For over four years I’ve been mentoring a wonderful team in an established IT company. Unfortunately, the world’s longest lockdown has turned our remote mentoring program into an 18+ month stint. Even though we’re heading back to the office, we knew we had to find innovative ways to continue to mentor our teams. It became essential for everyone’s personal well-being and career growth.
I felt strongly about the need to continue our mentoring programs despite the ‘remote work fatigue’ syndrome creeping in. Somehow the team kept our program running successfully due to several innovative strategies, new tactics and positive attitudes.
Here are some takeaways and lessons learnt for the next phase.
1. Building a team
Mentoring programs are often a one-to-one relationship session with another person. This format can be unrealistic in a busy remote work environment. Over time we learnt that creating smaller teams works better in an unplugged environment that fosters open communication and assistance. A simple chat group can be great for an open dialogue on work struggles and queries. To date, it has really helped to document our chat group work as well as individual challenges.
2. Reaching out
Many of us experienced first-hand the impact of isolation when working out-of-office. At work you have abundant opportunities to catch up while making a coffee or grabbing lunch together, but these options are not possible when working away.
A casual phone call or a twice-weekly catchup are just some helpful options for keeping in touch. They offer a way to stay on top of team member’s challenges as well as their struggles and blockers. Striking a balance though can be tricky as excessive meetings wear you down. The ideal amount is no more than two-to-three times a week.
3. Mentoring beyond scheduled sessions
Many employees find it difficult to ask for help. In a remote work environment, it’s worth booking times for you and your mentee to catch up on issues they’re struggling with. This could be a regular set day and time each week. Most importantly, you need to make it known that you are committed to being available.
“Mentoring sessions and social events have helped greatly with my perspective and optimism. I’m reminded of my long-term career goals and the great culture at Fenwick Software. There are always new challenges to face when progressing in a career so I appreciate the regular guidance and support from Jesse along the way.”
4. Scheduling downtime
Scheduling downtime for teams is not as outlandish as it sounds. If anything, remote and even hybrid conditions have made it more compelling. According to a recent report from the ABC, we are notching up an extra four-to-five hours of work every week. It seems we are putting in overtime more often.
Large group calls have proven to be less useful. Small catchup groups with a single purpose, such as book clubs, quiz sessions, Pictionary or sports are proving to be a welcome escape. The key is to find common ground and schedule at the end of the day rather than adding to a team’s workload.
“My team members have been fans of our fortnightly games night which is an open invite to all others. If we miss it one week, I get requests to reinstate it.”
5. Setting smaller goals
Whether your business has been struggling, just making it, or thriving during this “new normal”, your staff will still need the goals and career planning trajectories they’ve been conditioned to aspire to in previous years.
Smaller goals are much easier to manage in an uncertain future. Three–to–six months of planning is key. Engagement is quite a challenge now, so pushing ahead with smaller mentoring goals is a welcome change of focus.
Letting your team know their mentor is in reach, despite the reality of remote or hybrid conditions can mean a lot them. We’ve learnt that frequent chats almost daily, as well as regular check-ins on each other can substitute in-office conversations by the coffee machine.
Overall, although mentoring remotely is a different experience to the office check-in, the remote and hybrid versions bring a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that we can learn from.
If you are a mentor managing a remote or hybrid team, how are you making it work for you? Or perhaps you are a mentee keen to join a dynamic team? We’d love to hear your feedback.