The year 2020 significantly changed the way we interact with the world. Even the most devoted Instagram fans checked a couple of TikTok videos, even the most introverted of us almost enjoyed using Skype to call their friends, and even the least ‘technologically enthusiastic’ of us learned how to use Microsoft Teams and Zoom. And while everyone hopes that this pandemic ends as soon as possible, it feels like the way we work, the way we talk and even the way we meet new people will never be the same.
Unsurprisingly, the way mentoring works in these strange times has changed too. Previously, mentors and mentees mostly met face-to-face, either at mentors’ workplaces or universities’ campuses. Quite often online meetings were treated as the last resort for mentoring relationships’ participants, saved for those who resided in different countries or cities, or those who were too busy to find time for commuting in their schedules. However, the new normal dictates new rules, and mentors and mentees had to learn how to work together in a virtual environment.
So, is it a challenge or an opportunity? It seems to be both. In this piece, I will try to touch upon some scary and exciting aspects of virtual mentoring relationships and provide some tips for those who are about to start them.
❓ Challenge 1: Working From Home Instead of the Workplace
Some mentors and mentees find having important phone calls and virtual meetings from home challenging. There may be children who demand attention, flat sharers having their work calls at the same time as you, and other unpredictable events happening from time to time. The environment can be distracting, the desk or chair can be uncomfortable, the background may not look as professional as you would want it to be. All of this may put additional pressure on mentees who are not used to work from home and mentors who may find the environment disturbing.
💡 Overcoming the Challenge: How to Make Working from Home an Advantage
What can be positive about it? Some people feel more confident in having conversations while staying at home. Their posture may be more relaxed as most of their body is not seen. They can use their favorite coffee mug which brings a sense of normality to the situation. They may have various objects on their table that revive positive memories. For example, I have a toy of an owl in a hat that I bought on one of my trips in a vintage shop. It stays near my screen, and whenever I look at it, it makes me smile and a little bit more relaxed.
Additionally, any situation when any of you are distracted by a family member, delivery, or any unexpected event can cause a discussion on a more personal subject which is good for finding similarities and building chemistry. What can be helpful is explaining your situation at the beginning of the meeting, being open and honest, and facing any challenge that occurs with positivity, kindness, and a little bit of humor.
💡 Overcoming the Challenge: How to Make Home Feel More Professional
It may be helpful to check your equipment before the meeting too. Are your mic, headphones, and wifi working? If it’s a meeting in Microsoft Teams or Zoom, you can blur your background or even change it – the technology allows you to pretend that you are in a really fancy cabinet or somewhere nice abroad. Additionally, make sure that you have your notebook, at least two pens, and a positive attitude – this should provide a good foundation for a helpful mentoring session.
❓ Challenge 2: Connection and Trust
Many believe that it’s easier to establish a connection with an interlocutor if you are in the same room. It may be true due to the body language being easier to interpret or just face-to-face interactions being more familiar to participants. It’s also easier to read clues on how someone feels about you and if they are enjoying the conversation.
💡 Overcoming the Challenge: Building Connection and Trust
However, the virtual experience of building a connection with a mentor or a mentee may be as rich as the personal one. It just requires more effort put into expressing your thoughts and feelings verbally. Try to be clear and concise about what you feel, talk openly about your objectives, goals, and concerns, even if they are about your mentoring relationship. Additionally, make sure to ask open-ended questions, listen actively and empathetically, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable during these conversations. Vulnerability is powerful, and it’s also a glue in any healthy and productive relationship. As a result, you will be able to feel better connected with each other and establish the trust that is needed to achieve the goals you set.
❓ Challenge 3: Getting Motivated and Engaged
Some mentees and sometimes even mentors feel that virtual mentoring sessions are not as helpful as to how they assume face-to-face meetings would be. This may lead to participants losing interest in a mentoring relationship and a general lack of engagement. All of it may result in new meetings not being scheduled regularly, no progress in the relationship and towards participants’ goals happening, and both a mentor and a mentee being disappointed at the end of a mentoring cycle.
💡 Overcoming the Challenge: Staying Motivated and Engaged
To prevent that, it is very important to set up SMART goals and objectives during the first session and stick to them. If these goals are specific, measurable, assignable, relevant, and time-based, it will be easy for both participants of a mentoring relationship to keep track of the progress and find out where there is a need for additional support or even external advice. What can be helpful is to think of a task (usually out of a mentor’s to-do list) that you both can work on together. Seeing tangible results that make everyone closer to their goals will increase everyone’s motivation. The same goes for timely praise and words of appreciation.
To add up, think of ways to make virtual mentoring relationships more interesting. Can both of you attend a relevant webinar, workshop, or conference? Can a mentor recommend interesting online training or courses? Can a mentee explain to a mentor some new trends? Can a mentor introduce their mentee to a colleague, a manager, an HR specialist, or even a recruiter? All of those are very easy to do online. There are various ways of benefiting from mentoring relationships, and a positive approach can help notice more benefits than drawbacks.
Making Mentoring a Success
In conclusion, I want to emphasise that whatever form mentoring takes – it is still mentoring at the core. It is still about an experienced person supporting and inspiring someone who is just starting their journey. It is about kindness, compassion, and mutual respect. It is about being ready to give a helping hand, open some doors, and be a role model for someone who needs it a lot, particularly in these challenging times. And in that sense, virtual mentoring is no different from face-to-face mentoring which I find truly hopeful. So, if you are either a student, a recent graduate, or an experienced mentor, I want to encourage you not to be scared of virtual mentoring, but to go full in and try to benefit from it as much as possible. It will definitely pay off.
If you require specific application advice, interview preparation or tips, career advice or guidance on seeking opportunities such as internships, you can book a one-off meeting with an experienced Mentor through the Ask-a-Mentor service. This is a great opportunity for students who can’t commit to the Career Mentoring Scheme, but would find the support and advice from a Mentor useful.
Remember that you can use the Career Mentoring Scheme and Ask-a-Mentor Service up to three years after graduation. Join the global community of Westminster students and graduates on the Career Mentoring page on Linkedin and be the first one to learn about new opportunities, events and news. I am looking forward to seeing you there.
☞ Big thanks to Mariia Kogan, Mentoring Intern, for writing this blog post. We hope you find it useful.
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