One of the challenges of hybrid working is the reduced time working next to colleagues to watch and learn the way others influence, build relationships, lead and manage difficult challenges.
Businesses now need to think differently about how to recreate this informal and often unconscious training and development, in addition to building strategies to improve wellbeing, connection and engagement.
Mentoring programs are being put in place to ensure dedicated time and structures are in place for key people to share knowledge, manage challenges, and learn from experienced leaders – no matter where they are located or which days they are coming into the office.
As organisations focus on supporting and enabling their key people – we are being asked if virtual mentoring is as effective as in person?
The short answer from our experience and research is, yes.
Prior to the pandemic, and then nearly exclusively over the past 18 months, we’ve set up countless virtual mentoring relationships – regionally, in cities, across Australia and globally – and tracked outcomes, impact and engagement.
The results are the same. Participants report strengthened performance, improved decision making, clarified goals and built capacity to manage key career and leadership challenges.
From Surf Life Saving Australia women connected across every state and country, to executives of large corporates and recently appointed CEOs, both participants and mentors report no barriers to meeting online.
Prior to the pandemic in July 2019, we matched Joanne Smail, in Washington with Peter Loxton, in Sydney, as mentee and mentor.
Joanne was in a new role as Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner with Austrade and a new country. Peter had spent more than 25 years in executive roles within the New South Wales Government.
“Virtual mentoring was no barrier,” Peter says.
“If anything, it may have strengthened the outcomes as we were always conscious of making the most of the time and really listening to each other.”
Joanne agrees: “My work weeks are busy and it was nice to be able to just jump on at the required time, without having to travel to be somewhere.”
The key to success comes down to a few essential ingredients, irrespective of the format:
- The right match. Arguably the most critical element for the strongest outcome. Virtual can broaden the pool of options without the restrictions of geography.
- Setting purpose, expectations and goals. Agreeing these with all parties from the start.
- Trust and confidentiality. Building trust and rapport to allow for open and meaningful discussions – in the questions asked, stories shared, support provided, feedback given. With deliberate focus and a new level of comfort online, remote is not a barrier.
- Investment and commitment. Leaning in and embracing the experience.
- Mentee responsibility. The mentee needs to drive the relationship and take ownership for their growth and development.
- Regular engagement. Virtual can create more time in the diary for discussion.
So if you or your company are considering business mentoring, there is no limitation to finding the right person. As reported by one of our mentors who met their mentee for the first time in person recently – after successfully connecting online for months the only new aspect of the relationship was that the person was shorter that they thought!