Within the last two years, many new norms have been created as a result of COVID-19. One of these is the prevalence of hybrid working, where employees have the flexibility of working at the office or remotely.

While some employees have returned to the office, others have chosen to work from home. This shift can pose a challenge for mentors to engage and connect with mentees, the way they are used to in person.

Having been a mentor for many years in Hong Kong, Singapore and in different universities and professional institutions, the biggest challenge I’ve faced is making mentorship work under the current “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous” or VUCA environment.

Set goals and have a plan

For the mentorship to be a success, both mentor and mentee need to clearly define their expectations for the mentoring relationship. By meeting in person or virtually via tools like Zoom, they can discuss what they want to achieve from the mentorship, how and when to communicate and how they can both help each other. Every meeting, be it virtual or in-person, should also have an agenda. Both mentor and mentee should have questions prepared and topics ready in advance to discuss. If there are specific topics to discuss in length, make that knowledge in the beginning or prior to the call to ensure adequate time can be allocated.

Add colour to video

In today’s hybrid world of work, Zoom calls are increasingly replacing face-to-face meetings. Though helpful, it is not a sustainable way to maintain the relationship. There can be a lack of motivation to arrange Zoom call after Zoom call, and the lack of personal touch won’t help to strengthen the bond.

To make video calls more engaging, mentors can start each virtual meeting with an icebreaker such as by asking how their day or week is going or what they have planned for the weekend. Spend the first few minutes building rapport and ensuring that the mentee is comfortable.

To build rapport, you can include a virtual lunch, a happy hour with beer and wine, or just a chat over coffee. Putting in the extra effort can go a long way. Though it may feel a bit weird at first, try to step away from being a “traditional” mentor and view these Zoom gatherings as a fun and fruitful way to connect with your mentees.

Advice for mentees

What can mentees keep in mind? Though the current COVID-19 situation may deter mentees from meeting their mentors in person, it’s important for mentees to be proactive and initiate Zoom meetings too. By staying in contact, even over video calls, they would be able to gain more knowledge than expected from their experienced mentors.

However, if these virtual meetings continue to be boring even with a theme, mentors and mentees can consider other ways of bonding, such as through playing mobile games together. This idea was suggested by one of my mentees, and so we did it. The experience was interesting, gave us something new to talk about and provided an opportunity to bond and get to know each other in a different light.

Before wrapping up each virtual mentoring session, mentees should also take the initiative to schedule the next meeting, and discuss any actions they need to take before then.

Balancing virtual and physical contact

With the gradual easing of restrictions in the world and some countries opting to live with the coronavirus, mentors and mentees can also opt to have in-person meetings. A hybrid model of the interaction between mentor and mentee is evolving.

Not only is the physical interaction important between mentor and mentee, but also amid mentees themselves. My mentees have tried to gather in person in pairs, and then dialled in to Zoom to connect with four other pairs in order to make a 10-person virtual group. This arrangement brought back physical interaction, while limiting the risk of being in a large group. After finishing the group call, the small group (mentor-mentee or mentee-mentee) continued working together face-to-face.

Provide honest feedback and maintain trust

By providing quality feedback, mentors can influence future actions, help mentees stay on track and achieve their goals. This can be tricky to get right, especially virtually. Mentors should opt to give feedback over a video call instead of email, as they can convey their points better through body language and also through the tone of their voice. Strive to give sincere and specific feedback as soon as possible.

By creating a line of communication based on trust, it will be easier for the mentor and mentee to move beyond surface level conversations more quickly, and establish long-term trust. Allow room for both technical and open-ended discussions. This will help both sides to gain a greater understanding of each other, and ultimately deepen the mentoring relationship, even virtually.

The Institute’s 2022-23 Mentorship Programme is now accepting applications. Visit the Institute’s website for details. 

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