Remote work already existed in many companies, especially those that operate on technologies; it is also here to stay.
With the actual change, post COVID-19, the need comes for leaders and project managers to practice the virtual mentoring required by the new working conditions. Building an effective relationship with a mentee when you are not collocated requires special attention.
This article shares a description of virtual mentoring with the different strategies to consider in a professional context to adopt as a guide for leaders and professionals.
Many companies today prefer to preserve the remote or hybrid working regime.
This is confirmed by a survey conducted by Gallup between May 26 and June 9, 2021, showing that nine in 10 (91%) remote workers want to maintain remote work.
Fig1. Gallup Panel May 26 – June 9, 2021 .
The current change makes it imperative, more than before, for leaders and managers to master Virtual Mentoring.
'The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend—bringing about the widescale adoption of remote working and the introduction of more digital products and services.', Michael DePrisco, Interim President & CEO at PMI .
The latest research shows that employees with access to positive mentoring relationships experience many personal and professional benefits. Companies that adopt mentoring as part of their strategy can easily retain talented employees and improve the development of new employees.
This new skill is added to the list of skills for managers who know how to initiate and maintain potential remote mentees.
Commitment, trust, quality of relationships and competence of the mentor are the real keys to the growth and development of mentees which can all be applied through virtual mentoring.
Importantly, virtual mentoring also removes shared space and geography barriers, as online options allow for greater flexibility in mentor/mentee times and locations.
The ability to record and transcribe virtual mentoring sessions can allow mentoring partners to refer to the content at another time to refresh their memory and reinforce misunderstood points or to share the content with others.
The wide availability of virtual platforms now extends the positive impact of a mentor to a global population of potential mentees and is more inclusive of people with disabilities.
On the other hand, we must admit and recognize that there are even some potential obstacles.
Virtual mentoring may require greater intentionality than regular mentoring. There are fewer opportunities for meetings and interactions in offices, meeting rooms, hallways, and even fewer informal walk-in discussions. It may also require more effort to build trust and good relationships without body language.
Virtual mentoring relies on online collaboration, which overloads the use of emails and causes eyestrain by spending hours in front of screens and exposed to blue lights. Sometimes, the relationship is summed up in simple follow-up of tasks and activities rather than focusing on objectives and improving the relational aspect.
Before the pandemic, there was almost no discussion about virtual mentoring, and there was no training that developed this skill. The only training that existed focused more on virtual meeting software and platforms with less focus on the improved interpersonal and social tactical skills for successful virtual relationships.
'Many tools have been developed and reviewed to make them more applicable for sharing online, where the employees are distributed geographically.', Abdelhalim Hafed, Project Management Director 
Virtual Mentoring Strategies
Below, we share with you the five strategies to refine for virtual mentoring:
1. Building Trust:
You have to make trust your first strategy to adopt and make it reign.
Knowing that trust is the first pillar of any developing relationship and it requires even greater intentionality, especially when it comes to virtual or remote relationships.
Reaching out to help, demonstrating your commitment in virtual meetings, and showing genuine care, interest and concern for the mentee's work and situations. Learn to listen actively and avoid making assumptions about a mentee's aspirations or concerns.
Transform the virtual relationship into a safe space for both parties by taking into account the confidentiality of information shared or to be shared or recorded.
Honour all the promises you make. Your mentee is distant and can't come to your office to remind you of what you promised them every time.
Earn their trust by following through on your commitments.
2. Clarifying Rules of Engagement:
Knowing that there are fewer informal encounters with virtual mentoring, more attention is needed to define the logistics of communication.
It is also needed to define the frequency of communication and discuss the preferred communication tools according to the types of communication (pull, push and interactive).
It is important to agree on the moments of communication, moreover that the mentee is at a distance, they can be in another country or another continent.
Be flexible with meeting schedules if your mentee is in different time zones or has work-from-home constraints or sleep or health requirements.
3. Being Intentional when Building the Relationship:
It is crucial to building strong relationships by overcoming biases and assumptions in cross-cultural virtual mentorships;
You can start considering relationship building in the first phase of virtual mentoring to better understand the values, personality and professional vocation of your mentee.
You can then gradually deepen the relationship by sharing your experiences, feelings, and life or career dreams so that you can understand each other's goals and commonalities.
Be intentional in sharing and reflecting on your commonalities, career goals, and relationship goals to develop a strong working alliance and professional collaboration.
The effort to understand commonalities, career goals, and relationship goals when developing the relationship and discovering shared values is the best way to reduce implicit biases.
Encourage mentees to choose their preference for interaction with people according to their values, regions, race, gender and commonalities.
4. Balancing Authenticity with Boundaries:
Even if we limit virtual mentoring to a purely professional aspect, sometimes there are always personal or family interactions that are inevitable if we work from home, such as the passage of our grandchildren or our animals on the videos or spoken words that pass through virtual meetings.
Great mentors should embrace these moments as opportunities to empathize, deepen understanding, focus and connection, and coach mentees on how to take action on these events.
Mentors should remember to maintain certain professional relational boundaries by avoiding personal disclosures or those that may seem embarrassing to mentees, be mindful of how one is dressed, engage respectfully with family members of each of the parties and check the comfort level of the mentees before sharing personal information with them.
5. Collaborating as Possible:
Traditional mentorship has provided many opportunities to collaborate with mentees on projects such as research, product development, or customer presentations that allow everyone (mentor, mentee, and organization) to benefit.
This collaboration can become a platform for teaching, knowledge, coaching and networking with your mentee. When it comes to virtual mentoring, the potential for collaboration in virtual relationships should also not be overlooked.
Effective collaboration can foster transferable skills (on-the-job training) such as project management, giving presentations, writing, researching and transferring knowledge (tacit knowledge), and receiving comment and feedback.
Like the old managerial skills, virtual mentoring is becoming one of the skills to learn and improve. Learning this new skill can be very effective in leaving a substantial impact on the development of mentees and organizations. Today, virtual mentoring remains a skill that any leader or project manager can learn!
How to Mentor in a Remote Workplace, HBR, by Ellen A. Ensher, W. Brad Johnson, and David G. Smith
These Six Global Megatrends Will Reshape Project Professionals' Path Forward in 2022, PMI Newsletter, by Michael DePrisco, Interim President & CEO at PMI
Positive Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on the Project Management, PMI Luxembourg Newsletter, by Abdelhalim Hafed, Project Management Director
Remote Work Persisting and Trending Permanent, Gallup, October 2021