Tips for Effective, Socially Distant Mentorships

Published on April 17, 2020

In the era of COVID19, WFH has become the only option for those that are lucky enough to be working at all. Although social distancing dictates that we abstain from many of the activities like team lunches and happy hours that help us to feel connected and excited about our jobs, the resourcefulness of our workforce is coming through in online forms that span virtual wine tastings all the way to digital dinner parties. 

However, amidst the anxiety and uncertainty that marks this moment in history, many may find themselves opting to hit the “pause” button on some of the activities that would otherwise have been priority two months ago. Although it may seem more comforting to focus on a Netflix series during this strange time, than one of the many items on your to-do list, it’s important to recognize that just because offices are temporarily closed, opportunities for professional development persist into quarantine. 

Whether it’s refreshing a portfolio or attending an online class to strengthen PowerPoint skills, there are a range of activities that if tackled, can help to shape young workers into stronger professionals than they were prior to lockdown. Given the social limitations that come with self-isolation, one important activity that could be easily overlooked during this time is mentorship because of the proximity that’s typically required for mentors to provide counsel and guidance. 

Yet, at this moment when personal contact is in short supply, these sorts of interactions are more valuable than ever before. While it may seem impractical to maintain a productive cadence of communication with your mentor or mentee during COVID19, here are some considerations that if implemented, could serve to enrich your time during quarantine. 

Don’t Skip that Coffee Date 

No, I am not encouraging you to defy your local shelter-in-place order. Like in the examples mentioned before, professionals around the world have been coming up with ingenious workarounds that mirror IRL activities, but with teleconferencing services like Skype

If you and your mentor (or mentee) make a point to meet for a bi-weekly lunch or latte, maintain continuity by carrying on the tradition digitally. If possible, stick to the same routine that you had prior to social-distancing (i.e. Tuesday’s after the team meeting) but instead of taking a walk around the block to the local barista, sync-up online over your favorite caffeinated kitchen item. 

Not only does sticking to a routine during a time of chaos help to establish stability, but it creates another point of social contact that may be scarce during social distancing. Likewise, the nature of mentor-mentee relationships is to be forward-thinking and look towards future opportunities for development. Therefore, these types of conversations make for healthy distractions from the monotony that many of us are experiencing while confined to our homes. 

Play Some Catchup 

With virtually no commute to worry about, all of us have a little more time on our hands. This means opportunities to tackle some of those lingering projects on our professional-development lists. If it has been a while since you updated your CV (or you have been waiting until you have a spare hour to provide feedback on your mentee’s LinkedIn profile) now is the time to get around to these activities and cross them off your lists.

In addition to future-focused conversations, make a point to talk with your mentor/mentee about ideas to best take advantage of the present. This could be providing direction on a skill or tool to master during down-time, or simply clearing away some of the personal admin that you thought you’d never get around to. 

Be Candid and Topical 

There is no denying that this is a strange and perhaps scary time for many of us. Although a weekly video-call is an excellent opportunity to recreate the familiar in a time of uncertainty, it is not meant to gloss over the reality that is happening around us. 

Many of us have similar concerns about what the future holds, and we have also come up with our own techniques to cope and make the best of our time in isolation. By having frank conversations about our concerns, and also sharing some of the strategies that are helping us to make it through each day, we’re able to take the edge off an otherwise uncomfortable moment. 

Of course, this suggestion is not meant to focus your mentor-mentee conversations on the negative, but rather to take stock of what’s happening around us and to practice gratitude whenever possible. 

Be Consistent and Plan Ahead 

Consistency is the key to continuity; which means don’t make this a one-time thing. If you have a goal to check in with your mentor every other week, then create a calendar item and keep the momentum going. 

Likewise, if you have the bandwidth and feel that these meetings are productive, then don’t hesitate to up the cadence slightly and have digital donuts more often. Finally, don’t restrict the benefit that can come from regular communication with your mentor/mentee to this time of quarantine; and proceed with the mentality that this can carry over into the physical world once normalcy is restored.  

Rajashree “Raj” Varma is a Vice President of Alliances at Xoriant and a software industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in developing products and fostering strategic partnerships between some of the most recognizable brands in Silicon Valley and pacific northwest.

Read more

More GD News