Virtual Mentoring in the Age of Social Distancing

Laura Francis
Written by
Laura Francis

How Do I Mentor Someone When Working from Home?

Virtual mentoring relationshipsThe COVID-19 global pandemic has rocked us all. A vast majority of us are now working from home and self-isolating. We’re trying to figure out how to remotely manage a team, how to professionally present ourselves to our coworkers while our kids scream in the background, how to homeschool while also still working, or even worse, how to apply for unemployment on systems that are overwhelmed by requests.

Our world has been turned upside down—and that’s just from the perspective of dealing with daily life in the age of social distancing. That doesn’t even begin to address the torment people are feeling all over the world as they say goodbye to loved ones on video chat because they can’t be at the hospital with them as they die. And it doesn’t tackle the pain and fear people experience when they themselves get sick and struggle to breathe.

All of this can feel so overwhelming. Where do we turn when we need support at work or with our loved ones? Who do we count on when we have to stay six feet apart? How do we go about our daily business from our new home offices (aka, bedrooms and kitchens) when uncertainty is the new norm?

Mentoring may be the last thing you are thinking about as you try to figure this all out and find your sense of calm in midst of all of this chaos, but this may be the perfect time to think about mentoring—to lean on your network and look for support from others.

While you may be self-distancing, you don’t need to feel isolated.

So for all of you out there who have always wanted to be involved in mentoring, I say: Now is your chance! All of us need that human connection now more than ever.

Virtual Mentoring Suggestions

Ready to get started with a virtual mentoring relationship? River’s online mentoring platform was built for this. While some of our users may choose to meet in person (under normal circumstances), the platform is designed to help people conduct mentoring online. From setting goals and planning integrated learning activities, to tracking discussions and monitoring progress with surveys, River is built to facilitate online mentoring.

Here are some best practices we’ve learned over the years on how to conduct virtual mentoring relationships, which I hope will make it easier for you to stay connected at this unprecedented time in our lives.

1. Be considerate.

Virtual mentoring means you can connect to people in different cities and time zones with ease. However, that doesn’t mean you should text your mentee or mentor at 1 a.m. with the thought that popped in your head as you were trying to fall asleep. Be considerate of each other’s situations and discuss when the best times are for connecting.

This call for consideration should also encompass any changes that need to occur because of a person’s daily life situation. Are they now juggling work and home schooling? Are they trying to care for a sick relative (even someone without COVID-19)? Find out what the person’s situation is today and what their new normal looks like, and then find a way for the two of you to work around that.

2. Have empathy.

Heart in handEmpathy is a powerful tool—one that can be in short supply on the best of days. Trying to show empathy when facing the stresses of social distancing, a shift in daily family routines, and the very real fears of contracting coronavirus can make it feel impossible. But this is exactly the moment when we all need to express (and receive!) empathy.

Is your mentee struggling with something at work that you thought had been resolved weeks ago? Is your mentor not as readily available like they had been before everyone started working from home? Does the relationship feel different than before and you can’t figure out why? All of these situations may occur, and it’s okay. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to mentoring. The whole point of the relationship is for it to be a personal connection where you learn, grow, share, and become better off because of it. Have patience with and forgive yourself and your mentoring partner, and show how we can all be vulnerable humans who still need and appreciate each other.

3. Set goals…but be okay with tossing them aside when necessary.

Ideas and goalsIn that same vein of forgiveness, you may find that your original mentoring goals have been tossed out the window. You may find that you are using your mentoring conversations to share fears, express concerns, voice appreciation for what you have, and just talk in general on a human level. This is okay and completely normal. It can be hard to concentrate when it feels like things are crashing down around you.

Having clear development goals is a foundational piece of a mentoring relationship. This should not go away. But you should consider that you may need to talk about other things for a while or allow one another to chat about life issues before you can shift your focus and dig into the mentoring goals. Be kind to one another and have empathy for one another (and yourself!) if you find it takes a few conversations before you can focus on your original goals again.

4. Try different communication options.

On the practical side of things, virtual mentoring means that you and your mentoring partner will need to decide how you want to communicate. There are So. Many. Options. Do you use video chat? If so, which platform? Is it okay to text? If so, when are the best times? Is email okay if it’s something non-urgent? Are phones calls okay? What number is preferred now that we’re all working from home?

It’s great that we live in an age where we can self-isolate but stay connected—and still see one another’s faces while we talk! But with so many options out there, now is definitely the time to figure out what your preferences are and what will work for the two of you in this relationship. Now can also be a great time to use the learning activities and discussion options in River to give yourselves a space for focused conversations.

5. Listen, listen, listen.

learn, create, share, inspire, empower and enjoyListening is always important. But if there is a way for listening to go from a 10 to an 11 on a 1-10 scale, then this is the time. Be willing to listen without judgment so that your mentoring partner can honestly and freely express themselves without worrying about recriminations. You should also be open to sharing as well so that you connect and build a meaningful mentoring relationship with deeper trust, despite being physically distant from one another.

Being in a virtual mentoring relationship can be fulfilling, rewarding, and meaningful. Use this forced self-isolation period as an opportunity to stay connected with colleagues, continue your growth in personal and professional development, and be a part of a mentoring movement that proves we are stronger and closer together—no matter how far apart we may be in miles.

Related Resources

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The Many Faces of Mentoring

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