Remote work

E-mentoring vs face-to-face: Embrace a mixed approach

As technology has changed, so has the way workplace mentoring programs operate. While mentorship has traditionally been built on a personal, face-to-face connection, tech has changed the way we communicate, connect and mentor. However, it raises the question, is the digital way better?

Saheed Hassan

June 24, 2022

Mentorship is the cornerstone of career growth and development. But with the ubiquity of technology and remote-first workplaces, organizations now have a choice between e-mentoring and face-to-face mentoring. 

So, which is the best approach?

While there are benefits to both approaches, there are also drawbacks. For organizations to get the most out of the mentorship, embracing a mixed approach that includes both e-mentoring and face-to-face mentoring is essential. 

In this blog post, we'll explore the benefits of e-mentoring and face-to-face mentorship and offer tips on how to embrace a mixed approach that works for you. So, read on to learn.

E-mentoring is here to stay

E-mentoring is a process whereby a more experienced individual provides guidance, advice, and support to a less experienced individual—virtually. Mentors and mentees use tools such as email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and social media to communicate.

The rise of remote work (40% of employers now offer some remote work compared to 22% in 2019) has made it easier for people to connect virtually, making remote mentorship easy. There is no need to be geographically close to each other to benefit from mentorship.

There are several advantages to e-mentoring, including:

  • reaching a larger number of potential mentors and mentees, 
  • the flexibility to communicate at times that suit both parties, and 
  • the lack of geographical barriers. 

More on these later.

Examples of online mentors

Connecting with a coworker over a virtual conference call: You can "meet" with your mentor for regular virtual coffee talks or brainstorming sessions, just as you would if they were in the next cubicle. With the increasing interest in remote work, companies found new ways to promote communication and collaboration.

Joining a mastermind group with online training and discussion: Mastermind groups are typically small groups of people who meet regularly to discuss a particular topic or challenge.

Joining a free networking community for your field and connecting with peers: These communities provide a space for people with similar interests to connect and share resources. These communities can be beneficial for finding mentors in your field, as they allow you to connect with more experienced individuals who can offer advice and guidance.

Benefits of connecting with mentors virtually

The following benefits of virtual mentoring have been found according to a research report, From Face‐to‐Face to e‐Mentoring: Does the "e" Add Any Value for Mentors?

  1. Easily managing mentee expectations/demands: In-person meetings require more time and effort to schedule than virtual ones, making it difficult to manage expectations. With virtual mentoring, both parties can easily work their schedules and only meet when convenient.
  2. Impartiality in virtual relationships: In face-to-face mentoring relationships, body language and cues can influence mentors and mentees. One study, in particular, revealed a mentor's status could undermine their authority in face-to-face mentoring. Michelle Ferguson, the author of Women Mentoring Women, sums it up well in her book saying, “I had a small round table in my office, my preferred meeting spot for small meetings. A round table doesn’t have a “head.” If someone is sitting behind a desk, they presumably have the power.”  In virtual mentoring relationships, the focus is on the quality of the interaction, not on superficial cues like where you sit at a table.
  3. Increased geographic access to potential mentors: E-mentoring allows mentors and protégés to connect across distances and timezones.
  4. Large numbers of participants: When mentoring virtual, there is no limit to the number of participants. This allows organizations to connect with many people, including those in distant locations.
  5. Cost-effective: Connecting with mentors online is often more cost-effective than meeting in person. You don't have to worry about travel expenses or taking time off work.

Face-to-face mentoring will never go out of style

Virtual mentoring is a great option for those who cannot meet in person, but it should never replace the importance of meeting in person. The personal connection of meeting in person is unlike any other.

Much is lost when we try to connect virtually. Non-verbal communication is a huge part of how we interact with others. 

Facial expressions and body language complete the conversational experience. It can sometimes be easier to understand what someone is saying. When we meet in person, we can also pick up on social cues that we would miss if we only communicated online.

Examples of when in-person mentoring works

Connecting with an executive at your company: Get insights and career advice from someone who's been in your shoes before and knows the corporate culture.

Meeting with an industry leader at an event such as a conference: Get great insights from experienced people in the industry and learn about their career paths, what they wished they had known when starting, or any other advice they may have.

Meeting up with a trusted colleague at a coffee shop: You've wanted to talk to someone about a work problem, but you don't want to burden your boss or go to HR. A trusted colleague can provide an objective perspective and help you brainstorm solutions.

