When hunting for work, many candidates are drawn to startups and small businesses because of the intimate setting and the opportunity for collaboration. In these modern times of remote and hybrid work, virtual mentoring is a key part of creating an ongoing learning and development environment that will keep employees engaged, motivated, and loyal.

Keep reading to learn why virtual mentoring is vital for your small business as your team grows and expands, whether in person or remotely. We’ll also share a few quick tips on fostering the perfect work environment for collaborative learning and virtual mentoring.

Let’s dive in!

Virtual mentoring explained

Similar to the usual in-person mentoring, virtual mentoring is when a mentoring program is carried out over a video call. As the pandemic pushed businesses toward going remote, video meetings and virtual conferencing became the only option.

While employees are returning to the office as the pandemic slowly subsides, most businesses have adopted a hybrid workplace with many employees working remotely across borders. This shift is no surprise, especially considering that 98% of remote workers want to keep working remotely (at least some of the time) for the rest of their careers.

virtual mentoring remote work graph

And so, employee training and mentoring programs are now often conducted virtually instead of face-to-face.

Essentially, virtual mentoring can be a formal or informal series of interactions where employees get guidance and practical advice from an experienced professional in the business. This guidance focuses on open communication, growth, and career development.

With the right planning and technology, virtual mentoring can be just as effective as in-person mentoring, creating a powerful and personal connection between the mentor and the mentee.

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How virtual mentoring helps small businesses grow

Virtual mentoring is an excellent way to build a company culture of knowledge sharing and collaborative learning. It can serve as a means of ongoing support for budding team members as well as opportunities for professional growth.

Here are some of the many benefits of workplace mentoring for your small business.

1. You can support new staff

As you recruit more remote workers, one of the biggest obstacles you’ll face is making them feel included as an integral part of your business. Sure, training remote employees is a part of the onboarding process, but how do you go beyond the essential formalities and inspire authentic relationships with your new staff?

That’s right, by mentoring them on a one-on-one basis over a series of regular video meetings—encouraging them to open up about their background, strengths and weaknesses, vision, goals, and challenges — and thus, offering proactive and personal support to help them get up to speed in their new role.

Speaking of challenges...

2. Mentors can help employees overcome challenges

As the founder, L&D officer, or senior member, becoming a mentor lets you use your experience to help new or struggling staff overcome their challenges. These could be both professional and personal challenges, such as social anxiety.

For example, as your business grows, and you hire more employees, you may decide to cultivate leaders internally instead of hiring senior staff to serve as team leaders. But what if one of your experienced employees—who's been with you since the very beginning and knows your business inside out —feels unable to rise to the challenge of becoming a team leader? You know they know their stuff, but due to challenges like poor soft skills, the employee has a hard time leveraging their experience to lead a team under them.

By mentoring them for a couple of months, you can show them exactly how to lead a team and help them develop those necessary soft skills by sharing valuable resources (videos, online courses, etc.), along with your personal experience in growing a business.

Related: Your Approach to Leadership Training is Broken—Here’s How to Fix It

3. You can develop your team's skills long-term

Continuing with the same example discussed above, virtual mentoring enables you to work closely with your team’s key members to reinforce their strengths and improve their weaknesses to develop them as well-rounded assets for your business.

In this way, besides bolstering personal and professional growth, virtual mentoring also helps reduce turnover rate, improve employee satisfaction, and increase employee engagement.

4. It fosters a learning-friendly environment

With a hybrid workplace culture, it can be tricky to create an environment that facilitates water cooler conversations that lead to peer mentorship and learning opportunities. That’s primarily because virtual meetings are typically expected to have a strict agenda.

But by promoting virtual mentoring amongst team leads and junior employees, you can foster an environment that encourages informal learning and knowledge sharing. Employees can easily meet online at a time convenient to them and also have multiple mentors to grow in different areas of their career.

How to know when your team needs mentoring

Not every new recruit or existing team member needs guidance in the form of a structured virtual mentoring program. Consider offering virtual mentoring for employees who are:

  • Underperforming or not delivering the expected quality of work regularly
  • Struggling with timelines
  • Feeling stuck in a rut or wishing to take on new responsibilities

That being said, it’s a good idea to keep the option of virtual mentoring programs open for everyone. Even your best employees may be looking for an experienced senior to mentor them and help them further grow their skills.

How to foster the perfect environment for group learning and mentoring

With the basics and benefits of virtual mentoring clear, here are a few quick tips to help you nurture an environment of group learning and mentor within your remote business workplace.

1. Set up a regular meeting time

Stress the importance of meeting regularly. Both the mentor and mentee must appreciate how virtual mentorship is mutually beneficial and be mindful of each other’s time and needs.

Whether it’s via conference call software, voice calls, or text on your internal team messaging app, set up a schedule for the mentors (you/your senior employees) and the mentees to connect weekly or bi-weekly. Record the session to track the progress and meeting content so mentees can easily reference the material later.

2. Take notes

Besides recording the session, note-taking can help both mentors and mentees to stay on top of discussions and have actionable next steps. After all, the purpose of virtual mentoring is to concretely guide employees to achieve their growth goals and help them problem-solve, not just have fruitless dialogues that don't drive action.

Taking notes also helps to stay focused on the conversation and build a better connection. Prior to each session, writing down questions to ask the mentor/mentee and doing some research on the session’s agenda can help add more actionable value to the discussions.

3. Use a collaborative learning platform

Apart from using the standard virtual communication tools such as Slack, Skype, and Zoom for video meetings and instant messaging, adopting a collaborative learning platform can greatly help your company’s virtual mentoring, coaching, and training initiatives.

With a collaborative LMS, you can create engaging mentorship courses, capture high-quality screen recordings, and assess mentees’ comprehension of crucial concepts with a wide variety of question types (such as MCQs, open-ended, etc.).

You can integrate content resources from anywhere and easily collaborate with experts to create powerful mentorship material that people can consume on the go. Furthermore, make your mentorship fun and keep mentees motivated with gamification elements such as challenges, leaderboards, and achievements. Celebrate mentorship completion with a branded e-certificate highlighting newly acquired skills.

4. Anticipate technical difficulties

When your team is distributed, technical snags are bound to bug you. It can happen that a mentoring program is going well and suddenly, the mentor freezes mid-advice or the mentee gets cut off while they’re deep into their explanation. This can really kill the flow and frustrate both mentors and mentees.

While things like WiFi glitches can always happen, both the mentor and mentee must do everything they can to stabilize their connection and prepare for the session before beginning. For example, planning to switch to a phone call in case of a poor connection can help people remain on track and reduce disruption to the conversation.

Time to create strong mentoring relationships

Remote or in-office, cultivating a work environment that puts employees first is a surefire way to improve workforce happiness and retention, ultimately leading to better business performance and growth.

And building virtual mentoring programs does just that. Use the information and tips shared above to foster a virtual work environment that promotes collaborative learning and mentoring.