Remote work is now accepted globally. A survey conducted by management consulting firm Gallup revealed that work from home and hybrid arrangements are already mainstays.
Professors Ellen Ensher, W. Brad Johnson, David Smith explains that despite these shifts in the workplace, mentoring has never been in a better place.
In an article on the Harvard Business Review website, they explain that commitment, trust, relationship quality, and mentor competence are the real ingredients of developmental growth, all of which can be applied to virtual mentorship.
They argue that virtual mentoring offers various benefits:
Research shows that virtual mentoring harnesses equality video-based conversations and collaborations minimize visual status cues, organizational status and physical stature. Participants in video-based mentoring are all reduced to boxes on a screen.
With virtual mentoring, geography and hindrances presented by shared spaces are removed, therefore, it offers more flexibility to the participants. Mentor and mentee can be residing in different continents but can still find the best schedule to work together. The option to record sessions also allows for reflection over past sessions.
Ensher, Johnson and Smith, however, acknowledge the potential obstacles that could be posted by virtual mentoring. Working online, mentors and mentees miss out on the opportunity for hallway interactions and informal drop-by chats.
It also may require more effort to establish trust and rapport in the relationship, since the full range of nonverbal cues and vocal nuance may be missing. As with many online collaborations, virtual mentorship can also suffer from email overwhelm and screen fatigue, which can cause the relationship to become more task-oriented and expediency-driven, rather than focused on relational support.
It will take effort to successfully unlock the mentioned benefits of online mentoring. The professors noted that there is little access to formal training and education on the art and science of successful virtual mentoring. As a start, they suggested sharpening five virtual mentoring strategies.
Any developmental relationship, establishing trust is one of the foundations. With virtual mentoring, foundational trust may require more effort and intentionality. Because of the physical distance, initiative to reach out, demonstrating commitment to meetings and showing genuine care, concern, and compassion about a mentee’s work and life situation entails more “going out of your way.” Actively listen, be curious, and avoid assumptions about a mentee’s aspirations or concerns. Talk about how to make the virtual relationship a safe space for both parties (this includes an agreement about confidentiality in terms of what will and will not be recorded or shared), and deliver on any promises you make. Your mentee can’t drop by your office to remind you about an introduction you’d promised to make, so earn their trust by following through without being prompted.
Set rules of engagement
Unlike the more informal nature of in-person meeting arrangements, virtual mentorship requires greater attention to setting expectations around communication logistics. Set boundaries around times for communication. Additionally, when you or your mentee are working remotely, be flexible around meeting schedules and attuned to the demands of caregiving, homeschooling, personal commitments, and other work-from-home realities.
Ensher, Johnson and Smith say doing research on building rapport and overcoming biases and assumptions in cross-cultural mentorships indicates that working to establish deep-level similarity is important. Be intentional about sharing and reflecting on your similarities, career goals, and relationship objectives to develop a strong working alliance. Thoughtful effort when developing the relationship and discovering shared values is the best way to mitigate implicit biases.
Traditional mentoring offers many opportunities for working together on projects such as research. Such collaboration can become a platform for teaching, coaching, and networking with your mentee. Don’t overlook the potential for collaboration in virtual relationships, as well.