Let’s look at some of the benefits of virtual mentoring programmes and the key issues and success criteria that creates high learning outcome and ROI.
How can you build a solid virtual mentoring programme where participants are able to build close relationships and have insightful conversations in spite when they are never able to meet in the same physical location? This question has become more important since the pandemic, which has brought social distancing and isolation to employees around the world. It is no longer just a question of how to design mentoring programmes that will work in the digital world, it is also a question of how these mentoring programmes can bring people closer together in spite of their remote locations.
2020 has seen a complete move from in-person mentoring programmes – i.e. mentoring programmes where are participants are brought together in the same physical location for training and workshops, and where mentor/mentee pairs always meet in the same physical room – to fully online mentoring programmes where all activities takes place through online media.
Virtual mentoring programmes have many advantages:
Better matching of mentors and mentees – since they will work virtually, you can create the best matches without considering their location. However, make sure they are not located in time zones that are too far apart.
More time and resources – as you spend less time and cost on travelling, accommodation and classrooms, you will have more time and resources for virtual learning events and follow-up.
More learning events more often – since each virtual learning event takes less time (2-3 hours) you can have more learning events more often and thus support the mentoring relationships even better.
More touchpoints with participants – with online mentoring you have the opportunity to create even more touchpoints and be creative, e.g. creating smaller peer mentee groups for peer mentoring, and creating supervision groups for mentors to support their personal development in the mentor role etc.
Easier for participants to schedule their meetings – meeting in virtual space just requires a computer, tablet or smart phone. No need for finding meeting rooms or travelling for meetings.
Less time and resources spent on logistics – since all learning events are virtual, you will spend less time and resources on conference rooms and accommodation.
The arguments against virtual mentoring programmes that we hear most often are:
Lack of networking opportunities
Yes, networking is different depending on whether you are all in the same physical room or you are in a virtual room together. However, in online events we are able to place participants in breakout rooms where they have the opportunity to discuss the learning themes in smaller groups and network at the same time. Additionally, we can invite to informal online networking events – give them one or two topics to discuss and facilitate a number of breakouts where they meet each other in different constellations. This may actually be better than when they network on their own in breaks during classroom training, as we place them randomly in many different groups, so they get to meet many more people than they might have on their own initiative. They might no meet the one person, they had planned to talk to – but this they can do on their own initiative.
Additionally, we experience that establishing peer mentoring groups which have virtual networking meetings during the mentoring programme, often they will continue their relationship after the closing of the formal programme. This is exactly the behaviour we wish to see.
It is much better to meet each other physically in the same location
Really? Why? We believe this assumption should be challenged – and we do meet especially mentors might even refuse to have mentoring meetings online.
The pandemic has given companies and organisations the final push to go virtual. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 states that “84% of employers plan to rapidly digitalize working processes and significantly expand remote work – up to 44% of the workforce is expected to become remote workers”. So we will never be going back to the “old normal” but have to move towards the “new normal” and realize: Physical meetings are not better – they are just different – and we all need to learn to take full advantage of working and learning in the digital world as well as make time during virtual meetings to have fun together and build relationships.