How technology has transformed mentoring

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Written by Nicola Cronin on 22 January 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

Nicola Cronin on mentoring and why it’s essential in 2021.

Across the course of 2020, we saw many elements of daily life and work turn virtual. From job interviews, to Christmas parties, to conferences, every individual and organisation had to find a new way of operating. 

A huge challenge that came from this (aside from the logistical nightmare) was maintaining and replicating human connection in a world of remote work. With 1 in 4 UK adults suffering from loneliness as a result of the pandemic, this was a whole new area of employee wellbeing businesses needed to turn their attention towards.

Of course, the role of technology also evolved dramatically. We saw many tech and software solutions booming with the aim of tackling this problem. Alongside practical communication tools such as Zoom (whose share price skyrocketed), we also saw the increase in popularity of mindfulness apps, such as Calm and Headspace, to combat poor mental health during the pandemic. Another area of employee support and development which benefited from the rise of software solutions, was mentoring. 

As we kick off the new year with National Mentoring Month, let’s take a look at how technology and the events of 2020 have transformed mentoring, and why now is the perfect time to launch a programme.

Mentoring is a well established practice within organisations to help individuals grow and achieve their goals. It’s no wonder 71% of Fortune 500 companies run mentoring programmes. 

M&S, are benefitting from the advancement of a digital first approach caused by remote working. 

Not only can mentoring operate as a learning and development function, helping to improve skills and knowledge, but also as a wellbeing function. Mentoring fosters human connection, supports mental health and combats isolation, which is why so many organisations have been prioritising it over the course of the past year. 

But taking something as face to face as mentoring, and making it work online, does not come without its challenges. From matching participants, keeping tabs on the relationships, and measuring the impact, mentoring programmes could have suffered from employees working from home.

That’s where technology comes in. Many businesses will have utilised mentoring software to run their mentoring programmes virtually, as participants can be matched and communicate via a platform.

These kinds of platforms have enabled businesses to take their mentoring initiatives further than ever before. Meaning that it’s not just a temporary solution, but actually an improvement on the traditional way of doing things. 

Virtual mentoring helps break down geographical barriers within businesses, allowing employees to be mentored by people on the other side of the country, or even world. For the first time, organisations are breaking down global silos and connecting people to learn from one another through mentoring.

Suzie King, the mentoring programme manager at Marks & Spencer, has spoken about opening up their mentoring initiative during the pandemic, expanding to multiple offices across a number of countries. This has not only been a comforting and rewarding experience for M&S employees, but has also helped to make their organisation more inclusive than ever. 

 

“This has all been done virtually, and with so many people working remotely anyway, why wouldn’t we reach out to the whole world as well? It’s the perfect time”.

This shows how large organisations, like M&S, are benefitting from the advancement of a digital first approach caused by remote working. 

But with lockdown measures persisting across many parts of the world, the issues we faced in 2020 are still very prominent. While most of the world has adapted to remote working and learning, that doesn’t mean it has become easy for everyone. Many of us will still be feeling isolated from our companies and colleagues, as well as missing out on stimulating aspects of the office environment. 

So as we kick off the new year, how can we ensure people are feeling connected, motivated and excited to learn while working remotely? 

Here are just a few reasons why businesses should be looking to implement virtual mentoring in 2021.

New year new goals

Across any business, senior leadership encourages teams and individuals to set their goals for the new year. This not only gives employees focus and targets, but also motivation. Something to work towards and inspire hard work. Naturally, it’s much easier to feel inspired having creative brainstorm meetings surrounded by colleagues, than sitting alone at your dining room table.

Research has found that we are 70% more likely to achieve a goal if it’s been shared with a mentor who can keep us accountable. A culture of mentoring is a company culture that values personal development, knowledge sharing and goal setting. Prioritising mentoring in National Mentoring Month will help employees across the business feel more engaged and purposeful (and we could all do with feeling more purpose amidst national lockdown).

Mental health support

Last year, 65% of UK adults reported worse mental health as a result of Covid-19. This January, alongside another lockdown and seasonal affective disorder we can expect these figures to be similar, if not higher. 

The Mental Health Foundation, in their guide to supporting mental health at work, lists mentoring as an effective method. It is hugely impactful to have a trusted person to speak to, and to listen to you, who sits outside of typical manager or friendship structures – even more so when working remotely.

Many studies have proven mentoring has a positive effect on the mental health of both the mentee and the mentor in the relationship.

“It’s nice to hear from another person who is going through similar things, because it means you’re not alone.” – Giorgios Kinigopoulos on virtual mentoring.

Organisations wanting to prioritise employee wellbeing in 2021 should look to implement virtual mentoring programmes.

Virtual mentoring = measurable mentoring

A common issue with human-led learning methods like mentoring, is being unable to measure the impact and success. Programme managers struggle to keep tabs on the multiple relationships, how often they are meeting, and the progress they are making.

The good thing with digitally overhauling your mentoring programmes, is that you can start to fill in some of these gaps. Mentoring software tracks sign ups, matches, sessions, skills, engagement and progress, meaning you don’t have to chase participants for information or feedback. This opens up never-seen before data to businesses, who can directly see the impact of their programmes to prove ROI. 

It also helps provide a hub for mentoring within your organisation. Rather than information existing over email or across multiple pdfs and spreadsheets, you can centralise all things mentoring on a platform, making it more accessible and scalable. 

Don’t put off mentoring until you’re back in the office. Not only do we not know when that will be (if ever, in the case of some businesses), but there are clearly multiple benefits of operating mentoring on a digital-first basis. Utilise the technology available, and run fully virtual mentoring in 2021.

 

About the author

Nicola Cronin is head of content at Guider

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