Remote work is here to stay. And with this shift comes the need for managers and leaders to master virtual mentorship. Many individuals incorrectly presume that physical proximity is essential in developmental relationships. But like work itself, mentoring is defined less by the medium in which it is accomplished than by the outcomes delivered. Commitment, trust, relationship quality, and mentor competence are the real ingredients of developmental growth, all of which can be applied to virtual mentorship.
To master virtual mentoring and build effective developmental relationships, managers and leaders can benefit from sharpening these skills:
- Build trust. Make the relationship a safe space for both parties and delivering on any promises you make.
- Clarify rules of engagement. Get on the same page about what each person expects out of the mentoring relationship, including deciding on the frequency of communication and preferred mediums.
- Be intentional when forming the relationship. Ask questions and discover shared values. The key is to get to know each other well enough that you can spot strengths and weaknesses.
- Build in structure. Remote mentoring relationships need more structure and communication than in-person relationships. You need to determine how often you’ll be in touch and through what formats. Keeping that cadence will help you ensure that you’re communicating regularly enough to have an impact.
- Balance authenticity with boundaries. In one sense, virtual mentoring may lend itself to greater task-oriented formality around mentor-mentee pairings, scheduling, and topics for discussion. However, with much virtual mentorship taking place inside our homes, there will be inevitable glimpses into the personal lives of both parties, including unscripted intrusions by partners, children, and pets. As relative power holders in the mentorship, mentors must strike a balance between keeping it real and undue familiarity or worse — becoming creepy.
- Collaborate whenever possible. In-office mentoring has traditionally afforded many opportunities for working together on projects. 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.
- Feedback and recognition. Creating systems for feedback and recognition can help strengthen both formal and informal mentoring relationships. It is helpful to create opportunities where employees and managers are encouraged to engage with each other and share feedback to improve their communication and recognize areas for improvements as well as what’s going well.
The role of the manager is getting harder, overall. Managers face new challenges and need to be clearer than ever about the definition of success in the job and what it takes to get there. Like new managerial skills for remote work, there are new skills for virtual mentoring. With intentional preparation and skill development, virtual mentoring can be quite effective. No matter the medium for your next virtual mentoring relationship, we hope that by developing these skills you will be well prepared for a high-impact virtual relationship.
For a deeper dive into remote mentoring, please check out this definitive guide.
Harvard Business Review (2022, March 22) Ellen A. Ensher, W. Brad Johnson, and David G. Smith: How to Mentor in a Remote Workplace
Fast Company (2017, June 15) Gwen Moran: How to Mentor a Remote Employee