There is a one in two chance that you, the reader, work remotely at least some of the time. In fact, only 44 percent of companies do not offer remote work of some description; the work-from-home trend has not slowed since the pandemic and shows no signs of doing so in the future.
The benefits of working remotely are obvious – increased flexibility, less time wasted on commuting, and so on.
But a remote workforce also comes with its own challenges, chief among them the lack of physical interaction and consequent difficulty in building strong relationships and trust.
As such, companies that foster a mentorship culture put themselves at a significant advantage. Mentors offer the human interaction and connection that remote companies often neglect to provide, and they can play a crucial role in the development of employees.
Let’s explore this concept of mentorship culture a little further.
- What is a mentorship culture?
- Why is it critical to build a mentoring culture in a remote workplace?
- How to build a mentoring culture in a remote workplace
- Wrapping up
What is a mentorship culture?
Of the Fortune 500 companies – the largest and most successful corporations in the US – 84 percent make use of a formal mentorship program. These are the programs that come to mind when someone mentions ‘mentorship’; employees are paired with a more experienced colleague in order to receive guidance, support, and access to opportunities.
Mentorship that isn’t limited to one-on-one sessions
There are a plethora of studies on the benefits of having a mentorship program. However, there’s another side to successful mentoring – one that’s often overlooked. This is the importance of developing a company-wide culture of mentorship.
A mentorship culture fills the gaps that formal mentorship programs create. Pairs might meet up once per week or month, but mentors cannot be ever-present.
How will junior employees feel supported and mentored in the meantime?
This is where mentorship culture comes into play.
A reframed model of mentorship in the workplace: constellations and mentors-of-the-moment
A mentorship culture is a general atmosphere of support and guidance within a work team, upheld by both senior and junior employees, and fostered by the company’s leadership.
It doesn’t rely on a formal program or designated mentors and mentees; rather, it’s an attitude in which everyone plays an active role.
As outlined in this HBR feature, there are a couple of ways that the mentorship culture arises within a company: constellations, and mentors-of-the-moment.
- Constellations are so-called for their spaced, web-like structure. Junior employees are just one star in a constellation of mentors. In this model, guidance and support come from all directions; seniors, family members, friends, and colleagues are all sources of support.
- Mentors-of-the-moment are informal, yet intentional. Mid-to-senior employees are encouraged to act as mentors to those who are junior to them, regardless of whether or not they have been formally assigned a mentee. This can happen organically, or it can be cultivated by leadership.
Both constellations and mentors-of-the-moment have one thing in common: a focus on relationships.
In order for a mentorship culture to thrive, relationships must be built and nurtured – and everyone must play an active role in doing so.
Why is it critical to build a mentoring culture in a remote workplace?
Remote workplaces are held up as the new gold standard; they’re flexible, they promote international collaboration, and they are the perfect vessel for lean and innovative businesses.
But for all their benefits, remote workplaces come with a unique set of challenges – one of which is the lack of physical proximity and consequent difficulty in building relationships and mentoring cultures.
In the shift to online work, the APA reported that companies dropped their mental health support services by around 35 percent. Another study found that remote workplaces are severely lacking in close contact and that this deficiency hinders the formation of trust, mutual purpose, and connectedness.
This is why a culture of mentorship has become absolutely crucial; remote workplaces have left an absence of human connection, and we need to pick up the slack somehow. Here are a few more reasons to take mentorship seriously:
- Remote employees rarely have the opportunity for informal meetups. What this means is that, when new employees do interact with colleagues, the interaction needs to count. Developing a mentorship culture ensures that more experienced employees are always ready and willing to answer questions, provide feedback, and give guidance.
- In remote work, having one assigned mentor isn’t always enough. Constellations ensure that multiple colleagues actively seek out and check in on their mentees, fostering a sense of community and responsibility.
- Onboarding remote employees is tricky, as it’s difficult to show support in the early days of someone’s tenure when you can’t just pop over to their desk. A culture of mentorship helps new employees feel supported from day one and establishes a pattern for the rest of their time at the company.
Some companies use speed mentoring to address that last point.
It’s a technique that pairs experienced mentors with new employees for quick, focused conversations. The employee has a 1-on-1 speed session with multiple potential mentors and then chooses the one that they want to continue working with.
This type of mentorship is perfect for remote companies because it’s informal, it’s fast, and it allows employees to get a feel for different mentors before settling on one.
Speed mentoring also helps reduce the isolation that often comes with remote work.
