A report from Nordic Learning Trends shows that one of the biggest challenges at the moment is change management due to business disruption (Nordic Learning Trends 2021/2022).
A significant element of this change is creating a hybrid workplace which has been on the corporate agenda since March 2020 where Covid-19 forced most organisations to implement remote work.
What is a hybrid workplace?
The hybrid workplace is a flexible model for blending working both in-office and remotely. In global organisations many teams and individuals have been working like this for years, but for many others this has been a totally new discipline that has challenged both leaders and employees.
However, having the freedom to choose when and where to work is increasingly valued by the employees and creating a flexible workweek that includes working both from home and from the office is becoming an important part of being able to attract and retain talented employees.
Through the Covid-19 enforced remote work, organisations and individuals now have experienced working remotely for a significant amount of time and seen the advantages and disadvantages of it.
The advantages of working remotely
The many advantages include better work-life balance as we can flexibly organize our workday and save time on commuting – time that can be spent working or with the family. Remote work provides more autonomy and can include higher productivity and less interruptions, as well as increased motivation and reduced staff turnover.
The challenges of working remotely
During the Covid-19 years, we have also seen that remote work has downsides. Employees can come to feel isolated, alone and overlooked. They lose their connection to the organisation, they miss out on important information, their informal networking connections dry out, and all the virtual meetings they do are focused on performance. Very introvert employees may appreciate the isolation. The extrovert employees suffer. For the organisation both situations challenge the organisational cohesion and may influence the mental health of the employees.
According to the latest “State of the Global Workplace” report from Gallup 2021, 45% of people say their own life has been affected “a lot” by the Covid-19 situation. Employee engagement have decreased from 22% in 2019 to 20% in 2020, and daily stress has reached a record high, increasing from 38% in 2019 to 43% in 2020. Globally, seven in 10 people report that they are struggling or suffering, according to Gallup, and twice as likely to leave the organisation. A conclusion must be that mental wellbeing is a priority for leaders now and must be considered in the design of the hybrid workplace.
How can mentoring help?
Mentoring is a way of connecting employees outside of the formal hierarchical reporting lines and outside of the KPI driven performance focus. In this way mentoring provides both mentors and mentees with a safe space for dealing with the challenges and concerns of daily work life, as well as providing mentees with a source for deeper understanding of organisational dynamics, career opportunities and the importance of building networks. At the same time, mentors are learning about what is happening in other parts of the organisation and gaining insight into how they themselves can become better leaders and influence the engagement of their direct reports.
Mentoring, when well designed, becomes a place for long-term learning and development for both mentors and mentees – as well as a place to connect with a “best friend at work” in a confidential relationship where mentees can talk about topics, they are not comfortable discussing with their direct managers. In times with significant change, with pressure to perform, and working remotely, mentoring becomes the place to “let out steam” and to find validation “that I’m not alone – and not the only one”.
In the hybrid workplace, mentoring can play a significant role in connecting and engaging remote employees in organisational life. Through mentoring, both mentors and mentees will gain an informal access to knowledge about what is happening in the organisation; both mentors and mentees will have time outside of their performance driven tasks to reflect on their experiences, their ambitions, what they are learning from coping with daily challenges, how they can improve their work-life balance and what is really important to them. Mentoring becomes a place to relax from the stress of daily work, to understand that you are not alone, to develop coping strategies and to focus on your long-term career development.
Virtual mentoring programmes, where all activities including the mentor/mentee meetings are online, supports the hybrid workplace by also giving those employees who are permanently remote the opportunity to participate. Thus, virtual mentoring programmes equalizes the access to mentoring and provides for better matching as geographical location becomes (almost) unimportant. Additionally, when these mentoring programmes include virtual workshops and networking events for mentors and mentees, you will be building a virtual community where the participants can more easily contact and support each other.
As the hybrid workplace reduces in-person face-to-face time, whether formal meetings or the informal talks around the coffee machine, employees will miss out on important social cues, they will lose insight into the workplace culture and ways of working, and they will miss the messages coming through the grapevine. Well designed and implemented virtual mentoring programmes can alleviate this situation as well as provide a place to support employee well-being.