech tools for those in a virtual workplace mentoring program. These tools can include email accounts, connectivity platforms like Slack or Trello, and even virtual meeting software like Zoom or GoToMeeting.
Mentoring software like Together can also be an important component of your remote mentoring program. With the capability to integrate with video tools your organization already uses, Together makes running a virtual workplace mentoring program more straightforward and helps program managers to stay organized and focused.
Virtual mentoring program managers have a variety of tools they can use 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. From an online form to an email, mentors and mentees should be invited to send their thoughts and comments in both during their mentorships as well as after.
A virtual mentoring program can be just as valuable as a traditional, in-person mentorship. In some cases, it can help create stability and comfort for employees during an unstable and confusing time such as a global pandemic.