Building Effective Virtual Mentoring Relationships

The current pandemic has many more people teleworking and adapting business to the virtual environment. We are invited to participate in a growing number of live streams, Zoom meetings, and panel discussions. Along with these activities, it’s essential to recognize the value of virtual mentoring, even though developing a virtual relationship can be challenging.

Mentorship is defined as a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but they must have a particular area of expertise. It’s the specific expertise that helps the individual to have a better sense of clarity and purpose, with actionable steps. More importantly, it should help you to get where you are going faster and with less expensive mistakes.

virtual mentoring

Research suggests that participants in virtual programs appreciate the flexibility of virtual mentoring – there is no need to travel to an agreed meeting place, and contact can be maintained even when one party is away from their usual workplace. Virtual mentoring offers the advantage and flexibility of having a trusted advisor to help with difficult decisions and offer encouragement regardless of where you are located.

In healthcare, there’s good evidence that virtual mentoring yields equivalent outcomes to in-person mentoring. (Erridge S, Yeung DKT, Patel HRH, Purkayastha S., Telementoring of Surgeons: A Systematic Review.) If it works in healthcare, it should be able to work in startup mentoring. Many tools, such as email, chats, and text messaging, allow flexibility in maintaining communications. Each can have their limitations and be prone to misunderstandings, but the same can occur in-person, too. We need to be aware and attentive in both.

Virtual Mentoring Enabled

Art of Mentoring is a mentoring business based in Australia and operating globally in 26+ countries. They offer some central goals for developing an effective virtual mentoring program.

  • Connect with the cohort. Rather than offer a self-serve mentoring option – where a single mentee searches for a mentor online – it may be better to roll the program out in cohorts so that mentees feel connected as a group and can build connections with other mentees in their cohort. Good mentoring cohort programs provide participants with plenty of structure (advice on what to do when) and resource materials.
  • Meet more than once. When face-to-face events cannot be offered, each cohort should have at least three webinar event opportunities to prepare them for their mentoring relationships, allow them to connect with others in the program, and to provide closure once the program and/or mentoring relationship is completed.
  • Set expectations. Relatively high-touch program management is needed to help keep mentoring relationships on track. Remember that virtual mentoring is more vulnerable to loss of commitment. So, it is critical that participants know what they are doing from the start, and that they know they have access to help if they need it. Regular email reminders at key points in the program are useful and help maintain commitment. Supplement this with phone calls made to participants and webinar check-ins.

The article Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Disrupt Mentorship, (Harvard Business Review, April 06, 2020), discusses how mentorships are life-altering relationships that inspire mutual learning and development. Every growth-fostering interaction in a strong mentorship bolsters a mentee’s professional and personal growth, identity, self-worth, and self-efficacy. 

Challenging Times Raises Need for Empathetic Mentors

Challenging times offer great opportunities to create templates of what excellent mentoring looks like. In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek reminds us that leaders don’t always appreciate the impact of their examples on those they lead. Mentors need to understand the power of modeling loyalty and commitment. Just as good leaders care for their people first, mentors should demonstrate a commitment to their mentees through ongoing communication and expressions of care.

Mentor commitment can be demonstrated through the psychosocial functions of mentoring — acceptance, affirmation, friendship, emotional support, and reassurance. Each is especially valuable in uncertain times. Psychosocial functions tap into empathy and compassion and involve deliberate expressions of care. These factors should be understood and engaged in as role modeling due to the virtual nature of the interactions between mentors and mentees.

During periods of crisis, mentors can address concerns through coping and mastery skills. However, mentors don’t need to rescue or fix anything for mentees. Instead, they should offer support that will enable them to overcome challenges on their own. Provide strategies, skills, and resources that they can use to learn and to grow their efficacy. Use the psychosocial functions in your mentoring approach.

Accelerator Design for Virtual Mentoring

The design of virtual mentoring programs should follow guidelines consistent with appealing to diverse backgrounds and world views. Create a vision for the delivery of mentoring; design the program with purpose. Be intentional about who provides mentoring services and how they are trained and provide incentives. Provide a practical and psychosocial framework.

Virtual mentoring can be as effective as in-person mentoring. The skills are identical, but the delivery method may call on the mentor to raise their mentoring game. Being attentive and empathetic are the right places to begin.

Join the Santa Fe Innovates virtual mentoring community! Let’s create a mutual model to initiate success and embrace the joy of learning and growth.


Telementoring of Surgeons: A Systematic Review, National Library of Medicine

Virtual Mentoring – Art of Mentoring

Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Disrupt Mentorship, Harvard Business Review

Kent Nutt

About Kent Nutt

Kent is a marketing and communications entrepreneur in high-tech and nonprofit industries. He’s a strategic thinker and hands-on implementer with experience building end-to-end, transformative marketing and communications programs for startups, Fortune 500 companies, growing nonprofits, and academia. Sectors included telecommunications, 3D printing, network software, semiconductors, web analytics, and scientific research.