How to build a mentoring culture in a remote workplace
If you’re ready to take your remote workplace from good to great, you need to focus on building a mentorship culture.
Let’s take a look at some actionable strategies you can use to make this happen.
1. Get buy-in from employees and leaders on the benefits of mentorship
Before you can move forward with a strategy, who are the people you need to convince? Arrange a meeting, and present the evidence. Explain that:
- Remote workplaces are disconnected compared to shared workspaces.
- A lack of interaction has a negative impact on trust-building and mutual purpose.
- Fostering a mentorship culture can help offset these disadvantages.
Make sure to highlight the benefits of mentorship for individuals, such as developing virtual leadership skills and career growth opportunities.
You might also want to mention the benefits for the company, such as increased innovation, creativity, and problem-solving.
2. Recruit qualified mentors from across your organization
Once the higher-ups are on board with the benefits of mentorship, it’s time to start recruiting mentors – but don’t rush into it.
Take the time to find mentors who have the right skills and knowledge to pass on.
Our study on mentorship and coaching found that:
- Mentor training is not a common practice in many organizations.
- Most companies say only half or fewer of their internal coaches and mentors are effective.
- Organizations need strong leadership commitment and support to create a sustainable coaching and mentoring culture.
What does this mean?
Well, it speaks to a real and pressing need for mentors that know how to mentor.
Your mentors should be good role models, have excellent communication skills and be able to develop relationships of trust.
Build a mentorship program around the people who will make it successful.
3. Draw in employees to register as mentees
You sold your leadership team on the need for a mentoring culture – but are your mentees sold?
To get employees on board, you need to make them understand the importance of mentorship. Really drive home the main points:
- Show them that mentors are trained and capable.
- Demonstrate how serious the program is, and your commitment to their success.
- Make it clear that being a mentee is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Mentees want to see promotions, personal development, professional confidence, skills, and more grow if they participate.
4. Create relevant pairings
Two in three mentorships fail due to a lack of training and inaccurate pairing. It’s not enough to put a senior with a junior and hope for the best; pairings need to be relevant.
When creating pairings, they should be compatible in terms of:
- Working styles
Of course, you cannot rely on your entire workforce being compatible – and it isn’t necessary for creating a mentorship culture. But by matching up mentors and mentees that share at least one of these characteristics, you’re more likely to see the mentorship relationship succeed.
5. Provide discussion topics for pairs
Mentors often avoid meeting or interacting with their mentees because they don’t know what to talk about, or how to direct the relationship.
To combat this, provide a list of discussion topics for pairs to use as a guide.
Some suggested topics could be:
- The company and its culture – introducing the mentee to the way things are done at the company
- The mentor’s experience in the industry and how they got to where they are today
- Problem-solving – giving the mentee a chance to ask for help and get advice on specific challenges
- Leadership and management styles – what works, what doesn’t, why?
- Work/life balance – how to achieve it, and how to maintain it
- Career growth – setting goals, plotting a path, and overcoming obstacles
It’s just as valuable to have small, friendly interactions that make the mentees feel welcome, so encourage your distributed team to be warm and enthusiastic when interacting with new or junior employees.
6. Highlight success stories
Companies waste many hours in meetings, discussing irrelevant things, and multitasking. Why not use the time to talk about success stories from the mentorship program?
Not only will this help to motivate employees, but it will also give mentors a sense of pride and ownership in the program.
Showcase how the program has helped individuals grow and develop professionally, and how it’s had a positive impact on the company as a whole.
7. Start mentoring circles
Mentoring circles are similar to constellations – but as well as having multiple mentors, mentees are put together and learn as a group.
This can be especially beneficial for remote workplaces, as it helps to offset the feeling of isolation.
It also allows mentees to learn from each other and gives them a chance to socialize with their colleagues in a more informal setting.
Plus, it’s an opportunity for mentors to share their expertise and learn from their mentees.
When it comes to fostering a culture of mentorship, it doesn’t start and end with a formalized program.
Leaders must role-model behaviors and be proactive in seeking out mentors and protégés.
Mentorship should play out like a constellation; a web of connections and supportive professional relationships, some formal and some organic. What matters is that employees are propped up by a community that wants them to succeed.
Creating a mentorship culture takes time and effort, but the payoff is worth it.
By investing in your team’s growth, you’re creating a foundation for future success – both for individuals and for the company as a whole.
Ryan Carruthers is the Content Marketing Specialist at Together Software, a company that builds software to help enterprise companies run impactful mentorship programs within their organizations.