Flex Work Doesn’t Have To Mean The End Of Mentorship: There’s no question that technology has made inroads in our workspaces over the last year. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, many workers in the U.S. worked remotely at least some of the time. In 2018 and 2019, there was a 78% increase in LinkedIn job postings that mentioned flexible work arrangements.

There are a lot of winners in the new remote work climate. Parents have more family-friendly employment options, organizations have access to a much larger talent pool and the environment gets a break from the overabundance of commuter car emissions.

While there seem to be more pros than cons to this business model, one group of workers may be missing out on something valuable if they opt out of sharing office space with co-workers. The next generation of workers will not have the same easy access to mentors that older workers have had. It is incumbent upon peers, managers, HR officers and especially C-suite executives to find creative ways to teach and connect with young professionals, even when we aren’t all in the same room.

Why Mentorship?

Smart mentorship programs are valuable to both the organization and the workers involved. The business gets a continual transfer of knowledge and skills, new workers gain confidence in their skills and seasoned professionals gain leadership experience, empathy, an active say in the company culture and acknowledgment from higher leadership.

Mentoring is up-close-and-personal leadership. It can mean the difference between molding individuals into vital pieces of the workforce you need and losing talented workers within their first year of employment. Mentoring programs can accelerate onboarding and training and also build strong relationships among co-workers.

Long-Distance Nurturing

If mentorship is so worthwhile, we can’t afford to let it fall by the wayside in the remote workforce that appears to be here to stay. Instead, businesses have to evolve new systems of mentoring that still reach new workers in meaningful ways.

The good news is, many of the tried-and-true principles of mentorship are still applicable through remote channels. It may take a bit of innovative stretching, but offering camaraderie and support is basically a universal concept.

A Good Foundation

The first step in mentoring others is establishing trust in your relationship. In a remote setting, this may take more than a single video call. Just as you would in person, ask questions, listen first and offer advice later. Put yourself in their shoes and pay attention to their perspective. If they ask for help, brainstorm ideas together and offer insights that make sense for them. Both the mentor and mentee can benefit from this type of shared connection.

A good foundation also comes from clear expectations. Mentors and new workers should talk about their availability and goals. This will be different for everyone — some new workers may feel overwhelmed by too much communication, while others will want consistent check-ins. When everyone knows what to expect and both parties understand the purpose of the program, it’s easier to maintain trust.

Keep It Casual

This might be the most challenging part of a virtual mentorship program. Screen burnout is real, and another series of formal video chats is likely the last thing up-and-coming workers need. Never fear — technology has evolved along with our work habits, and there are many ways to interact in a digital medium. Here are just a few of my favorites:

• Digital games like Jeopardy!, trivia, bingo, matching, puzzles and more are easy to set up and surprisingly fun.

• Many physical games are also easily adaptable. Try things like a scavenger hunt, Pictionary or traditional card games. Pick your favorites and have a game lunch to blow off steam and hear how work is going.

• Keep the video on. Not everyone will be comfortable (or able) to share their video feed during meetings, but if it’s an option, make the extra effort to turn your video on. Seeing each other’s facial expressions, body language and environment goes a long way to establishing a more authentic relationship.

• Have other open channels. A messenger service, text or video message are other ways co-workers can connect in a more casual way.

And of course, if geography allows and as vaccinations become universally available, in-person meetups may also be an option. Grabbing lunch or a drink after work are great ways for mentors and mentees to get to know each other when the stakes aren’t so high.

Bring Others In

Part of the value of mentoring relationships lies in making introductions. Mentors should not hesitate to invite like-minded peers to an informal video conference or include their protegees on an email chain if they have something to contribute.

Adding other co-workers to the conversation with mentors helps new recruits integrate with the office culture. The more comfortable they feel, the more likely they are to voice their opinions and add their unique solutions to the mix. This is good for everyone involved.

An interactive, engaging and effective activity is to use a video-based practice and coaching platform. This gives participants the opportunity to see how a coach models a behavior and then to respond and get feedback. You can then share the role-play videos with the team and learn from each other.

It turns out that remote mentoring really isn’t that different from in-person programs. With a modicum of extra effort, this time-tested way of supporting young talent in the workforce can continue. If showing a genuine interest in the next generation of company leaders means we can all enjoy the flexibility that remote work offers without missing out on the things that make the office great, we should all take on the challenge.


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