The unique advantages of in-person mentoring

The benefits associated with this type of relationship are manifold. Below are just a few examples of the benefits that people experience in in-person mentoring: 

  1. In-person mentoring relationships offer opportunities for immediate feedback and real-time conversation. This can be especially helpful when working through difficult problems or new challenges.
  2. In-person interactions allow for the development of stronger bonds and deeper trust between mentor and mentee. These relationships are built on mutual respect and a shared commitment to each other's success.
  3. In-person mentoring provides opportunities for role modelling and observing successful professionals' behaviour first-hand. This can be an invaluable learning experience for those starting their careers.
  4. In-person mentoring can help build an individual's confidence and self-esteem. This is due to the personal attention and supportive nature of these relationships.
  5. Finally, in-person mentoring can lead to lasting professional relationships that can provide career advice and networking opportunities long into the future.

Which is better? Should you seek out a mentor virtually or in person?

In today's business world, a blended approach is best.

Having a mentor in person provides more opportunities for personal connection and bonding. You'll learn about their experiences first-hand and get personalized advice and feedback. 

Virtual mentoring connects people from different parts of the world. It allows WFH parents and those with disabilities to take advantage of a program that would otherwise be challenging to organize.

So, which is the best option for you? It depends on your goals and what kind of mentorship you want. Suppose you want to grow your network, and set up virtual one-off mentoring calls (speed mentoring). Additionally, and connect with professional groups. 

Alternatively, if you want to build a lasting relationship with a mentor that goes beyond just work goals, connect with a leader you look up to and invest in building that connection over time through coffee chats, walks, calls, and emails.

Start your E-mentoring program

The most important thing is to design a program that will work for your specific needs and goals. Mentoring software like Together helps businesses create remote mentoring programs tailored to their needs.

Once your program is up and running, promote it to potential participants. Let them know what your program offers and how they can benefit from participating. By getting the word out, you'll be more likely to attract quality participants who are committed.

E-mentoring best practices

There are many reasons why organizations need to implement E-mentoring best practices. First, it can help organizations develop a more comprehensive and effective mentoring program. Second, it can improve the quality of mentoring relationships.

Here are some ways to ensure you get the best out of your e-mentoring.

Have clear expectations

Before starting, discussing with your potential participants what they hope to gain from the experience is important. This helps ensure everyone is on the same page and can avoid misunderstandings later on. 

Set ground rules for communication, such as how often they should correspond and what communication method to use (email, Skype, etc.), to keep the mentorship running smoothly.

Establish clear goals

Trying to accomplish too much in a short time can lead to frustration on both sides. So, set realistic goals for the e-mentoring program. 

What do you hope to achieve through your e-mentoring program? 

Whether it is developing leadership skills, gaining experience in a certain field, or simply building confidence, having specific goals in mind will help you get the most out of the experience.

For example, if you hope to improve your mentee's writing skills, you might set a goal of receiving and giving feedback on one writing sample per week.

Develop guidelines for mentor and mentee

Getting the most e-mentoring relationship means developing a set of guidelines that both the mentor and mentee can follow. 

These could include:

  • Setting aside time each week for communication.
  • Sending written materials in advance of scheduled conversations.
  • Appropriate topics of discussion, maintaining confidentiality and respecting each other's time commitments.

The guidelines should be reviewed and updated regularly to remain relevant and helpful.

Decide what technology to use

Decide on a method of communication and stick with it. Email, Skype, and instant messaging are popular choices that work well. Both mentor and mentee must have access to the necessary technology and know-how to use it before getting started. You can also leverage mentoring software like the Together platform for smooth and effective use of mentoring tools.

Accountability

Ensure mentors and mentees are held accountable for their commitments. It helps to make sure that the program is meeting its goals. 

These could include setting a minimum number of communications per week or requiring mentor-mentee pairs to regularly check in with a supervisor.

Plan for regular check-ins

These can be done in person, over the phone, or via video conferencing. At these check-ins, both mentor and mentee should be honest about their feelings and what they think is going well or could be improved. These check-ins can also be used to set new goals or adjust existing ones.

Be Proactive

Encouraging Mentees to reach out with questions and concerns and promptly respond to those inquiries is key to keeping the program on track. Mentors should make the first move in scheduling meeting times and sending reminders. By being proactive, they ensure that mentoring sessions are productive and valuable for both parties.

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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.