Virtual mentoring can be a vitally important means of human connection, growth and learning as the number of people working remotely rises due to COVID-19 disruption. Pollinate advisor Dr. Mary Fernandez shares her thoughts on the benefits and challenges of virtual mentoring, along with strategies for success:
Virtual mentoring is a flexible, effective alternative to in-person mentoring experiences
Virtual mentorships are becoming more common in our global workplace. While mentorship has traditionally taken place during face-to-face meetings between people working in proximity to one another, virtual mentorship provides the flexibility many people need today.
Virtual mentoring benefits
Virtual mentoring has many benefits. At the top of the list is the fact that we can communicate anytime and from any place in the world, giving us access to a larger pool of mentors within our global organizations or externally.
Virtual mentorship also allows us to select from a wide array of technology options to facilitate communications. On a weekly basis, a mentor and a mentee may communicate by phone or video chat. In addition, they may communicate asynchronously by email or text. Having that additional modality can be beneficial because it permits you time to reflect between your phone or video chat conversations to think about what you’re going to discuss next, or even to deepen the conversation.
One of the key things that we know from mentorship research is that when mentors and mentees communicate in multiple ways, it actually leads to a greater sense of engagement and connection.
Virtual mentoring challenges
Virtual mentoring also has some key challenges. Communication preferences vary from individual to individual. Some people may be more comfortable speaking over the phone or face-to-face versus taking part in a video chat. Others may prefer email because it gives them time to reflect and to think, while different personality types may enjoy the immediate response of chat or iMessenger because it gives them an immediate sense of engagement with their partner.
Unlike some mentoring relationships, where you see someone every day in the hallway at work or when you’re out getting coffee or tea, it can be easier to “disappear” during a virtual mentoring arrangement. Your mentorship can start to languish if you don’t have a strong plan around when you’re going to communicate.
Virtual mentoring strategies and tactics for success
Establishing a communication plan early in your mentorship is absolutely key to success.
- Start by discussing how you would like to communicate. This may require you to move outside of your comfort zone and to try a mode of communication that you typically might not use professionally.
- Discuss when you will communicate. Some mentors and mentees prefer to set a specific day and time in their week that is allocated to their mentorship relationship, while others prefer to keep things more fluid.
- Determine how much time you’re going to spend. A minimum of 15 to 20 minutes per week is recommended for best results. At the beginning of your mentorship, add your meetings to your calendar for the next few months to ensure you have time set aside for your partner.
- Establish clear boundaries for the mentoring relationship. For example, you may have blackout periods when a major project deadline is coming up. Perhaps there’s a family emergency or other reasons that you can’t meet your obligations to your partner. In such cases, it’s really important to let them know about that so they don’t feel that they’ve been abandoned. Effective communication helps ensure the success of the virtual mentoring relationship.
Learn more about Pollinate Mentoring Programs.