Virtual mentoring is becoming more commonplace in our ever-changing modern world. But is it really the same? And how can businesses make it work?
The good answer, is that virtual mentoring can be even more effective than face to face mentoring under certain circumstances. With the ease of mentoring software platforms and the majority of the population now adjusted to video calling, virtual mentoring is more than just a temporary alternative.
What is Virtual Mentoring?
Virtual mentoring is when a mentoring session takes place not in person, but over a phone or video call.
During the global pandemic Covid-19, video calls, meetings, and training have become the only option, and so there's no reason mentoring shouldn't be the same. Mentoring is a highly effective way of supporting remote teams in this time, creating community and tackling stress and isolation.
Virtual mentoring can be just as impactful, as long as it's well planned, managed, and both the mentor and mentee are on the same page.
Benefits of Virtual Mentoring
In the workplace, mentoring is a great way to build a learning culture and share knowledge, and the benefits of mentoring are well proven. Now, not only is virtual mentoring a good alternative from face to face mentoring while more people work from home, but it also has many benefits of its own:
Unrestricted by location
The beauty of virtual mentoring is that location is no longer a factor. In many formal workplace mentoring programs, mentors and mentees are likely to be in the same office or city, so they can meet in person. However, with many offices still closed and remote working becoming more popular, virtual mentoring offers more opportunity for relationships to form that never would have in an office.
Due to the flexibility that virtual mentoring offers, individuals can easily have multiple mentors. There's less admin involved than if they were on a formal mentoring program in their office, or if they were reaching out to meet people in their network.
Let's face it, jumping on a call for 30 minutes from home is far more time effective than meeting a mentor for coffee in the working day. Virtual mentoring sessions can happen from anywhere, and so are easier to schedule.
Less social and behavioural pressure
For whatever reason – be it nerves, anxiety, or low self-esteem – meeting face to face with a mentor or mentee can be difficult for some. The removal of social pressure means virtual mentoring can actually be a far more comfortable alternative, allowing people to focus on what's being said rather than on things like body language and eye contact.
Diversity and Inclusion
Due to all of the reasons detailed above, virtual mentoring can effectively support with diversity and inclusion initiatives in organisations. This is due to the fact that more people can be involved with the program, as capacity and location are no longer factors. And particularly more people from diverse locations and backgrounds.
Quick set up
Unlike large mentoring programs within organisations, which usually require vast spreadsheets and big meetings, virtual mentoring is much quicker to get up and running. But more on that in the next section...
How to Run Virtual Mentoring in the Workplace
Starting a mentoring program in your organisation can take a lot of time. Program managers must generate enough interest, match mentors with mentees, check in on progress, and try to somehow measure success.
The difficulty with many mentoring program is that they are hard to track, and relationships can tail off without the right support. This is why it's best to use a mentoring software, such as Guider, to manage your program. Mentors and mentees are matched using an AI algorithm (removing subconscious bias), all mentoring activity is tracked, and everything is easily managed in one place.
We talk more about this in our guide: How To Start A Mentoring Program.
Starting a virtual mentoring program comes with its own challenges: it's more difficult to get participants on board without the office environment. The program can't be promoted on posters around the offices or during 'water cooler' chat, but relies solely on digital promotion.
Step 1. Program managers should set a promotion strategy before launching, deciding where and how they will get the word out. Newsletter campaigns, internal meetings and events are all good places to start. It's also valuable to get a well-respected stakeholder on board who can promote the virtual mentoring program and act as an ambassador.
Step 2. For virtual mentoring programs, mentoring software is almost essential. Participants can join the platform, make a profile and meet their new mentor, with no assistance or additional work from the program manager. Check out this guide to find out how mentoring software works.
Step 3. Once the program is up and running, the mentoring platform will track how frequently sessions are taking place as well as gather feedback from the participants. Making virtual mentoring easy to implement and manage.
But of course, that's not to say it's a perfect solution. Virtual mentoring still has it's downsides and challenges, but it's our job at Guider to know how to overcome them...
Challenges of Virtual Mentoring (and how to overcome them)
Naturally, many of the challenges that exist in normal mentoring programs and relationships still exist, even when they go virtual. Not to mention some additional digital specific obstacles. Here's how to prepare and make it work:
More difficult to form a connection
As good as modern technology is, meeting someone over a computer screen is not the same as meeting someone in person. For the opposite reasons that virtual mentoring might be a positive to some people's personalities, it could also be negative to others. For those who value body language in getting to know somebody, they may struggle or take longer.
How to make it work: Encourage mentoring sessions to be on video calls rather than voice calls as much as possible. Some people prefer to have their camera off on large work meetings, which is completely understandable. However, mentoring is all about human connection, and so being able to see each other is a huge part of that. As well as this, you can promote icebreaker games and social time in order to help your mentors and mentees get to know each other faster. Check-in with the cohort after their first couple of sessions to get a sense of whether or not the participants feel comfortable or whether they're struggling.
Feelings of isolation and lack of community
This is particularly relevant during current social distancing measures. Many mentoring programs have a sense of community around them – whether they're for a specific group or impact area such as women in leadership, or they utilise other types of mentoring such as group or peer mentoring. How do you maintain this feeling of community on a virtual mentoring program.
How to make it work: When launching the program, schedule a webinar for the participants. You could split this into mentees and mentors or do a big group. This will encourage a sense of community and make participants feel like they're a part of something. Similarly, schedule milestone virtual events such as the halfway point of the program to bring everyone together again. Celebrating achievements or progress as a group can also instil a feeling of community on the program.
When the chemistry just isn't there...
This problem is not unique to virtual mentoring. Sometimes, a mentor and mentee just don't hit it off. This can be amplified in a remote set up, as there's something about awkward silences that just make them that bit worse over video call.
How to make it work: A mentoring pair should be encouraged to reflect on why they feel the chemistry is missing, as it's a good exercise in self-awareness. However, they should not be forced to continue the sessions if they don't feel the fit is right. At this point, they should be open and honest, and try to part on good terms. The benefit of doing this virtually, is that it's far less uncomfortable than doing it face to face.
One of the most risky things about virtual mentoring sessions is the possibility of technical difficulties. A mentor freezing mid-advice or a mentee getting cut off while discussing something difficult can really jolt the flow and frustrate both parties.
How to make it work: If prone to glitchy WiFi or temperamental computers, mentoring pairs should do everything they can to stabilise their connection before the session. As well as this, they should devise back up plans should one of their connections worsen, such as taking it on to mobile or resorting to a good old fashioned phone call. This will help get back on track quickly and alleviate too much disruption to the conversation.
Virtual Mentoring Platform
Guider is a virtual mentoring platform, helping organisations build supportive learning cultures while their teams work from home. This makes mentoring accessible to everyone, regardless of location, helping to break down silos across the business.
From set up, mentor and mentee matching, integrated video chat, through to tracking and reporting, Guider manages the full virtual mentoring process.
Virtual Mentoring Questions?
Mentoring is hugely effective in connecting people across businesses, encouraging personal development, developing leaders, and building community. During this current crisis, it's more important than ever.
If you're looking to implement virtual mentoring in your organisation, or just have questions for us we'd be more than happy to chat.
The Business Transformation Network has shared this article in partnership with Guider.