How to activate mentoring and career development during the pandemic
The current pandemic means more people are now working remotely and adapting business to the virtual environment. This is throwing up all manner of new challenges that we need to work through and doing this with a mentor can now be invaluable. In a time of crisis mentoring just requires a little bit more creativity and adaptation.
In ordinary circumstances, many mentors focus on the career development side of mentoring. Although those remain important, other functions such as demonstrating emotional and social support are especially valuable in these uncertain times. This may involve a mentor listening to understand mentees’ struggles and concerns, acknowledging and validating the challenges they are facing and the distress they are feeling.
As a role model a mentor can share their own experiences during the shutdown of normal work, discussing how the break in physical routines, the restricted access to others, and the bombardment of information can feel overwhelming and isolating. Simply giving mentees permission to take a break from the news and their work routines to engage in self-care can be very beneficial. A bit of humour can also help to break the tension.
The career development functions of mentoring can still continue regardless of social distancing. Mentors can still create a safe space for career conversations. Mentees may be worried that they’ll be laid off, that their work will no longer be noticed by their managers, or that progress toward advancement and promotion will be derailed.
Facing an uncertain future, mentees are more likely to use their connection with a mentor to lower anxiety and to work with the mentor to develop a vision of how they can not only weather the storm but continue to thrive in their careers.
Online meetings may be a new alternative in which to model and teach new skills and behaviours — and the learning may flow in both directions. Mentors might discover that their mentees have much to teach them about virtual work and new technologies.
Whether you typically meet in-person on a regular basis or haven’t spoken in a while, now is a good time to reach out to your mentor/mentee. There is good evidence that mentoring via videoconferencing yields the equivalent outcomes to in-person mentoring. Alternatively, methods such as email, chats, and text messaging allow flexibility in keeping the lines of communication open but are more limited and can be prone to misunderstandings.
How to continue and deepen a mentoring relationship in a time of social distancing:
1. Communicate with each other, find time for a phone call or a video meeting, even if it is only for a few minutes. Everyone is experiencing plenty of uncertainty and new demands. Let your mentoring be something you can depend on.
2. Make adjustments to your normal mentoring routines. Work out the best medium for meeting in the online environment. You might need to work around childcare, or other commitments that are now part of this new working environment.
3. Keep it real. If you have children at home because schools are closed, or if you are having to work in a room with other members of your family, don’t hide those personal challenges. Use them develop a friendly connection, sharing your situation makes it more comfortable for your mentor/mentee to share theirs.
4. Show care and compassion. Test your listening skills and focus on your mentee’s concerns. Financial, health, job, and family matters are all likely to be pressing issues. Demonstrate that you hear and understand.
5. Offer support that will enable mentees to overcome challenges on their own. Mentors aren’t there to rescue or fix everything for mentees. Instead, they provide strategies, skills, and resources that mentees can use to learn and to grow so that they can address their challenges themselves.
Although social distancing is necessary during the pandemic, it doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a mentoring relationship. Use this time to explore new ways of staying connected, show that you care, validate feelings of distress, develop talent, and challenge yourself to get out of your mentoring comfort zone.