For most Illinois attorneys, day-to-day work patterns have been upended since the coronavirus pandemic hit. In fact, our entire workforce has been challenged to find new avenues for delivering their goods and services. As the “how” is redefined along the way, hopefully the “why” can be reimagined and improved.
Nevertheless, our remote work environment and social distancing guidelines are no reason to pause your professional development, including your mentoring relationships. In fact, it is quite the opposite!
Virtual mentoring can keep your connections active while still allowing for productive interactions between mentor and mentee. Additionally, virtual mentoring can provide the emotional support that is so important to our well-being during this time.
Here are some virtual mentoring tips to keep the relationship engaging and rewarding for both mentor and mentee.
1. Consistency is Key
Our mentoring orientation concludes with encouraging mentoring pairs to schedule the first few mentoring meetings right off the bat. This helps establish a routine or revolving meeting schedule, e.g., coffee at 8:30 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.
While you may not be able to visit a café in person, setting up a reoccurring virtual mentoring meeting date can ensure that other personal and professional obligations don’t overtake your schedule in lieu of meeting with your partner.
Likewise, mentoring program managers should send out brief “nudges” to provide a touchpoint with the pairs, encouraging consistency in meeting schedules and even recommending discussion topics and materials.
Provided check-ins from program managers, which should happen at least quarterly, will boost program support and offer an opportunity to share timely news to supplement mentor and mentee discussions.
2. Communicate Expectations
Now, you might be in the middle of your mentoring relationship, having to pivot from an in-person routine to virtual meetings. The expectations you had for your meetings may be very different than at the outset of the program. So, discuss it!
You may decide that without in-person meetings, you’d like to communicate in different ways and at different times, e.g., a weekly email followed by a monthly Zoom chat. Realign your schedules and expectations. Turn this experience into a teachable moment on managing your time in a virtual work environment and using new communication tools. As always, be flexible to each other’s needs and affirm (or re-affirm) those expectations from the beginning.
3. Embrace and Learn With Technology
It takes two to tango, or in this case, mentor. But virtual mentoring also requires technology. This is a great time for reverse mentoring to play a role in your exploration of virtual connection tools.
While our program requires video conferencing for qualified meetings between pairs, the virtual aspect does not have to end with the video call. Other communication and collaboration tools can be a great way to expand your discussions and enhance collaboration on your action items.
You might use an instant messenger tool such as Slack or even create a project dashboard, Trello for example, to organize professional development goals for the program. Again, communicate your ideas and preferences, and be open to trying new products and learning together.
4. Be in the Moment
Just as you should minimize distractions during an in-person mentoring meeting, e.g., silence your cell phone, it’s important to give your undivided attention to virtual mentoring meetings. Mindfulness is a quality of the mind that strives to be fully present in the moment; the only moment is the present one.
You may find multiple distraction points when attempting to meet virtually, as you have likely already discovered in other virtual meetings. Prepare for mentoring meetings as if you’re appearing in court or delivering an important presentation. This means turning off or muting your phone, closing all other programs on your computer, and turning off notifications (usually in the bottom right corner of PCs). If you must take a call or foresee an interruption, mention it or consider rescheduling for a time when you can be more present.
5. Create a Pull for Feedback
Great job! You’ve followed the four tips above and things are going wonderfully. Or so you think. How do you know? Discuss!
Everything is subject to change and flexibility must be part of your mentoring relationship. As expectations evolve, goals change, and mentoring tools get tested, don’t wait to see if your mentoring partner shares feedback. Ask for the feedback outright.
As I’ve said before, pushing harder the same old way rarely opens the door to genuine learning, as the real leverage to learning comes from creating pull.
Our year-long mentoring program for new Illinois lawyers has been credited with developing professional and personal friendships while advancing the integrity of the practice of law and a sense of community among the bar. When done correctly, moving this relationship to a virtual platform should not detract from the engaging rapport needed for a fulfilling and successful mentoring journey.
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