How To Mentor In A Remote Workplace

As per Gallup survey, last fall revealed that working from home is trending permanently. As of September 2021, 45% of U.S. employees were working partly or fully remotely, and 91% of them planned to continue some level of remote work post-pandemic; in fact, 58% would consider leaving their current jobs if access to remote arrangements vanished. When combined with evidence showing that remote workers are as or more productive than their in-office counterparts, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay.

With this shift comes the need for managers and leaders to master virtual mentorship. But With this shift comes the need for managers and leaders to master virtual mentorship. But

  • Commitment
  • Trust
  • Relationship quality
  • Mentor competence

are the real ingredients of developmental growth, all of which can be applied to virtual mentorship. Fortunately, there are skills leaders can learn to succeed. As a start, we suggest sharpening these five virtual mentoring strategies.

Build trust

Establishing trust is foundational to any developmental relationship and may require even greater intentionality in virtual mediums. Such skills include taking the initiative to reach out, demonstrating your commitment to and reliability in meetings, and showing genuine care, concern, and compassion about a mentee’s work and life situation. Actively listen, be curious, and avoid assumptions about a mentee’s aspirations or concerns. so earn their trust by following through without being prompted.

Clarify rules of engagement

In addition to deciding the frequency of communication, discuss preferred mediums for communication, including synchronous (e.g., video-based platforms that work for both parties, internal mentoring systems, and phone calls) and asynchronous (e.g., email, messaging, and social media platforms such as LinkedIn) options. Which feel comfortable for both parties, and what boundaries around times for communication should be honored? Additionally, when you or your mentee are working remotely, be flexible around meeting schedules and attuned to the demands of caregiving, homeschooling, personal commitments, and other work-from-home realities.

Be intentional when forming the relationship

Research on building rapport and overcoming biases and assumptions in cross-cultural mentorships indicates that working to establish deep-level similarity is important. For example, consider using relationship-building tools in the early phase of virtual mentoring to better understand your mentee’s values, personality, and professional calling. Ask questions that go progressively deeper into the experiences, feelings, and life or career dreams of both the mentee and mentor, so you can feel a level of closeness and similarity. Be intentional about sharing and reflecting on your similarities, career goals, and relationship objectives to develop a strong working alliance. Thoughtful effort when developing the relationship and discovering shared values is the best way to mitigate implicit biases. These include homophily in online relationships — the preference for interaction with demographically similar people — and defaulting to stereotypes around race or gender.

Balance authenticity with boundaries

In one sense, virtual mentoring may lend itself to greater task-oriented formality around mentor-mentee pairings, scheduling, and topics for discussion. However, with much virtual mentorship taking place inside our homes, there will be inevitable glimpses into the personal lives of both parties, including unscripted intrusions by partners, children, and pets.

On one hand, great mentors should welcome these moments — including honest disclosures from mentees about the challenges of work-life integration — as opportunities to empathize, deepen understanding and connection, and normalize these experiences for a mentee by sharing one’s own challenges in this area. Alternatively, mentors should remember to preserve some relational boundaries. This may include avoiding disclosures that may feel awkward for mentees, being mindful of how one is dressed, engaging respectfully with family members (yours and your mentees’), and checking in on one’s comfort level before sharing personal information.

As relative power holders in the mentorship, mentors must strike a balance between keeping it real and undue familiarity or worse — becoming creepy.

When possible, collaborate

In-office mentoring has traditionally afforded many opportunities for working together on projects such as research, product development, or client pitches that benefit the mentee, the mentor, and the organization. Don’t overlook the potential for collaboration in virtual relationships, as well.

For example, one of Ellen’s healthcare client organizations encouraged virtual mentor pairs to present a project after a year of officially partnering together. One pair created a conference presentation on breast cancer research, while another set up a one-day mobile clinic for mammogram screenings. Deliberate collaboration promotes transferable skills such as project management, presentation delivery, writing, research, and giving and receiving feedback.

Like new managerial skills for remote work, there are new skills for virtual mentoring. With intentional preparation and skill development, virtual mentoring can be quite effective. No matter the medium for your next virtual mentoring relationship, we hope that by developing these skills you will be well prepared for a high-impact virtual relationship.


Credit: Ellen A. Ensher, W. Brad Johnson, and David G. Smith

How to Mentor in a Remote Workplace Harvard Business Review. (2022, March 22). Retrieved March 23, 2022, from

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