Growing a Culture of Mentorship Within Your Remote Team
“People often ask me about the secret to success. There really is no secret, and there surely are no shortcuts. In my case, it was a pretty simple equation: hard work + some lucky breaks + great mentors,” Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO, writes in a LinkedIn post. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several mentors who profoundly shaped the way I think, live, and work.”
The 2016 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey found that millennials (which, as of 2021, includes people aged between 25 and 40), who comprise the bulk of entry level workers, express little loyalty to their current employers. Instead, they choose to put their personal values ahead of organizational goals, even shunning potential employers who conflict with their beliefs. As such, millennials are far likelier to stay on at organizations where they perceive a strong sense of company purpose beyond profits, and feel satisfied with their learning opportunities and professional development programs.
This is where mentorship comes in.
Being mentored at work contributes directly to millennials feeling like their professional development is being supported. As per the aforementioned survey, respondents intending to stay with their organization for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%).
While they value independence and flexibility, being left completely to their own devices creates dissatisfaction among millennials. Their loyalty to their organization is directly linked to how guided and supported they feel.
When asked if being mentored would have made her continue working at the fintech start-up she recently left, content writer Krithika Pillai*, answered in the affirmative. “I found myself constantly struggling to understand what the job really entailed,” she reflects. “I wish somebody would [have] explicitly communicated to me about my performance. For instance, what do they expect from me?…What is the best way to go about [working with] this specific concept? Is it normal to experience these roadblocks during probation? Are my concerns over my work valid?”
In order to encourage a sense of loyalty amongst entry level employees, organizations must take proactive measures to provide them with strong mentors to make them feel nurtured.
Advantages of mentorship programs
Besides encouraging loyalty among entry level workers, mentorship programs come with a variety of benefits for workers as well as the organizations they work in.
When starting a new job, workers, particularly those at the entry level, are bound to feel overwhelmed at first. However, when they are paired with a mentor, this eases the adjustment process and helps them get settled in faster. “For a young recruit starting in the workforce, it can be confusing,” explains Pillai. “Having somebody who has been in the company long enough to walk you through the bureaucracy of it all could really help.”
Once they are settled in, new employees have someone to turn to when they need guidance or advice, which creates more job satisfaction in the long run.
Good mentorship programs allow employees to exercise growth and avoid stagnation. This improves retention. When workers who started their careers in a particular organization stay there and grow upwards within it, organizations eventually gain leaders who understand them inside out.
Encouraging entry level folks to stick around by mentoring and nurturing them also helps organizations reduce costs in the long run. After all, promoting an existing employee or hiring within the company is significantly cheaper than hiring and training someone new.
Building an effective mentoring program
Being proactive can be helpful when trying to establish a mentor-mentee relationship, suggests a mentoring model developed by Beronda L. Montgomery, a researcher and professor at Michigan State University. “Do not wait for your team to reach out. Always check in, listen, and proactively make sure they’re [in] the right process, environment, and mindset,” says Vignesh Rajendran, former senior engineer and lead at tech start-up HappyFox, a cloud-based customer relationship management solution that provides help desk and ticketing solutions to businesses.
A good rapport between the mentor and mentee is crucial to a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship. For this, the mentor and mentee need to find each other a good fit. The same aforementioned mentoring model explains that informal mentoring relationships may be built on personal factors or the mentor and mentee’s perception that the relationship may be “a good fit”.
Rajendra says that before he starts mentoring someone, he first makes an effort to become their friend. “I get to know the person, their passion, and what they’re enthusiastic about,” he says. “This also puts me in a space where my feedback can be direct, and [I can offer it] without any fear of misunderstanding.”
Another aspect of being a good mentor is finding the sweet spot when it comes to how much help you offer your mentees. Effective mentors guide their mentees, but don’t spoon-feed them. Your mentees knowing that you’re there to support them can often make the biggest difference.
“Do not solve all the problems for your mentees,” Rajendran explains. “Guide them when they need it, [and] they’ll learn by solving the problems. Mentors need not have all the answers; most of the time the value was added in the conversation, engagement, and listening rather than definite answers.”
The challenges of mentorship in a remote world and how to circumvent them
In the remote work era ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic, mentorship has definitely become more challenging.
When everyone is working together in the same office, there is naturally a higher rate of interaction between mentors and mentees, which facilitates a more efficient mentorship process. This has changed with most offices working remotely.
“People are not desks away anymore, and you always need to find a ‘slot,’” says Rajendran. “This reduces the frequency of interactions, and connections [tend] to fall off [easily] because of our schedules.”
This is particularly the case in organizations that previously preferred the group approach to mentoring—that is, pairing one mentor with a group of mentees. There has been a growing sense of fatigue among workers due to group calls. In such situations, one-on-one mentorship may be a better fit.
“Investing time in meaningful, deep connections with individuals one-on-one can be a refreshing change and a chance for more authentic connection,” writes Michael Li, founder of The Data Incubator (TDI), for the Harvard Business Review. “At TDI, we have found that maintaining regular virtual one-on-ones provides a unique opportunity for building rapport that isn’t possible in large group settings.”
Another obstacle to effective mentorship in remote workplaces can be the way organizations use technology. In many cases, channels of communication set up by the company tend to reflect official corporate hierarchies, and divide employees on the basis of these structures. They also rarely allow workers the freedom to create their own private groups to communicate with others freely. This reduces the possibility of mentoring relationships forming organically through self-initiation, as workers are limited in terms of whom they can interact with, unlike in an office environment.
The solution to this problem is for organizations to ensure that collaboration tools allow workers to communicate freely amongst themselves and across organizational boundaries.
Ultimately, keeping an ear to the ground and proactively making efforts to ensure that workers feel heard and nurtured is key to building a culture of mentorship within a remote team.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.