3 Tips to Support Mentorship on Hybrid Teams
Mentorship in the workplace gets a lot of praise—and deservedly so.
A key component of any diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy, mentorship is particularly impactful for women, and for people of color. It also guards against turnover.
Plus, mentorship boosts employee engagement, and research shows that 50% of organizations with mentor programs see improvements in engagement and retention.
The challenges of mentorship in remote or hybrid offices
Mentorship is trickier in the hybrid and remote workplaces. It can be hard to feel supported when it comes to career growth and skill development when you don’t see managers or more senior employees daily.
Organizations can work around this by deliberately fostering a culture that emphasizes mentorship in the hybrid workplace. This may mean creating a formal mentorship program, or simply ensuring that the manager-employee relationship is inclusive of career growth and development.
Supporting mentorship in the hybrid workplace also requires that companies take steps to prevent proximity bias from sneaking into the equation.
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Three ways organizations can support a culture of mentorship in the hybrid workplace:
1. Set goals and have purpose
Marianna Tu and Michael Li’s Harvard Business Review article "What Great Mentorship Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace" identifies “clarity of expectations” as a key element of any mentoring relationship.
Goals serve as benchmarks by which to measure progress, identify gaps, and track success.
For mentorships between direct reports and managers in a hybrid workplace, this means focusing on goals or objective and key results (OKRs).
Use a cloud-based HR system or an employee engagement platform to set and keep track of goals. That way, employees and managers can stay in the know and keep track of progress from near or far.
For a mentoring relationship between colleagues, clarity of expectation equates to being purposeful and focused with your time.
“Without [purpose], mentorships can become nice friendships, but will not help employees reach their goals."
- Tu and Li, "What Great Mentorship Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace"
Setting goals may help in this type of mentorship, too, but it’s unlikely the process will be as formal as the goal setting you do with your manager. Rather, create a regular schedule and stick to it. A regular cadence, whether bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly, will support accountability on both people’s part.
Another tip is to create an agenda or even a loose list of topics to cover ahead of time. That way you can keep the focus on building the mentorship, rather than building a friendship.
2. Create equitable performance management and career development opportunities
Mentors can impart mentees with knowledge, wisdom, and experience, and create meaningful professional relationships in the process. But mentorships are not a replacement for performance management or career development, even when your mentor is your manager.
Hybrid workplaces that want to support and reap the benefits of mentorship need to have standardized processes in-place to support employee development outside of their mentor-mentee relationship.
Standardization is key here. That’s because without structure, bias can sneak into the equation. In hybrid workplaces, proximity bias—the preferential treatment given to those in our vicinity—is a top concern. But when organizations have structured, standardized ways of making decisions, like calibrating performance review or conducting pay equity appraisals (then taking action!), decision-makers are less likely to revert to biases.
These are important processes to implement in any organization. Creating structured processes to support equity requires financial resources, change agents, and executive buy-in, as well as cold hard data and a willingness to adapt, but these are some good resources to review as you get started.
- Building Pay Equity into Your Culture, Policies and Practices
- How to Successfully Conduct Performance Reviews in a Hybrid Workplace
- Making the Hybrid Workplace Fair
3. Prioritize face time (even via Zoom)
While Zoom was a lifeline for business productivity during the pandemic, face-to-face connection is an important component of relationship building.
“In-person meetings provide a sense of intimacy, connection and empathy that is difficult to replicate via video,” said Paul Axtell, corporate trainer in an article published by The Washington Post.
To support a culture of mentorship in the hybrid workplace, you’ll want dedicated face-to-face time when possible. Regular in-person check-ins are especially helpful for primarily remote employees, who lack the other opportunities for in-person bonding the office presents.
When this isn't possible, like for employees living far from the office, make sure your hybrid work tech stack includes a solid video conferencing tool, and treat those calls as sacred. It’s wise to set aside regularly scheduled, dedicated time to discuss employee growth and development that’s separate from 1:1s, where it can be easy to focus solely on job performance or pressing role-related issues.
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Mentorship matters—especially in a hybrid workplace
As anyone who has ever had a mentor can attest: It's powerful.
Mentorships can elevate an employee’s confidence and skyrocket their growth and development, especially for women and for people of color.
Mentorship supports job embeddedness, creating social ties across the organization and boosting employee retention.
And in hybrid workplaces—especially for employees who primarily work remotely—mentorships offer a dedicated time to focus on employee growth and development.