Lately, technology has been getting a bad reputation for interfering with relationships and interpersonal communication.
The technophobic Boomer, annoyed with the Millennial for sending a text or email rather than picking up the phone is a tired and untrue cliche at this point. And with adults spending an average of 11 hours per day in front of a screen, it’s hard to imagine that workplace relationships aren’t being neglected in service of productivity.
For the past few decades, organizations have been increasingly dependent on technology to communicate instead of face-to-face meetings, to save on travel expenses and time.
Of course, there are situations in which good old-fashioned face-to-face communication is still best. Face-to-face communication provides richer context, with facial expressions, tonality, and other cues that are lost in other communication modes, like written communication or talking over the phone.
Face-to-face interactions build trust more than other forms of communication, as well. People feel more accountable to others when there is in-person communication. When addressing certain sensitive issues, face-to-face communication is best.
However, for employers with offices in areas with “stay-at-home” orders due to the Covid-19 crisis, there is no choice at all for face-to-face communication.
Organizations are faced with a challenge: how to retain the benefits of face-to-face relationship-building and communication between staff in an increasingly remote and screen-dependent work environment? This is especially difficult for organizational functions that are primarily relationship-driven, such as mentoring.
A crisis like the current one only underscores the need for organizations to focus on preparing the next generation of leaders. As the pandemic may affect different areas for months, organizations can’t afford to put their mentoring programs on hold, and can’t let physical distance be an obstacle that prevents people from connecting.
Rather than avoiding the use of tech, companies can utilize technology in their mentoring programs to enhance the connections between mentor and mentee. Here are some ways that technology can enhance your organization’s mentoring program:
1. Make face-to-face meetings happen virtually, when in-person meeting aren't practical.
For mentoring, the nonverbal cues and other communication subtleties are essential: it’s hard for mentor and mentee pairs to generate rapport and trust without them. With Zoom, Skype, and other similar video conferencing software, a virtual meeting retains nearly all the benefits of the face-to-face meeting without the travel.
2. Schedule check-ins automatically.
Executives are busy people. A mentoring software such as Mentoring Complete can help ease the administrative burden of keeping up relationships by scheduling regular check-ins. Mentors and mentees often find that this “nudge” helps them stay on track, as it keeps the momentum going in the relationship without any additional administrative work on either end.
3. Technology can provide continuity in relationships when conditions are dynamic or unpredictable.
At times, an important client meeting or personal commitment might take priority over an in-person meeting with one’s mentor or mentee.
Other times, the circumstances might be totally out of one’s control: as Covid-19 has spread across the globe, many offices are shuttering out of both safety for their employees as well as to legally comply with emergency orders from governing bodies. Suffice it to say, there are many reasons why a mentor and mentee wouldn’t be able to meet in person regularly.
When a mentor and mentee can’t meet consistently, it’s a problem, because a certain amount of constancy is important for building trust and rapport in a mentoring relationship.
However, when organizations utilize technology like web conferencing, mentors and mentees can continue to grow their relationship even when in-person meetings aren’t possible. With technology, professional mentoring relationships can be more of a priority.
4. When mentees have equal access to technology, they have more equal access to mentorship.
If your organization is focused on increasing diversity in leadership roles, making sure mentees have equal access to quality mentors should be a priority. However, sometimes organizations unwittingly pit some mentees at a disadvantage.
For example, in organizations that rely on informal mentoring, simply being in a different geographic area can be a disadvantage. Early career professionals that don’t work at the company headquarters are less likely to “run into” top leadership, and therefore build business mentoring relationships.
Similarly, if the top leaders are predominantly men, women may be at a disadvantage when trying to find a mentor informally since they may not have as many opportunities to interact with executives (due to norms around opposite-sex one-on-one meetings, for example).
Organizations can equalize access to mentors by formalizing mentoring programs and using a mentoring software, which allows mentor-mentee pairs to be matched regardless of geographic area or other characteristic that doesn’t rely on career potential.
When organizations provide an online mentoring platform to assist with mentoring, if mentees have equal access to the mentoring software, web conferencing and an internet connection, a lot of the inequities around access to mentoring disappear.