The Power of Virtual Mentoring in Times of Crisis
By the end March 2020, the majority of businesses across the world had closed their offices and their employees were working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This caused businesses to adapt their processes and individuals to adapt their working styles, and created a whole new set of work-life challenges.
Amid risks of being let go or furloughed, feelings of isolation, and increased stress from experiencing a global pandemic, the mental health of employees has been a huge concern for many organizations. Virtual mentoring has been highlighted as a multifaceted solution for businesses throughout lockdown and beyond to keep their people connected, supported, and developing.
Benefits of Mentoring
There are many personal and career development benefits to mentoring, for both the mentees and the mentors. Organizations overall can benefit from a culture of mentoring, with many mentoring programs increasing productivity, employee loyalty, and even profits.
For mentees, the additional support from mentoring can increase self-confidence, self-awareness, aspiration, and career progression. For mentors, mentoring is an amazing opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, as well as a way to experience new perspectives.
Of course, many people associate mentoring with grabbing a coffee together or meeting formally in the office. But in the context of the current state of the world, and the remote work setup many of us find ourselves in, mentoring has had to “go virtual” like everything else.
Here are some of the ways virtual mentoring is supporting businesses during this crisis:
1. Tackling Loneliness
Many people have suffered from loneliness and feelings of isolation throughout lockdown, particularly during the workday. The Mental Health Foundation found feelings of loneliness in adults have increased from 10 percent before lockdown to 24 percent during it.
The essence of mentoring is, of course, human connection. It comprises unique relationship with someone who is not a manager, nor a friend, nor a therapist, but somebody who can support, guide, and inspire another. A virtual mentoring program, therefore, can help employees to feel connected and tackle feelings of loneliness.
A recent Forbes article discusses this element of virtual mentoring, noting: “I found mentorship was breaking down organizational silos while also creating vital emotional stewardship.”
2. Fostering Personal Development
Without being in the office, we’re not experiencing as much human interaction as we’re used to. As a result, our natural personal development that comes from learning from others, joining conversations, attending events, etc., has been seriously reduced.
Learning is now harder to come by, and with video call fatigue affecting many of us, virtual meetings, training, and events might not be getting the best levels of engagement.
Mentoring is a great way to foster a culture of personal development. It allows people to share their goals and challenges, learn from others’ experiences, and put advice into action. Some 87 percent of people feel “empowered” by their mentoring relationships, and develop greater confidence.
Just because we are no longer in the office does not mean personal development at work has to stop. Establishing a virtual mentoring program and encouraging knowledge sharing between employees is a great way to motivate and inspire your people.
3. Welcoming New Hires
Starting a new job under these unusual circumstances can be difficult, especially in large organizations. With the knowledge that new hires are not going to meet their managers and colleagues in real life for a long time, it can be difficult to create a culture and sense of belonging virtually.
While the concept of “buddies” is a common onboarding practice, pairing new employees with a mentor creates a more established relationship of support and guidance. This can help them settle in quicker, and they will feel they have someone within the company who is not only there to answer questions, but who is actively looking out for them.
Virtual mentoring also can be a helpful part of the employee onboarding process, as the new hire may feel more comfortable asking a mentor rather than their manager about things such as company politics or who they should get to know. This is due to mentoring having a mutual agreement of confidentiality, which creates a sense of trust in the relationship.
Try making virtual mentoring an essential part of your onboarding process to welcome anyone joining your organization during this challenging time.
4. Fostering Diversity and Inclusion
Mentoring is an established method for fostering an inclusive workforce, as well as boosting diverse representation in leadership. One HBR article describes mentoring programs as a way to “make companies’ managerial echelons significantly more diverse.”
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement gaining global attention, more and more organizations are revisiting their diversity initiatives to try and create truly inclusive workplaces. Establishing virtual mentoring programs aimed at supporting minority employees and increasing representation is a simple yet impactful thing all businesses can do right now.
This is where virtual mentoring can be even more valuable than face-to-face mentoring, as you’re not limited by location when matching mentors and mentees. For global businesses, this means cross-country mentoring relationships become possible, allowing employees to gain fresh perspectives from people of all cultures, creating a more inclusive organization.
5. Developing Leaders
The beginning of the lockdown created additional pressure for leaders and managers who were suddenly not only responsible for their own adaptation to the new normal, but also their team. As such, strong leaders have never been more important. Virtual mentoring allows for senior managers to hone their leadership skills, as well as develop someone else’s.
Becoming a mentor is a great way to develop leadership skills such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence, the art of questioning, empathy, and much more. And we all know the importance of good, capable leaders during a crisis. Virtual mentoring, therefore, offers a win-win for leadership development within organizations.
Virtual mentoring can have just as much impact as programs within the office, if not more in some circumstances. As our time in lockdown goes on and businesses continue to adapt, it’s not too late to implement a culture of mentoring and knowledge sharing across your organization.
Nicola Cronin is the head of Content at Guider, the artificial intelligence-powered mentoring software revolutionizing the way organizations support and develop their people.