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The Hybrid Workforce Playbook | Part 1: Reimagining Mentorship

March 12, 2021 ──── Joe Mullings
Digital Transition, Leadership

The Hybrid Workforce Playbook | Part 1: Reimagining Mentorship

The Hybrid Workforce Playbook | Part 1: Reimagining Mentorship
We are witnessing the rise of a new kind of workplace — one where remote and on-premise teams support and amplify each others’ power. Despite the struggles of adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are realizing this new hybrid work model has real benefits for efficiency, safety, and quality of life. The savviest are preparing for a new reality — the World of Work as we knew it is gone. 

The Hybrid Workforce Playbook is a bold, action-oriented guide to reimagining the future of work and building it into reality. The role of technology in this hybrid model, and its implications for productivity and logistics, have been much discussed. But equally important are mental health, collaboration, communication, and mentorship — the human, relational element that is integral to working in teams. 

In this first section of the Hybrid Workforce Playbook, we envision how to bring the benefits of mentorship and coaching into the new World of Work. 

Why Mentorship Matters

Mentorship improves our experience of work. Formalized or not, coaching and mentorship positively impacts many aspects of employee experience, including engagement, satisfaction and retention. 

With support and guidance, employees become their most confident and productive selves, attaining and surpassing their career goals. One study even showed an impact on earnings;  25% of participating mentees saw a positive change in their salary grade, compared to just 5% of non-participants. 

While mentorship is often associated with entry-level employees and interns, the opportunities it affords for continuous growth and learning benefit workers at all career stages, ages, and seniority levels. It can even benefit mentors themselves — the above study found that just as mentees saw their salaries rise after participation, so too did their mentors. 

Mentorship and Coaching in a Hybrid Office Setting

In the old Work of Work, mentorship centered around the workplace. Exclusively on-premise work created regular opportunities for informal interaction across teams, departments, and seniority levels. 

But in the new hybrid workforce, on-premise time will be purposeful, focused, and carefully accounted for. Employees will visit shared workspaces for specific meetings, projects, and tasks, leaving little time for casual connection and relationship-building. The days when mentees stood by and observed as senior employees conducted phone calls, led meetings, and delivered presentations are over. If we do not swiftly redefine mentorship to suit the new World of Work, we risk disadvantaging those just entering the workforce.

This acceleration of hybrid work may only exacerbate an existing problem. Many employees — especially those under 25 — were concerned about the lack of coaching and mentoring opportunities even before the pandemic shifted our paradigm. In one survey, 63% of millennials said they did not feel they’d been given the opportunity to fully develop their leadership skills. 

How we work is changing, but a distributed workforce could make talent access more important than ever. Attracting and retaining talent, then proactively investing in their growth, will be crucial for success in a highly competitive, globalized talent access market. 

Without the spaces for spontaneous connection once created by water coolers, open offices, and corporate retreats, managers must actively strategize to bring mentorship and coaching into our new shared environment. 

The loss of professional intimacy and connection has serious implications for future innovation and growth, so we must boldly and creatively reimagine mentorship for the hybrid World of Work. But what are the steps to getting there?

  1. Engage Everyone

Everyone at your organization deserves opportunities for professional development, especially in this climate of uncertainty. Formalized coaching and mentorship programs are crucial to retaining talented, ambitious workers who may leave your organization entirely if they don’t feel their growth is prioritized.

However, mentorship will also benefit less proactive employees. These individuals may be spurred to consider their future by rapid, disorienting change in their industry, and grateful for guidance on how to adapt. 

Nor should your mentorship strategy abandon established, mid-career team members. These workers will benefit from connecting with senior colleagues who can provide coaching and advice, and also from those junior to them, who bring fresh perspectives, technological familiarity, and ambition. 

Even employees approaching retirement deserve support, coaching, and mentorship. This often-overlooked demographic shares a desire to continue learning new things. If anything, they may be even more driven and motivated towards growth as they face the anxiety of aging out of the industry they love. 

To prioritize mentorship in an actionable way, dedicate time every month to looking for mutually beneficial connections you can facilitate among your team. Who could be inspired and motivated by someone else’s perspective? 

As a manager, it’s easy to feel a sense of personal responsibility for your team’s satisfaction and performance. But sometimes, a rewarding professional connection with someone new is the most powerful thing you can offer. 

Consider how you can make these opportunities come to life. The best mentor-mentee relationships inspire and invigorate both parties, whether or not they previously considered themselves in need of support. 

  1. Build a Relationship

The main challenge of mentorship in a remote work context is building the are that makes these relationships truly rewarding. In a relationship that feels natural, mentees feel comfortable letting their guard down and asking questions so their mentor can both provide advice on their strengths, and identify areas that could use improvement. 

It takes trust to establish this kind of relationship, and it’s even more challenging in a hybrid workplace. A foundation of trust laid early on prevents mentees from holding back and feeling intimidated by their mentor. 

