Roughly six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a partner at a BigLaw firm in Chicago shared an exciting revelation with me. “While I’ve become more physically distanced from my coworkers, I’ve actually become more personally connected to them,” he said. “We’ve stepped into each other’s homes and lives much more while working remotely.”
His discovery caused me to recall a discussion with a colleague about our mentoring program for new lawyers in Illinois. The year-long program pairs lawyers early in their careers with more experienced attorneys for a mentoring experience centered on skill-building and instilling the values of professionalism in the next generation of attorneys. Given social distancing guidelines, in the early weeks of the pandemic, we thought, “How are we going to keep our mentoring pairs active?” To which we quickly responded, “How can we not!”
In other words, it is as important as ever to cultivate these impactful one-on-one relationships, which foster support and professional growth. But is it doable? Yes!
Build your social capital virtually
In the office, you can easily bounce ideas off of coworkers or hold a “walking meeting” in the hallway. Interactions in the office are quick and simple. But that’s not the case when working from home. The challenges created by managing distractions, isolation, and loneliness are evident yet rarely discussed.
Interoffice communications just aren’t the same over email, text, instant messaging, or even video chats. With the immediacy of the work community removed, so goes traditional networking opportunities that support personal and professional growth. That’s why promoting and encouraging mentoring relationships, even conducted virtually, can help us push through obstacles and continue to build our social capital.
In light of the pandemic, virtual mentoring was approved to satisfy the in-person meeting requirement that’s typically part of our lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. And moving mentoring to a virtual environment is working. Since implementing this allowance, our mentoring pairs overwhelming indicate that they continue to find value in the relationship, even though Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype have replaced in-person meetings.
Mentees and mentors alike report that virtual mentoring doesn’t impede their connection; instead, it can enhance it. Pairs say that virtual meetings are more engaging than in-person meetings because it’s easier to make time to meet, thereby allowing more opportunities to discuss issues in depth. Others say they are more apt to set a schedule and use an agenda for their meetings and benefit from easily accessing online resources during a meeting. Finally, pairs stress the importance of still being able to see the other’s expressions and reading their partner’s nonverbal cues.
The benefits of virtual mentoring
With information just a click away, virtual mentoring brings tools to the relationship that can enhance the conversation and experience significantly. For example, sharing a resource on your screen in real-time to support a discussion on a legal or ethical issue. In addition, virtual mentoring meetings can happen in the comfort of your own home or workstation instead of an unfamiliar public meeting place. This sense of comfort can facilitate more open communication and the free flow of ideas.
Nevertheless, like traditional in-person programs, virtual mentoring requires an intentional commitment by participants to be successful. As you discover new pathways of achievement in this remote world, take a moment to consider if you’re devoting time to your professional development and that of others.
It’s essential to continue to build connections in your various professional communities, both inside and outside of your office. Foster your virtual mentoring experience as you work remotely, and the benefits will continue to find you.
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.
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