As the pandemic forced businesses to adopt unconventional work arrangements, working from home became the new normal for employees. The world has regained its footing, but employers now face the challenge of determining the optimal balance between remote and in-person work.
Recent research shows that workers spend more time in mentoring activities when they come into the office, highlighting the importance of in-person work for employee development. While remote work offers flexibility and autonomy, it can lead to challenges in fostering meaningful mentor-mentee relationships.
This article covers how mentorship opportunities are impacted by work arrangements, the benefits of in-person work environments, and strategies to encourage mentoring in WFH settings.
Pressed for time? Here’s a quick summary:
- In-person work increases mentoring activities by 35% to 40%.
- The benefits of in-person work are dependent on an employee’s age, career stage, living situation, and values.
- Sharing a physical workspace can increase approachability and spontaneous communication, strengthening interpersonal relationships and encouraging mentoring and coaching activities.
- Remote workers can develop mentor-mentee relationships through a virtual mentorship program, community support, and professional development opportunities.
Comparing In-Person & Remote Mentorship
Mentoring programs are widely recognized as an effective way to promote employee engagement, development, and retention. However, the recent shift to work-from-home (WFH) arrangements has sparked apprehension about mentoring in a remote setting.
To address these concerns, a study by WFH Research examined the impact of in-person versus remote work on mentoring activities. Respondents reported that personal interactions, such as collaboration and socializing with colleagues, are the main advantages of working in-office while saving on commuting time and costs are the top benefits of remote work.
Business leaders recognize the difficulty of building human capital in a fully remote environment, but how much more development occurs in an in-person setting? The study found that in-person work increases mentoring activities by 35% to 40%.
Despite the benefit of in-person work for mentoring purposes, the preferences of employees regarding work arrangements can differ based on personal circumstances and tradition. For example, younger workers tend to prefer flexible work arrangements due to their living situations. For instance, employees in their 20s may share small apartments with roommates; employees in their 30s may have children at home. These factors could push them away from fully remote or in-person work and towards hybrid work. Older employees often prefer in-person work due to conventional standards rather than social interactions and mentoring opportunities.
These findings indicate that in-person work is more conducive to mentoring, but younger job seekers continue to prioritize job flexibility. With changing expectations in the modern workforce, employers should encourage in-person work for mentoring activities and facilitate similar opportunities for remote employees.
In-Person Mentoring: Contributing Factors
When employees have strong mentors, they tend to achieve more rapid career advancement, higher salaries, greater job satisfaction, and even better physical health and self-esteem. However, many mentoring programs fail due to poorly trained mentors, a lack of incentives, and the absence of selection criteria for the mentors.
Remote mentoring programs can be successful and provide numerous benefits, but it’s important to consider certain components of in-person mentorship that are difficult to replicate virtually.
- The proximity of mentors and mentees in an office setting allows for impromptu interactions, which can lead to meaningful conversations and learning opportunities. WFH may limit these spontaneous interactions, making it more challenging to establish mentoring relationships.
- When mentors and mentees share a workspace, it’s easier to schedule in-person meetings, ask questions, and seek or share feedback. This can facilitate more frequent and productive mentoring interactions.
- Interpersonal relationships can be developed in-office through impromptu conversations, coffee breaks, and other informal interactions that allow employees to get to know each other on a personal level. This can create camaraderie and a greater sense of trust within a mentoring relationship.
- Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language can convey meaning and emotion that may be lost in remote work settings. In-person work allows for the use of non-verbal communication, which can build rapport in mentoring relationships.
Bridging The Gap: 3 Strategies To Encourage Remote Mentoring
1. Establish A Formal Remote Mentoring Program
Establishing a structured remote mentoring program is essential to fostering positive, productive, and successful working relationships in remote teams. A formal program ensures that mentees and mentors have clear expectations, roles, responsibilities, and outcomes in place. It will also provide guidance on how to measure success, identify gaps in knowledge and skills, and facilitate effective communication between the two parties.
Structuring a remote mentor program begins with formal mentoring partnerships:
- Mentors should be carefully chosen based on their expertise and track record of guiding others through challenges. It is also important to consider the mentee’s job position, work style, and communication preferences to determine a good match.
- It is vital for mentors to take the time to understand the mentee’s needs, provide clear goals and objectives for the partnership, and set regular reviews throughout the program.
The mentor and mentee should agree on reasonable expectations for communication frequency to ensure accountability for their commitments.
Online resources, such as video calls and messaging services, allow mentors and mentees to transcend distance and time zones to work together. Other features, like tracking systems and shared documents, can be useful organizational tools for project management.
2. Foster Community & Collaboration
Building mutual trust and support is foundational to a successful mentoring partnership. This can be tricky to establish in a virtual work environment, but regular team video meetings and mentor-mentee check-ins provide a critical opportunity for remote teams to lay the groundwork.
Team meetings allow employees to discuss tasks and projects and exchange ideas with one another, promoting a collaborative work environment. Mentor-mentee meetings give mentors the chance to engage in meaningful conversations with their mentees, enabling them to identify areas where the mentee may require additional support and feedback.
Additionally, virtual team-building activities are a fantastic way to nurture a sense of community and promote collaboration among remote workers. From trivia to online scavenger hunts, these activities help break down barriers by allowing employees to get to know each other beyond their work duties.
3. Promote Ongoing Professional Development
Only 29% of workers are pleased with career advancement opportunities. To address this, mentors should consider including roadmaps as part of their onboarding checklist for new employees who aim to work their way up the organization’s ladder. This is especially important for younger generations, including millennials, who perceive career development opportunities to be very important. Providing online courses and workshops is another way to promote professional growth, as it helps strengthen employees’ knowledge and skills.
Employers can also facilitate collaborative learning initiatives that encourage remote employees to share their expertise with one another. Not only does this foster a culture of learning, but it also creates supplementary mentor-mentee relationships between team members. This collaborative and supportive environment strengthens the virtual community and improves the overall team dynamic.
Acknowledging professional achievements and expressing appreciation for employees’ efforts is key to boosting engagement and encouraging them to continue growing. This is especially valuable in mentoring relationships, where the mentor plays a crucial role in guiding and supporting the mentee. Expressing genuine care and celebrating a team member’s accomplishments solidifies a mentorship relationship and promotes a positive work culture.