In a recent conversation with a friend, we started pulling on this thread: what is missing from the mentorship experience now that many of us are fully remote?
A lot of us have learned by osmosis—picking up tips and techniques by watching our managers and mentors do their job. In a way, informal mentorship was happening constantly by way of observation alone.
For instance, I learned the most about negotiation by watching others negotiate. I learned a lot about how a consultancy was run just by having a desk near the senior leadership team. You get the idea.
Fast-forward to a much more virtual working world, and those opportunities to passively absorb knowledge are far fewer. Even the opportunities that come about through running into your mentor in the hall have now been reduced to scheduled Zoom calls.
How Has Virtual Mentoring Adapted?
Some of the replacements for this kind of learning or mentorship are obvious: you could join a professional community or a mastermind group or simply hire a coach. At The Digital Project Manager, we offer all three of those things, and it’s been very impactful for our members who are new to virtual working situations!
But there is also arguably some advantage to virtual mentoring from someone within your organization. It helps you align yourself to growth opportunities within your grasp while taking into account the nuances and politics specific to your organization.
The same is true from the other side: as a virtual mentor, you can retain and sculpt top talent if you’re creating the right kind of engagement and learning opportunities in a virtual context.
So whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, it may be time to revisit your virtual mentorship program. Yes, direct virtual mentoring sessions via video conference are still useful. But I would also challenge you to explore this question: "How can we replicate some of the ‘learning by witnessing’ aspect of mentorship in a virtual world?"
Without claiming to have all the answers, here are some virtual mentoring best practices and tactics to consider:
1. Create Deliberate Observation Experiences (And Normalize Them)
You probably can’t add an extra person to a confidential Microsoft Teams meeting, but when it’s not as sensitive, take the time to invite your mentee to the occasional virtual meeting or presentation. Introduce them so that it’s clear to attendees why they’re there.
2. Turn Meeting Notes Into Teachable Moments
If you can’t have your mentee or mentor attend a meeting, and you’re taking notes anyway, use those notes to provide coaching or to ask for advice. Specific scenarios generally make better teachable moments than broad and vague topics.
3. Increase Your Mentor Or Mentee Meeting Cadence
Virtual work can blur the boundaries between work and personal life. Sometimes the most valuable thing for a mentee is a moment to pause and reflect on the bigger picture. There may be some benefit to having these moments more often, even if they’re shorter!
Where To Go Next
Looking to get insights and perspectives from mentors or mentees on what is working for them and what is not?
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