For many of us, working from home has become the new normal. Coronavirus has turned our way of life upside down and is transforming the way we work. As a result of the acceleration of COVID-19, companies are striving to effectively engage and support millions of remote workers across America.
Maintaining a connection when we are socially distancing sounds like a paradox, but mentoring matters more than ever before. Remote mentoring delivers powerful and positive effects for displaced employees. Investing in mentoring can improve morale, performance and motivation. These benefits are even more tangible during this unprecedented period of anxiety and uncertainty.
Even before the introduction of social distancing and shelter at home requirements, remote working was on the rise. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of the labor force that works from home has tripled over the past 15 years. Based on this trend, it is more than likely that remote work will become even more of a standard practice after the pandemic passes—perhaps even the new normal.
With this in mind, here are four mentoring best practices that can help mentors and mentees cultivate a productive relationship while working remotely.
Manage Expectations for Your Remote Mentoring Relationship
Clear communication will help with managing expectations for your mentoring relationship. Mentors can take the lead in clearly defining their roles. Mentees can take the lead in determining and prioritizing their goals and needs. Working together, mentoring partners should determine how and when they will meet at the outset. In addition, take time to make sure you are both comfortable and familiar with the technology you will be using to connect.
Typically, mentors will provide guidance on the parameters for the relationship, but it is important for both of you to respect the investment you are making and to take action on what you agree to do. As we strive to maintain our professional commitments during this time of crisis, each person’s experience will be unique. When it comes to maintaining your mentoring relationship, embrace patience, flexibility and understanding as needed.
Adapt to Your New Work Environment
Many of us may have experienced working remotely, either from home or while traveling for business before the pandemic. Now, millions of employees are experiencing working from home for extended periods without the workstations, desks, phone equipment and IT support they usually rely on. In addition, working parents are likely to be sharing their workspace with homeschooling students or have little ones to care for. In other cases, people have pets to contend with, aging parents to look after or roving roommates they’re sharing their space with.
This adjustment may impact the frequency, timing and structure of your remote mentoring meetings. Mentoring partners should work together to determine what is best for existing schedules. If you are video conferencing, you are likely to be meeting within your mentor or mentee’s personal living space. Do your best to find a location that allows you to conduct your conversation privately. The same rules apply if you are connecting over the phone. Do your best to minimize the possibility of background noise or disruptions. Using headphones versus the speakers on your computer, laptop or device helps maintain privacy if there are other people working around you. Treat these meetings with the same confidentiality and courtesy as you would if you were meeting in person.
Create a Backup Plan for Tech Issues
Where possible, have a backup plan in place if you run into technical difficulties. With so many people working remotely, internet connections can become strained and phone reception can fail. Work with your mentoring partner in advance to determine what you will use if the go-to platform for your virtual mentoring session fails.
As a career coach and mentor who provides one-to-one coaching over video, I have on occasions had to revert quickly to my backup plan. If my video connection starts to lag on my laptop, I use my phone for audio. In addition, I always keep cell phone numbers handy, just in case conference call connections go sideways. There are many forms of connection available today. Be creative and intentional with your connection tools of choice.
Maintain Connection, Trust and Confidentiality
We often associate relationship building with spending time with one another in person. If you are mentoring virtually, you can still forge a long-lasting connection. Sometimes, starting a conversation with someone you are still getting to know is challenging. I’ve found using an icebreaker as a conversation starter can be a great way to start a virtual meeting. Some questions you can steal include:
- What are you working on today?
- What was the highlight of your week so far?
- What has been the most unexpected aspect of working remotely?
- If you could learn one new skill this year, what would it be?
- If you could get lunch delivered every day from any restaurant, which one would it be?
- If you had a talk show, who would your first three guests be?
After the ice is broken, a great way to build trust is to honor the commitments you make. Be accountable to one another. Do what you say you will do, whether that’s arriving on time for your virtual meeting or sharing an update on an action item.
Be approachable. Listening to each other’s perspectives will help create a safe space for deeper conversations. Be honest. Don’t shy away from sharing failures as well as successes, as both provide valuable insights and learning experiences. Be appreciative. Value the time you are investing in your mentoring partnership and remember to celebrate achievements, large and small.
Remote mentoring provides a valuable resource for mentors and mentees. It presents the opportunity to further develop and finetune your communication skills, ignite new ideas and share diverse experiences. As a mentee, you are helping to extend your mentor’s network in the same way they are helping to extend yours. By working together you will accomplish goals that matter.
During a crisis, a mentoring relationship can be a valuable anchor for both participants. Through sharing and problem solving, mentoring can develop approaches for dealing with unprecedented circumstances, as well as provide advice, perspective and support. Mentors will benefit just as much as their mentees from the power of a virtual connection.