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How to activate mentoring and career development when you work from home

A human resources executive argues that when leadership development is established across a virtual team, it can yield measurable results.

How to activate mentoring and career development when you work from home
[Photo: scyther5/iStock]

As more employees work from home because of the COVID-19 outbreak, virtual mentoring and collaboration have become part of the new normal. Companies are suddenly transitioning to remote work, which can impact development. Leaders need to rethink how to manage and develop their teams.

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When social distancing is required, leaders should consider changing the way they foster engagement and collaboration across teams and what are the best practices to develop and mentor remote employees.

Establishing leadership development across a virtual team can yield measurable results. Now is an ideal time for leaders to connect employees through onboarding, development, and integration.

Activate virtual mentoring

Going forward, virtual mentoring is a key investment for companies to build talent capability. People want meaningful engagement even as they practice social distancing. We should continue learning from each other, regardless of the distance.

If your company already has a mentoring program, now is the time to bolster it. Make it nimble, high touch, and interactive. If you don’t have a mentoring program, there’s never been a better time to launch one. Encourage leaders to engage one-on-one in a virtual mentoring relationship. This way, you can refine practices that align with company values and set up systems for your program.

A virtual mentoring program done well motivates and inspires employees and increases productivity by providing structure rich with career development opportunities. And a learning culture serves as a competitive differentiator. Virtual mentoring is a way to keep employees engaged and advancing while they share knowledge. It also enhances retention potential for top talent.

Communicate, clarify, and connect

My experience in building and managing remote teams taught me that it can be exciting, engaging, and somewhat challenging. It boils down to three essential components: communication, clarity, and connection. Teams are operating in uncharted territory, so leaders need to maintain an open dialogue around what’s happening and how the business is adjusting.

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When you’re not physically together as a team, there can be a tendency to become more tactical and overlook the upkeep of relationships vital to employee development. When task orientation increases, the feeling of belonging can diminish.

Regular videoconferences maintain a steady rhythm of communication. While videoconferencing is wonderful, you can’t always determine if the message is internalized and understood, or how well your team receives it. Engage your team to drive clarity and connection. Then activate your virtual community.

Make sure that your team knows that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. A short check-in with employees can keep everyone focused and on track. Asking “How are you?” and “How can I help?” can make an enormous difference in fostering connections. Provide your team with visibility into the decision-making processes and encourage employees to surface problems and brainstorm solutions.

Clarify the roles and responsibilities across your team. This needs to be crystal clear, particularly with remote teams that function without your in-person interaction. Do employees have what they need to work remotely? Do teams have what they need to operate? What needs to be addressed to avoid silos and maintain a vibrant connection? Giving operations your attention and care sends the right message to your team about the importance and value of the work.

Energize employees

Making the sudden transition to a work from home model isn’t easy and can impact the employee experience. Provide opportunities for employees to bond and connect virtually, replacing the in-person interactions they had before. Kick off meetings by sharing positive news, success stories, or team recognition, just as you would if your colleagues were sitting with you. Look for opportunities to energize employees and increase knowledge sharing from virtual team huddles or having team members present on a topic during a call.

A virtual onboarding process is fundamental to success for developing strong teams. The additional complexity of managing remote teams makes it even more important to get onboarding right. Find mentors who can help with the assimilation of new hires to represent and champion the company’s values.

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Cultures thrive when employees are learning and rising to meet new business challenges, which drives sustained success and long-term value creation. By prioritizing development, companies grow effective leaders to create a better employee experience. When you have the right people in place, you can take on any challenge that comes your way.


 Tammy Perkins is the chief people officer of PMI Worldwide. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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