Building trust as a leader in the workplace often comes down to warmth and competence — and since mentees are already aware of their mentor’s professional expertise, it’s important for mentors to start by building a warm, friendly personal connection. Mentors should share their history and background outside of just professional skills; junior employees will likely respond well to hearing about the struggles and challenges more senior professionals have overcome.

However, it’s also crucial to remember that a mentoring relationship is a two-way street. Mentors should listen as much as they talk — even though part of their role is to give advice by referring to their own experience, mentees need to feel respected and heard. In addition to providing space for them to share their goals and challenges, that means respecting confidentiality so they feel comfortable opening up about sensitive topics. 

  1. Set Expectations

Successful coaching relationships begin with clear expectations for both parties. Begin by determining how much time and energy both the mentor and mentee can invest, and settle on a level of commitment that will result in positive outcomes without detracting from existing workload. 

It’s especially important to set realistic expectations for mentors. This will prevent their needing to constantly cancel on or reschedule with their mentee, creating a demoralizing experience that can affect their satisfaction with the relationship.

Keep in regular contact with team members who are mentoring or being mentored. Ensure you’re aware of challenges the mentee is dealing with at work — this can help identify areas where they could benefit from mentorship guidance.

Without micromanaging, you should also maintain oversight of the coaching relationship. This way, you can step in and assist your team in navigating tricky areas of their new professional relationship without interpersonal awkwardness or anxiety. 

For example, if a mentor is finding it difficult to keep up with their level of commitment, they can go through you to define new parameters instead of negotiating directly with their mentee, who may be unsure of how to navigate the interaction without seeming entitled or demanding. 

  1. Create Structure

Stability and reliability are crucial to healthy mentoring relationships. In addition to determining how much time both can commit, figure out what form that contact will take. This structure is even more important in a remote workplace, which lacks the casual, unstructured office time of the former World of Work. 

Maybe a weekly or biweekly Zoom date could work for both parties, with coffee before the workday begins, on lunch, or after work? What about a private Slack chat between mentor and mentee for sharing casual thoughts and questions throughout the week? 

It may also help to make sure there’s a clear sense of purpose behind mentor-mentee interactions. In practice, this could look like a regular email exchange before meetings, where the mentee shares the highlights of their work life since last connecting and areas in which they feel the need to gain experience and grow. 

It’s possible that as these relationships become stronger, the need for such explicit structure will relax. Over time, individuals may settle into their own natural cadence, finding a unique balance between structured and casual. 

  1. Leverage Technology

Technology is the driving force behind the emergence of the new hybrid workforce, so it’s a crucial part of bringing mentorship into the new World of Work. 

As mentioned above, remote work applications like Zoom and Slack are obvious ways to facilitate mentorship. But there is also a wealth of software tools designed specifically to promote this kind of connection. 

Most of these programs, such as Qooper and Chronus, are especially valuable at large organizations, where effectively scaling mentorship programs to benefit hundreds of people could take significant administrative effort. 

Other solutions, such as MentorcliQ, are tailored to virtual mentoring, allowing in-app communication and data collection that allows managers and participants to quickly and easily assess the results of the relationship. Still others, such as Tribute, aim to overcome the sometimes impersonal feeling of virtual interaction by encouraging participants to share personal and professional life experiences. 

  1. Provide Feedback and Recognition

Mentorship programs, like any other business initiative, should be evaluated and re-evaluated on an ongoing basis. Collecting feedback from mentors and mentees is crucial to understanding not only how their individual relationships can be strengthened, but how the program as a whole can be adjusted to maximize benefit.

Most of the software solutions mentioned above offer admin reporting, but they aren’t the only way to assess the success of your program. During regular check-ins with participants, ask questions about their satisfaction with the coaching relationship, then retain and analyze their answers to identify issues and trends. For example, if mentees commonly share that they weren’t sure what to say during coaching meetings and didn’t leave with clear takeaways, that’s a sign those meetings could use more structure.

You should also recognize your mentors’ and mentees’ efforts and the positive impacts they’ve had. This could look like an annual report or newsletter sharing all the accomplishments participants realized with the support of their mentors, or sharing feedback privately with each mentor-mentee team. 

The Future of Mentorship

As the World of Work transitions into a radically different — yet exciting — new future, we must ensure the human connections that make work so rewarding are not only retained, but strengthened. 

Adapting mentorship and knowledge sharing programs to this new landscape will not only benefit employees’ overall satisfaction and engagement, but support them in this stressful time of change.

Mentorship and coaching programs will only become more important as companies begin to rehire, and competition for the best talent intensifies once again. In the next part of the Hybrid Workforce Playbook, we’ll discuss how this new playing field has shifted the skill sets we value and transformed the profile of the ideal employee.