Working from home can be isolating, but a mentor can help you keep your career on track.
One of the biggest downsides in working out of the office is the lack of camaraderie. The beauty of remote work is its flexibility, mobility, and avoidance of in-office distractions. But those perks do come at a price, especially when it comes to interpersonal work relationships.
"I think sometimes we all feel like we're out there in the middle of the ocean on our own," said Dan Ryan, founding principal at Ryan Search and Consulting, an advising firm focused on aiding clients in talent acquisition and navigating work culture and leadership.
That isolation can be extremely intimidating for remote workers, as they don't have to accessibility to managers that they would in an office, Ryan said. Working in the office gives employees more organic opportunities to ask a supervisor a question, or for some quick advice over coffee in the break room. Remote employees, on the other hand, have to do a little more work to get the guidance they sometimes need, which makes mentors a valuable resource.
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"Developing relationships [with mentors] gives us people who can be sounding boards, people we can get advice from, and people who also have a different perspective of what's going on, either in your geographic region or within your business," said Ryan.
Whether a remote employee is just starting out, has been at the company for years, wants to learn a new skill, or just needs an opinion, mentors can prove themselves quite useful. "It's the ongoing feedback and support that a mentor will provide, versus just going to interview a more senior person and ask them their opinion," said Sari Wilde, research leader at Gartner.
Here are five tips to help remote workers find a mentor.
1. Determine your desired outcome
Before even looking or reaching out to prospective mentor figures, remote employees need to first figure out what they want from the mentorship. "Maybe they want to learn a new technical skill; maybe they want to move into a management position and they're an individual contributor now. They have to get very clear on what is the reason that they're seeking the mentor," said Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team.
When considering professional needs, remote workers need to be self-reflective, said Wilde. By reflecting on their career and work style, remote employees can determine where a mentor would be most productive. It's not only considering what they want from a mentor, but also what they need developmentally, said Wilde.
"I think what we've seen is where those kinds of interactions fail are where the goals from both sides are unclear," said Wilde. "But I think even especially in a remote work situation where you are likely not to know these individuals that you're either being mentored by or that you're mentoring, it's even more important to be really clear about what you're trying to get out of it."
2. Consider mentorship style
After determining what the desired outcome should be, the remote worker needs to think about what characteristics the mentor should have. Everyone is different, and everyone's teaching style is different. Remote workers have to make sure their goals and their mentor's style of guidance align, said Rozwell.
"Do I want the mentor to be an encouraging person that's going to spur me on and help me get more experience, or do I want a mentor that's quite a challenge me and push me harder?" asked Rozwell. She added that answering those questions will help a remote employee narrow down who they want to approach as a mentor.
3. Pop the question
When finally ready to contact a potential mentor within your own organization, remote employees should first see if their company can help. "The best way would be for the organization to provide the introduction, but if they don't do that, then I would encourage the new employee to reach out," said Ryan.
Taking the initiative to reach out on your own is intimidating, so if you are shy, just start with an email, added Ryan. He explained that a phone call is the ideal way to forge the connection, but that an email would do the trick as well. If you have found a potential mentor outside of your organization, you can try emailing them as well, or using a social networking platform like LinkedIn to make the introduction.
Ryan gave an example of good way to begin the conversation: "I understand that you have a good understanding of how things get done. I would really appreciate if we could find a way to develop a relationship so I could learn more about what works and doesn't work within the organization because of your experience here." Ryan suggested not even using the word "mentor" at first, but focusing on why that person in particular would be useful.
4. Set some parameters
Rozwell said setting parameters on both timing and frequency is a must. As a mentee, your mentor is doing you a favor, so you don't want to overwhelm or annoy them. A good way to prevent that is by setting regular chats or check-ins, that way there is a defined time for the mentor and mentee to convene.
5. Give the mentor credit
Mentors aren't typically paid to be mentors, but are sacrificing the time and energy because they want to, and mentees should be thankful. "If the mentee has any influence at all, to make sure that the mentor is getting credit for being a mentor," said Rozwell.
The credit should be given personally and to those around the mentor, especially higher ups. "Let's paint the scenario of a remote worker who decides that they want to get a mentor who's at headquarters, and let's say that mentor is actually hoping to move into a management role," said Rozwell. "Then it would be really important to elevate that interaction to something that the mentor's manager knows about it, so that it can be another evidence point for that person's suitability in the next step in their career."
Not only can mentees benefit from a mentorship, but mentors can too.
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