For most Illinois attorneys, day-to-day work patterns were upended with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. When the pandemic hit in 2020, our entire workforce was challenged to find new avenues for delivering the goods and services we provide. While we’ve redefined the “how” along the way, hopefully the “why” can continue to be reimagined and improved.
As many of us transition back to in-person workplaces, the value of virtual mentoring shouldn’t be forgotten. Virtual mentoring remains an efficient and effective way to leverage technology in meetings and fit mentoring into busy schedules, all while allowing for productive learning experiences between mentor and mentee.
The benefit of in-person interactions in building trust and connection can’t be denied, but virtual mentoring sessions can also be an indispensable part of a realistic mentoring plan. That’s why the Commission on Professionalism’s lawyer mentoring program offers CLE credit for both in-person and virtual meetings.
Whichever path you choose, here are some virtual mentoring tips to keep the relationship engaging and rewarding for both mentor and mentee.
1. Consistency is Key
The orientation for the Commission’s mentoring program concludes by encouraging mentoring pairs to schedule the first few mentoring meetings right off the bat. This helps establish a routine or revolving meeting schedule, for example, coffee at 8:30 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.
Whether it’s a visit to a café or a recurring Zoom meeting, setting a consistent 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
Pivoting from in-person to virtual meetings and then back again may mean that the expectations you set at the beginning of the program may be very different than what’s happening today. So, discuss it!
You may decide that the flexibility of virtual meetings fits better into your lives, but that you’d like to get creative and communicate virtually in different ways and at different times (e.g., a weekly email followed by a monthly Zoom chat).
Realign your schedules and expectations. Turn the 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 the Commission’s program requires qualified meetings between mentoring pairs to be held via video conferencing in lieu of in-person, the virtual aspect doesn’t 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.
The Commission’s year-long mentoring program for 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. And this happens while both mentor and mentee are earning CLE credit.
When done correctly, moving your mentoring relationship to a virtual platform shouldn’t detract from the engaging rapport needed for a fulfilling and successful mentoring journey.
Stay connected to the legal profession and take your career to the next level with the Commission on Professionalism’s lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. Completion of the year-long program is approved for 6.0 hours of professional responsibility CLE credit in Illinois. Learn more here.