Nine things you need to know about mentoring in a hybrid worldby
Whether you are a mentor, or just setting up and managing schemes for others, now is the perfect time to explore how hybrid working is affecting the mentoring experience.
With Mentoring Month this January, now is a good time to review the opportunities and challenges that the new mode of hybrid working is creating. To make the most of the mentoring experience for both mentor and mentee, here are some important things to think about.
1. Stay focused on the prime purpose of the mentoring
The prime purpose of mentoring is usually to help, support or benefit the mentee in some way. Of course, the mentor will learn from the process too, but that is rarely the point of the programme. So how does the hybrid model impact mentees?
Mentees in hybrid working environments are typically seeking to catch up on lost ground, as they perceive it
Mentees who have not been able to work in an office environment have often lost out on a lot of informal learning, networking and development. As a mentor, any opportunities you have to provide real benefit in this area is of huge importance, far more so than it would have been when most work was office based.
2. Take time to explore the impact of hybrid working
If you are a mentor, you can have a conversation about how the new ways of working are impacting mentees at the moment. If you are managing a larger scheme you might want to gather feedback from a number of participants in the programme. Mentees in hybrid working environments are typically seeking to catch up on lost ground, as they perceive it. You can support this is two ways
- Understand what they think they have missed out on, and share your perspective. For example, are they imagining that the office is a much better place for networking than it actually is in reality?
- Help them to reflect on what they have learned from the ‘downsides’ of hybrid working. What strengths enabled them to cope and deliver good work, how can they use those strengths in the future?
Now you are in a better position to be a valuable mentor – you understand what they think they have missed, you have a better idea of the strengths, and you can apply your own experience and expertise to support them.
3. Great ways to make virtual introductions
Do you have contacts that you might introduce to your mentee too? If you cannot arrange a lunch or coffee, host a virtual meeting between you and your contact. Depending on how it goes, you might only stay for part of the session.
It is much easier for a mentee, or any colleague for that matter, to simply disengage when working virtually
As virtual meetings tend to need more structure than a casual coffee conversation, take some time to prepare some good ‘I think you two should talk because…’ content. Advise your mentee on relevant topics of conversation, and discuss with them what they might get from the meeting.
4. Manage expectations
Have some questions to help the process along: ‘Ali has been working on our customer service desk, and is curious about how our service programme is put together’ or ‘Jo, I thought it would be helpful for Ali to hear how you progressed from new-starter to your current role’. Your aim is to enable your contact and mentee to both feel that the meeting was a good use of their time, and be able to make a good enough connection to open the door for further conversations where appropriate.
5. Virtual advice and feedback can be tricky
Your other key role as mentor is often to give feedback. Not the ‘manager style’ feedback around current performance, but bigger picture feedback to help them develop. For example, you might encourage them to widen their industry knowledge, read a business publication, or find opportunities to practise presenting to senior leaders. It can be tricky to give this feedback well at the best of times, if you are having a virtual conversation, it can be even harder to be confident your message has landed well.
6. Context is everything
Whatever feedback you are giving, be sure to discuss the context of the feedback first. You may need to have a conversation about their immediate career opportunities, or explore their longer-term ambitions. Whatever the feedback, make sure they are in a frame of mind where they are most likely to hear and engage with what you are saying.
It is much easier for a mentee, or any colleague for that matter, to simply disengage when working virtually. If you have involved them in a meaningful context discussion first, they are far more likely to fully absorb what you are saying.
7. Meet up if you can
Hybrid should not mean all virtual. Meet up if you can, you will develop a richer relationship more quickly. Inevitably though, some of your relationship will take place virtually. Give your time and attention to these virtual sessions, as much as you would if they were in-person. Invite your mentee to send you any specific requests or questions in advance if they can – that will give you time to think about how you can help.
When listening to your mentee, keep alert for clues that you are only hearing part of a story
8. Help your mentee ‘open up’ in a virtual world
Put your mentee at their ease, give them time to think, and don’t feel you have to talk to ‘fill the airtime’ in a mentoring session. When listening to your mentee, keep alert for clues that you are only hearing part of a story. Asking ‘what else?’, or ‘could you say a little more about that?’ are two very simple questions that work well in a virtual world. They are unthreatening, yet open.
9. Enjoy the process
Finally, allow yourself to enjoy your mentoring whether you are working virtually or in-person. It’s a much less formal relationship than managing someone, and should enable you to bring the best of yourself, and bring out the best in your colleague.