Quick look: Virtual mentorships offer a myriad of benefits – they allow SMBs to access many more participants and break down barriers in terms of time, space, and location – but they’re not always easy to implement. Here are five virtual mentoring best practices, from regular check-ins from program managers to embracing all the ways that technology can enhance the relationship.
Mentorships – which connect people who have specific skills and knowledge (mentors) with individuals (mentees) who need or want the same skills to progress in their career – boast many benefits.
On the employee side, mentorships allow participants to share their values and goals in a mutually supportive way, breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for success. And for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), mentorships help retain employees, fill skill gaps, attract new talent, and grow and maintain the organization’s institutional knowledge.
Additionally, a recent Gallup survey discovered that:
- Employees with a mentor or sponsor were twice as likely to be engaged and 98% more likely to strongly agree that they would recommend their organization as a great place to work.
- Those workers were also more than twice as likely to strongly agree that their employer provides a clear plan for career development.
- Approximately 60% of Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) said their mentorship and sponsorship programs addressed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within their organizations.
But as millions of workers have transitioned to hybrid or remote work schedules, how can employers continue to make the most of mentorships? Let’s dive into some specific perks of virtual mentoring programs, as well as the top five tips for success from some of the industry’s knowledge leaders: Jaclyn Cohen, Director of Learning and Development and Michelle Conway, Manager of People and Culture at ExtensisHR.
The value of virtual
Transitioning from in-person to virtual or hybrid mentorships doesn’t mean you need to lower the quality of your program – in fact, virtual mentoring has several unique benefits.
When an SMB has a virtual mentoring program, it provides access to many more participants. Instead of pairing up employees in just one office, suddenly every corporate location is fair game. This expanded approach means the possibility to administer a larger program, a higher likelihood of better mentor-mentee matches, access to a wider knowledge base, and the ability for more employees to enjoy the benefits that a mentorship program can offer. Additionally, widespread program participation means that employees are exposed to new cultures and ideas, which can promote awareness of DEI.
Virtual mentorships also involve fewer organizational limitations regarding space, time, and location. For example, participants don’t need to worry about finding an adequate office or conference room for their meetings, and being in different time zones isn’t as much of a hindrance.
5 virtual mentoring best practices
While virtual mentoring programs are full of opportunity, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to establish and oversee. SMB leaders should keep the below tips in mind to ensure their program is as successful as possible.
1. Be consistent
Consistency is key for all mentorships – especially virtual ones.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is a dangerously easy trap to fall into when it comes to online meetings. To avoid this problem, mentors should schedule the first few virtual mentoring meetings as soon as they get matched with their mentee.
Another method to achieve consistency is for both mentors and mentees to ensure none of their other obligations override any virtual mentoring meetings. A good way to do this is to keep mentorship meetings recurring – for example, the participants both block off every Friday from 1-2 PM so there’s no potential for overlap with other meetings.
2. Check in regularly
Once a virtual mentoring program launches, that doesn’t mean communication from program managers should cease – it’s important they regularly touch base with mentors and mentees throughout the program. Suggested topics include:
- A welcome message including recommendations about the frequency of contact between mentors and mentees, the duration of relationship, and ways to provide feedback to each other
- Tips for effective mentoring and goal setting, as well as ways to stay engaged and motivated
- Suggested methods for creating a good closure when the mentorship ends
Sending regular communications doesn’t need to be taxing – program managers can schedule them in advance and tailor them for both mentors and mentees through a mentoring software.
3. Remain flexible
At the heart of a mentorship are humans, and as the partnership develops, it’s important to adapt mentoring details as needed.
There are no set rules in a mentorship, and it’s completely acceptable for participants to realign their schedule and expectations. For example, instead of a weekly video call, perhaps the mentor and mentee would rather have a weekly email conversation and a monthly video call.
Logistics aren’t the only thing that can change along the way. It’s also important for participants to welcome new topics that emerge as their discussions unfold and the mentoring relationship deepens.
4. Embrace technology
Virtual mentoring revolves around technology, and program managers should remind participants that they can use more than just video calls – having instant message conversations and sharing a project management dashboard can be fruitful additions to the mentorship.
Mentors and mentees should take full advantage of technology. Because 93% of what someone says has to do with their body language (and nothing to do with their words), both participants should always have their cameras turned on during virtual mentoring meetings. It can also be helpful to have the very first mentorship meeting face-to-face if schedules and logistics allow. An initial in-person meeting can set the relationship up for success and ensures that subsequent virtual mentoring meetings have a more comfortable dynamic.
Technology also benefits a mentorship’s curriculum. Participants can use applications like Slack or Microsoft Teams as a sort of “virtual whiteboard” where they keep track of discussion topics and cross items off as they go. Not only does maintaining this track record help participants hold each other accountable, but organizing topics in chronological order (i.e. topics to discuss 30, 60, and 90 days into the mentorship) can help mentors and mentees gain a holistic, at-a-glance view of the relationship.
5. Stay focused
Virtual meetings of any kind can involve some level of distraction. From new emails popping up in your inbox to a delivery being made at your house, it’s important to tune out any potential disruptions and fully pay attention during mentorship meetings. Ideally during virtual mentoring sessions program participants should mute all notifications on their devices and move to a quiet area of their home. This isn’t always possible but should be prioritized when feasible.
Even if participants do a great job at minimizing interruptions during their virtual mentoring meetings, they’re only human and their memories can easily fail them. To combat this, it’s important for mentors and mentees to take detailed notes during meetings so they can look back on all information and gain a full picture of the mentorship. These notes can also make updating the mentorship “virtual whiteboard” a piece of cake.
Need a helping hand?
Virtual mentorship programs involve many moving parts, from matching employees (potentially from all over the world) to establishing the right policies and technologies – but SMBs don’t need to handle it alone.
A professional employer organization (PEO) like ExtensisHR pairs its clients with dedicated HR Managers who can guide companies through every aspect of establishing a successful mentorship program – whether it’s physical or virtual, or a mix of both. ExtensisHR also offers SMBs affordable access to 15Five, a leading performance management platform that facilitates one-on-one meetings, feedback gathering, engagement surveys, employee appreciation, and more.
ExtensisHR’s Knowledge Cloud platform also supports learning and development within small businesses with its immersive, on-demand courses on cultivating up-and-coming leaders, active listening, and more.
Are you ready to explore how a virtual mentorship program can strengthen your workforce’s culture, retention rates, and institutional knowledge? Contact the experts at ExtensisHR today.