It has been challenging for employers and employees to devise mentorship programs that cultivate deep connections in remote environments while ensuring learning and growth.
In light of these challenges, recent research shows that a one-to-one mentorship is central to employee retention and satisfaction, especially for people of color and women both of whom are more likely than others to report mentoring as very important to their career development.
While raising mentorship challenges, the work from home (WFH) and remote era has also created new opportunities for companies to reassess how they mentor their employees with programs that drive real impact.
Assess Your Mentorship Program
"We’ve observed the most challenges are in monitoring employee productivity and delivering feedback in a manner that leaves employees empowered to perform the duties of their roles, effectively and independently," explains Hired's senior vice president of people strategy Samantha Friedman.
Because productivity is more difficult to analyze and measure in a remote setting than in-person – employers need to be deliberate in sourcing feedback from their employees to discuss where they are facing challenges and the best ways to improve.
Friedman notes networking opportunities, mentorship programs, and skill-building workshops have not been as accessible in a remote work setting.
Todd Gustafson, president at HP Federal, points out with a large population of workers working remotely, the "casual office run-in" has become rare.
"That means it can be tough to make initial connections that can lead to mentorship relationships," he says. "However, I think there are still many great avenues virtually we can use to expand our networks."
At the same time, a lack of spontaneous, in-person check-in also means managers tend to need to be more intentional and formalized in how they connect with those they do have relationships with.
"Setting a consistent mentorship meeting schedule helps me overcome this challenge," he says. "For example, I meet with one of my mentors every other week by phone, and once every three months in person, which I’ve found provides a good balance."
Establish Trust, Focus on Timing
Friedman says it’s imperative to establish trust with their employees and create a psychologically safe space for them to voice any concerns they have about their roles.
"This includes room to disclose where they feel challenged and providing the guidance they seek to better perform the duties of their roles," she explains.
A few ways to create an environment of transparency include frequently sourcing feedback from employees, either from anonymous channels or ongoing-scheduled surveys.
It's also key for managers and their employees conduct one-on-one meetings through virtual meeting tools (Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams) on a regular basis--preferably weekly-to ensure they mitigate any concerns their employees raise, as close to real-time as possible.
"At Hired we use tools such as Asana, Slack, & Google docs to handle project business as asynchronously as possible, so that one-on-one time is spent on topics requiring discussion," she adds.
Gustafson says timing is also a key factor in mentorships--it’s important not to treat meetings as one-offs, but as an ongoing process that is building towards specific learnings and achievements.
"However, that doesn’t mean a formal mentorship has to last forever," he explains. "I’ve found that with some mentorships, it makes sense to stop having formal meetings once we’ve reached specific goals, such as a promotion or a career change. It’s all about what feels right for you both."
Skip-Level Meetings and Virtual Engagement
Friedman recommends exploring "skip-level meetings" between an employee and a manager at least two levels higher on a quarterly or semi-annual basis so employees may establish connections with more senior leaders and insights may be passed in both directions.
Remote or WFH facilitates pairing mentors based on aspirational roles within their ladder or alternate teams—for example a junior graphic designer paired with a senior digital marketing manager.
"Because mentorships aren’t tied to any in-office location, the virtual workplace has made it easier to match mentors and employees across teams, levels, disciplines, and backgrounds," she notes.
Gustafson says as a long-time virtual mentor, he has become an advocate in and out of his company for the ways remote and hybrid mentorships can offer new opportunities to connect across geographical boundaries—and even across organizations.
"I’ve observed directly within my team at HP Federal how investment in mentorship can help employees feel a greater sense of engagement and belonging, even as they experience less physical interaction with managers and colleagues," he says.
Even if he is not a formal mentor to each one of his team members, his approach is the same – he makes time to get to know them on a personal level by picking up the phone for even five minutes to check in.
"Making time for people and coming to understand their challenges, needs and goals is how you strengthen connections and create more resilient teams," Gustafson says.