One of the great things about mentoring is the real, human connection that’s created by two or more people. It gets us back to a time before social media – before we considered a “like” a meaningful interaction with another person. Mentoring requires thoughtful conversations, brainstorming and generally diving in deep with someone else. Does that mean that online mentoring runs counter to forming an impactful mentoring relationship? Quite the contrary.
Just as technology has enabled more flexibility in our workplaces, schools and society at large—from video conferencing platforms (e.g., Zoom, Google Hangouts) to online collaboration tools (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams)—it has enabled more flexibility in how mentors and mentees can get and stay connected. It even opens up some new possibilities that aren’t feasible when keeping things strictly face-to-face. Think mentoring programs focused on connecting people across locations—nationally or internationally. This is only made possible via technology and an online mentoring program, unless you plan to rack up some serious travel costs.
Even for mentors and mentees who prefer to meet in person, there are times—illness, travel, a packed schedule—when the flexibility of technology ensures the relationship can continue even if an in-person meetup isn’t doable. Here are a few ways to leverage technology to enhance or enable your mentoring program.
Benefits of Online Mentoring Programs
There are a lot of specific benefits to virtual mentoring programs. Here are just a few:
When you don’t have to travel to a meeting place, it becomes a lot easier to fit in meetings amidst the rest of your busy your schedule. With virtual meetings, simply pick up the phone or grab your laptop and chat with your mentor wherever you are. This flexibility also allows for more people to participate in the program with fewer restraints on location or transportation for participation.
Large Recruitment Pools
Online mentoring allows for more participants in your mentoring program, which means there’s a bigger pool of people to match, increasing the chances for better matching and higher engagement. This also opens the program up to a larger field of knowledge and skills.
Improves Matching Criteria
Mentors and mentees are no longer restricted to the skills and knowledge of the people in the cubicles or offices next to them. With virtual mentorship programs, people have more access to a larger variety of participants from a variety of locations and backgrounds. This exposes people to new cultures and ideas, which can lead to greater diversity of thought, innovation and development within online mentorship programs.
Online Mentorship Challenges
While there are many benefits to online mentoring, it’s important to be aware of the challenges that come with a virtual program as well. One issue is communication, due to constraints of reading body language and facial expressions. This can lead to a lack of chemistry sometimes. Luckily, this can be overcome by providing mentors and mentees with access to a variety of communication tools and opportunities to utilize video whenever possible.
Varying time zones can be another challenge to overcome. Morning for a mentee while it’s evening for a mentor can sometimes lead to unproductive conversations. If this is the case for your program, be sure your participants are aware of these differences and plan accordingly, whether it be queuing questions ahead of time or finding a time that works optimally for both people.
The biggest challenge can come from technology. As we all know, technology doesn’t always work the way we’d like it to. Technology failures can become frustrating to online mentoring participants. Luckily, emails, direct messaging and phone calls can supplement video meetings when technology disruptions occur.
Here are a few other tips and tricks to ensure that your online mentoring program is successful.
Online Chat for Quick Check-Ins
Not every interaction between mentor and mentee requires a meeting. Updates can be provided or questions answered with a quick touch base. If using a mentoring platform (like Chronus), it’s great to do this messaging within the application, if available, so the mentors and mentees don’t have to remember what communication channel they were utilizing. This also allows the mentoring platform to remain a single source of information on the mentoring connection. There may even be integrations with popular messaging platforms so that mentors and mentees can utilize the messaging tools they’re already using for other things.
Reasons to Use Digital Chat
While most mentorship programs have scheduled meetings throughout the duration of the program, sometimes you may want to quickly check in with your mentor. Online chat or direct messaging can be a great tool when you have a quick question or need advice about a specific situation you’ve run into at work or school. Sometimes you may just need to hear some words of encouragement. When it comes to these types of situations, mentors and mentees can choose to chat through their online program, email, or text. Opt for tools like Slack, Microsoft Team, LinkedIn, email, or the chat options within your mentoring platform.
Video Conferencing for Virtual Meetings
If you can’t meet in person, for whatever reason, the next best option is a video conference. Soon, maybe we’ll even be utilizing virtual reality to “get in the same room.” So much communication is non-verbal—e.g., body language, facial expressions—so encouraging mentors and mentees to use video and keep the video feed on during a video conference will ensure they’re building strong connections and avoiding miscommunication.
Reasons to Use Video Conferencing
There is a lot of evidence that suggests real-time video conferencing yields equivalent outcomes to in-person mentoring. In a study conducted by Pub Med, 58% of study groups showed no difference in outcome between telementoring and on-site mentoring. By utilizing the latest technology and proper software, you can successfully recreate in-person meetings, making online video conferencing perfect for longer meetings and discussions that require a bit more focus and engagement.
Popular Online Video Tool Options
There are a lot of great online video options for online mentoring meetings and discussions. Zoom is a great video conferencing tool for one-to-one meetings or larger groups. Google Meet is another simple option available for free. If available, utilize the in-app video conferencing capabilities in your mentoring platform. If this is not an option, Skype and FaceTime are other great online video tools.
Mentoring App for Mobile Participants
Depending on the particular mentoring program, you may have mentors and mentees that have less access to a laptop compared to a smartphone, or simply prefer the latter. If you are using mentoring software, seek out one that includes a mobile mentoring app for flexibility to keep those mentoring relationships going—even when mentors and/or mentees are on the go.
Of course, the beauty is you don’t necessarily have to choose online mentoring over meeting in person, if the participants in your program are in close enough proximity. They can do a little bit of both, using both in-person meetings as well as technology to create a deeply human connection while meeting their professional or personal goals.
Online Mentorship Programs with Chronus
Chronus makes implementing an online mentoring program simple and easy. Our algorithm expertly matches mentors and mentees based on your specific guidelines and specifications, and then our platform tracks the success and progress of the program, allowing mentors and mentees to directly provide feedback on the program throughout its duration. This ensures each online meeting is engaging and informative and useful for everyone involved.
Find out how Chronus can help with virtual mentoring today.