I’ve been wondering recently if mentoring from a distance (as in not the same office) is possible. If mentoring is a long term investment in creating a working (in this example) relationship where things are shared very openly, then what are the challenges of doing that remotely?
I think of mentoring as being about:
- Understanding what the Mentee values and where they are coming from.
- Having regular informal discussions.
- Being there for the mentee to encourage behaviours and discuss less immediately tangible things (like how to influence).
- Guiding Mentees in the communication of expectations and agreement of meaningful and stretching objectives.
- Helping Mentees think through problems and overcome obstacles.
- Pointing the Mentee in the direction of others who may be able to help.
- Providing Mentees with ongoing balanced feedback covering achievements as well as development areas.
- Seeking out, based on feedback, other relevant learning experiences for Mentees.
All of the above (in my experience), takes lots of frequent but small discussions and interactions which don’t lend themselves well to remote working approaches. I’ve tried a few things, using regular chat e.g. skype catch-ups to discuss thoughts on approach, travelling more frequently for face to face catch-ups and seeing someone working naturally, rather than in a meeting.
Ultimately I’ve found it hard as different offices / locations often have cultural norms and helping a mentee navigate the organisation has sometimes resulted in advice which doesn’t quite translate locally.
So I adjusted my approach, spoke to a few more people about how to mentor this person and worked to understand who could mentor locally and how I could help specifically on translating the thoughts of my mentee into impactful approaches in the broader company. I found this harder than previous approaches to mentoring someone I see face to face daily, as it is harder to see the communication broader than the words they use (be that body language, mood etc). I still think it is possible, but it takes more time and you need to have the open relationship formed face to face, before you start trying to help.