Most of us work on the run these days; engaged and connected by smartphone, tablet or laptop. Visit your local coffee shop, playground and mass transit system and the visual proof is all around. So what about mentoring in this environment – can it work and is it effective? The answer, I believe, is all in the preparation and expectation. While I like and encourage a face-to-face environment (and actually set aside the very early part of my day for that purpose), I know that my reality may not meet every schedule but the time frame may. I’m physically in the office and the other person can be on a train or the Metro communicating with electronic device in hand. To make mentoring on the run (e-mentoring) work, I’ve found a few principles that aid in expanding and supporting this concept.
Preparation – when complex issues require the mentor to have credible background knowledge of the situation, make sure to send this information the day or night before the ‘meeting.’ This will reduce “keyboard time” when schedules are tighter. Also, focus the interaction to what is critically needed – the specifics of the issue – not excursions or “if-then” scenarios. If additional time is needed, set up an in-person mentoring session for a later date.
Expectations – virtual mentoring is different than meeting face-to-face. Remember that the printed word has little tone or inflection and may cause key personal views and concerns to be overlooked or misunderstood. Be clear, in words, if you have concerns. Remember that what you put out there is ‘out there’ and can be intercepted. Never-the-less, don’t try and work around this by using unclear or cryptic language that can lead to confusion or misinterpretation. Employ common sense. If you need a quick answer or off the cuff advice…Say so! If you know your schedule is jammed … Say so! Set realistic timeframes for when you can e-back and understand that immediate feedback may not be possible.
E-mentoring is not for every topic and every person; but it can be a valuable tool in expanding the mentoring relationship across time and distance while providing a more flexible and accessible method of access, advice, assistance and support to protégés. It is a cost-effective way to increase employee engagement and it encourages honest feedback. The keys of course are communication, preparation and realistic expectation.