March 11, 2020, the day the World Health Organization announced a global pandemic, marked a new era for professional life as we knew it. In less than a month, local and state governments enacted shelter-in-place rules and social distancing guidelines, causing all non-essential businesses to shut their doors and begin working remotely from home. This abrupt and sudden change has been jarring for everyone involved. As Americans lean into a new way of living, organizations are reeling from the transition as well.
How can companies, businesses, and organizations pivot to survive in the era of coronavirus? Especially for workplaces that depend on collaboration and team building, the sudden switch to remote work can feel like the end of days. As we move into a “new normal” of working from home, the value of communication is more important than ever.
At Chronus, we’re dedicated to exploring ways to develop purposeful relationships with the help of technology. While devastating in its effects, the current crisis is an opportunity for organizations to explore the value of much-needed connections during this time of isolation. In today’s post, explore the benefits of virtual mentoring and how it can help your organization stay connected and engaged.
What is Virtual Mentoring?
Mentoring in a professional setting can be a formal or informal partnership where team members receive guidance and advice from an experienced professional in the organization, with a focus on open communication, growth, and development. Virtual mentoring is a strategy that helps organizations foster meaningful relationships and maintain personal connections, even while team members are working from home. In recognition of the basic need for human connection, a virtual mentorship program establishes deeper communication between mentors and mentees.
This strategy serves to support both mentors and mentees as it enables them to feel less isolated, while reaffirming their engagement with the organization. Resources like conversation starters, goal templates, and forums can give your mentors and mentees the structure and opportunity they need to engage in a conscious manner.
A virtual mentorship program serves to benefit not only the mentor and mentee but the organization as a whole. A Boston University study revealed that a majority of mentors involved in well-organized mentorship programs felt they got more out of the program than they expected, such as developing management skills and gaining valuable employee insights.
Further, mentorship programs can enable a strong engagement with and commitment to a company, helping to lower turnover rates in organizations. Hiring, training and onboarding can be arduous and costly while observing shelter-in-place measures. In this regard, a virtual mentorship program helps organizations not only save time and resources but also improve the integration of new and valuable employees by providing them with valuable networks and connections from day one.
Flexibility and Convenience
Virtual mentoring is especially beneficial for mentors and mentees when it comes to flexibility and convenience. With the help of technology, participants in a mentorship program can easily meet online at a time convenient for those involved. This is helpful for team members and employees who are taking care of family members, pets and responsibilities at home.
It’s no secret that parents are struggling to balance heavy workloads and at-home schooling for their families. With most daycare centers closed and babysitters in lockdown mode, employees will be grateful for the flexibility and support afforded by a virtual program.
Larger Pool of Mentors
The existence of a virtual mentorship program might, in fact, encourage more mentors to participate. Before the pandemic outbreak, mentors may have been reluctant to devote time and energy to mentoring. This is understandable since they likely handle a high level of responsibility at their respective organizations. The existence of a virtual mentorship program might, in fact, encourage more mentors to participate.
However, with the entire organization social distancing at home, potential mentors may find more time to engage with a mentee. The program provides an opportunity for both mentor and mentee to connect and for the mentor to learn more about the employee experience. The virtual space allows programs to invite more people to be involved, especially demographics and employee populations who might not choose to participate in a more traditional mentoring program.
Higher Number of Participants
With boundaries a non-issue, virtual mentoring allows participants to connect whenever, wherever. Mentors and mentees are not restricted to just those individuals in the cubes and offices usually around them. Mentees can connect to preferred mentors with desired skill sets whether they’re in New York, LA or Dubai. Employees are likely desiring more guidance and structure while working from home, currently substituting the interactions they became accustomed to at work.The nature of a virtual mentorship can open up new possibilities and offer fresh perspectives for the mentee.
Inspires Authentic Relationships
The most profound benefit of a virtual mentoring program is its ability to inspire authentic relationships between participants. A mentee can find it easier to communicate with openness and honesty in a remote setting rather than in the workplace. Secure in the comfort of their homes, the mentor and mentee may establish a feeling of mutual trust sooner than if the mentoring were occurring onsite. This necessary element of trust between the participants will lead the way to an authentic mentoring relationship.
Virtual Mentoring Solves Traditional Challenges
Many of the challenges presented by a traditional mentorship program are easily solved by transitioning to a virtual mentorship program.
- Communication Hurdles. A virtual mentorship program can improve communication between employees that work in different departments or different locations. For mentees who would normally be intimidated by an executive-level mentor, communicating via email, Skype or Zoom may render the communication more approachable.
- Connection Issues. Whereas a mentee may find it difficult to touch base with a mentor in the physical workplace setting, establishing a connection may be easier through virtual channels.
- Issues of Inclusion. Participants may feel excluded if they cannot find a mentor who understands their needs, experience, and background. A virtual mentorship program opens the field for mentees to seek an appropriate mentor in other office locations, even ones in other countries.
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Tips For Virtual Mentorship Programs
- Establish Expectations. A healthy way to start a virtual mentorship program is to establish expectations from the very start. The program administrator bears the responsibility to set forth the goals of the program and to make those goals clear to all participants. With this knowledge in hand, both mentors and mentees can embark on a focused developmental plan for the relationship.
- Show Initiative and Enthusiasm. Actions speak louder than words, so a virtual mentorship program that inspires proactivity is key for any organization hoping to see improvement. Consistent reminders and check-ins from the program administrator will remind participants of their commitment to the program and help them feel connected even outside of the mentorship relationship.
- Utilize Digital Tools. Harness the power of technology by emphasizing connection tools used by your organization (i.e., Slack, Zoom, or Skype). These tools serve to drive communications in a friendly and personable manner and ease the pain of isolation during a difficult time.
With social distancing rules extending into the indefinite future, organizations are called to challenge their traditional notions of what communication and connection mean to them. Shifting from face-to-face interaction to electronic communication may feel abrupt, but it’s a necessary transition. There is hope for your workplace to grow and flourish even in trying times if you can maintain a strong support system for your employees.
The current shelter-in-place rules present an opportunity for participants to participate in virtual mentoring since they may be seeking guidance and structure during the lockdown. A virtual mentorship program can keep participants engaged and connected while staying committed to the organization.
For those struggling with the multitude of changes the pandemic has wrought, a caring mentorship may be the most valuable asset your organization can provide in these uncertain times.