What are the benefits of remote mentoring? And how do you do it properly?
WELCOME to the second piece in the current series aimed at helping engineers develop their professional skills. Today we will take a look at how to get the best out of remote mentoring, whether you are a mentor or a mentee. This has been prompted by a question arising from a recent mentoring workshop that simply asked what are the benefits of remote mentoring? That got me thinking, and reflecting on my own experiences of remote mentoring.
Remote mentoring is nothing new. Mentors and mentees have been operating their mentoring relationship from different locations since people developed the ability to write and send a letter. We now have powerful technology at our disposal with the potential to assist us.
Before we dive in to explore the attributes and possible benefits of remote mentoring, let’s have a quick refresher. Mentoring can be considered as the act of one person helping another to develop themselves in areas such as getting chartered, a new job role, or becoming more effective in their current role. The mentor can usually draw on previous relevant experience and knowledge to add value to the proceedings. Good mentoring motivates, encourages, creates independency and appropriately challenges the mentee to develop. Poor mentoring does the opposite. For a deeper dive on mentoring I suggest you take a look at two articles published in The Chemical Engineer, How to mentor1, and How to be a Good Mentee2.
Good mentoring motivates, encourages, creates independency and appropriately challenges the mentee to develop. Poor mentoring does the opposite
Effective mentoring is hard enough when we can meet face-to-face. Surely remote mentoring must be even harder. Let’s take a look at the main challenges and how we might overcome them.
Conducting our mentoring relationship remotely means that we don’t bump into our mentor or mentee at the watercooler or in the lift or corridor. We therefore lose the opportunity to check in with them informally. We also lose the opportunity to get to know them better.
Both opportunities could potentially enhance the mentoring relationship. However, we can still be effective mentors and mentees, just by accepting that the watercooler chats are not possible and compensating if necessary. For example, we might ping them a quick message to say “Hi” with an invitation to “check in”. Viewed from another perspective, not bumping into our other mentoring half every time we take a break might be seen as a positive. It enables us to keep the mentoring relationship tightly focussed and efficient, which might appeal when we find ourselves a bit busy.
When we work remotely, there is a tendency to attend to those demands that shout loudest, like client deadlines. Other demands, like the actions arising from a mentoring meeting, are easy to overlook unless we set reminders for ourselves. Distractions can mean that our mentor or mentee disappears from our radar temporarily. This may be okay if both parties understand that this is case, and that there is sufficient trust established to sustain us to the next meeting. However, this may not be the case, and the relationship might require a bit more attention, albeit temporarily. It is good practice to make a point of checking in with our other half informally from time to time. Maybe we could share a link to an interesting article, or a comment on some shared outside interest such as sport, music, stamp-collecting etc. These alternative pathways can really strengthen any professional relationship.
Remote mentoring inhibits the bandwidth of our communication because the body language is either invisible, or restricted. We therefore might miss some subtle signs from our mentoring other half that would otherwise be loud and clear if they were sitting in the same room as us. We also might not be able to “speak” body language as fluently as we might like. However, this can be overcome by using cameras whenever possible during meetings, and by focussing on subtle changes in voice tone. Remember that the power of body language fluency lies in spotting visible or audible changes in response to some change of topic, specific question, or piece of information. We can compensate for the lack of body language, but it helps to have an awareness that body language is compromised.
We have considered some of the challenges to remote mentoring, and suggested some work-arounds. Remote mentoring works successfully for many people. We don’t have to be restricted to a mentoring relationship with someone in the same location, conforming to the traditional mentoring meeting around a table. Our mentoring other-half could be located anywhere in the world, in any time-zone.
From a personal perspective I have found that there is something powerful about being part of a remote mentoring relationship. It can generate a strong sense of focus on the outcomes, and enhance communication skills for both parties. As a mentee, it has been a great source of strength knowing that there is someone out there somewhere who I can turn to for support and encouragement.
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